This, apparently, is St Alban, who was a fourth century Christian martyr. That’s a sword he’s holding there, ladies. When Christianity was legalised, they realised “oops!” and feeling a bit embarrassed decided to make him a martyr and named a lovely small Hertfordshire city after him. “We shall maketh a city from your name, Saint Alban,” they said, “And they shall fill it with Jigsaw, Crabtree & Evelyn and ladies hairdressers. But, strangely, it will always be difficult to park there.” St Alban was well chuffed.
Well, he has been deposed.
On Sunday the new saint of St Albans arrived and it was this chappie who has featured before on this blog and who in this picture has forgotten to put his shirt on:
“Go forth, Lee Mead,” said the elders of the town. ” You are our new saint. Go knock those ladies bandy with your rendition of hit songs and showtunes and strut your sexy stuff. The city is yours and belongs to you and your pretty hair.” And so St Mead set out for Albania, to conquer its streets and win over its womenfolk. This was simple, as the menfolk were drunk in the hostelries, watching England get battered by the Germans in Ye Olde Worlde Cup.
We at Bluebird Towers have paid homage to Mead before on these electrical pages. His career has been followed from the beginning and we think him talented and charming. So, can you imagine the thrill of a front row ticket to see St Mead in Albania? I went with my theatre buddy, both of us in a state of excitement about the gig, and both of us melting hysterically in the oven-like heat of last Sunday. I was so confused (I believe this is known as “Mead-mushed”) that I ended up paying for a Pay and Display parking ticket on a Sunday. Apparently I didn’t need to do this. Oh well, I can now park in St Albans legally until 11.45 tomorrow morning. Parts of St Albans go back to the 12th century; but unfortunately, this part is the Pay & Display machine in the London Road car park, which doesn’t give change out properly. Like all old towns that were based on a medieval lifestyle (central market place, church, abbey, alleyways, small shops, syphilis) motorcars do not like St Albania. Car parks are splattered about by town planners in the most haphazard of places. My theatre friend got delayed in the one way system, which was set up as a traffic calming measure in 1392.
We went to a very good restaurant for dinner – full marks to L’Italiana, 3 French Row for the most excellent garlic bread – where I spent most of the meal being sprayed with orange squash by a three year old. I turned and said, “Calm yourself, my child. I know it is exciting that St Mead is on his way to sing to the citizens of this fair town but restrain your excitement – oh and take your father’s wallet out of your mouth.” We then lost the arena – it was tucked away behind a series of streets but when we eventually got to it it was obvious that there were No. Men. In. The. Building. Atall. In fact, there was one – he sat behind me and whirred a vibrating fan contraption throughout the first song which alarmed me when I first heard it, I can tell you – but mainly the arena was a testosterone-free zone. In the hottest auditorium on the hottest day of the year we settled into our seats in the front row but slightly off to one side.
By now my theatre buddy was too excited to do anything but giggle and wiggle about in her seat and I was so hot my head had melted. They did eventually whack up the air con, but by then the place was filled with so many women that the room just went into oestrogen overload and it all went nuts. How could it not go nuts when all of a sudden Lee Mead jumps out of somewhere in the first of a series of well-fitting outfits and starts singing “Paint it Black”? Of course, at the beginning, the audience was sitting down and not very interactive. But pretty soon he whipped everyone up into a frenzy and I for some reason got the giggles. You have to interact with people on stage. I suggested to my friend that perhaps she could show her interaction by straddling him or something, because there is nothing worse for a performer than a flat house. I was once in a bad play (I was never in any other kind, it seems) and saw a heavily sunburnt Jeremy Paxman sitting in the front row picking bits of fluff out of his ear and looking miserable. I am not saying that the audience on Sunday were miserable, as they were certainly not, but it might explain my over-zealous bopping in my seat, clapping, shouting and whooping that generally carried on for the next hour and a half. I was just egging it all on, you see. I wasn’t really just an aging teenybopper excitedly whooping at Lee. It was a professional decision, you see. Cough cough.
After the opener, we had a series of self-penned songs and covers. There was only four musical theatre numbers all night, two of which were from Joseph. He would have been stampeded out of the town if he hadn’t sung them. The musical theatre songs being kept at a minimum was a clear and welcome indication that Lee is not veering dangerously into Michael Ball territory (an evening of showtunes performed in drycleaned jeans with a brass buttoned jacket ensemble). Instead he looked a bit like a smart hipster and jumped about like a happy bean, ripping through “Nothing Else Matters”, “Gonna Make You a Star” and then “Close Every Door” (there wasn’t a dry seat in the house…) in very fine voice – until something extraordinary happened.
His support for the evening was due to be the porcelain doll-like Niamh Perry, currently chanteuse of Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies”, but she was laid up with a stomach bug. Instead a lady from New Zealand arrived with a violin and a husband. He played the piano and she accompanied him doing a series of Turkish rondos, ballads inspired by a holiday to Ireland called “Memories of Martin & Mary” – I can only imagine that given the feel of this piece Martin and Mary died during the course of this holiday – and ditties inspired by the view from her New Zealand house by the sea. Her technical brilliance was exceptional, but the dancing that accompanied the music was uplifting and disturbing at the same time. I wonder what Lee thought of this from the wings – maybe he was watching what remained of the World Cup from his dressing room – but the pace of the evening rapidly jerked off from rock and pop ballads to musical reflections of the view from violin lady’s cottage. However, her extraordinary warmth seemed to win us over, as she chatted about how lucky she felt to be there. She must have been very warm because she was wearing knee high socks in a heatwave, which is takes a certain kind of sartorial rakishness to pull off, I imagine. But unfortunately the energy and frenzy of the evening had dissipated.
Something had to be done.
Mead was forced to retrieve the evening from where it was drifting somewhere off the coast of New Zealand. “I shall lose my sainthood if I don’t pull this one back. We’re in pretty choppy waters!” he must have thought as he adjusted his famous curls and braced himself to deliver the audience a dose of his finest. And, in the name of all things saintly, he did. It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. He bounced back on stage in a new suit and sang “Kiss” and gyrated about with such enthusiasm that the roof nearly came off the building. After banging on about women and girls ruling his world he sauntered towards the steps at the side of the stage and before we could say “Coo – he’s going to sit on our laps”, he was dancing about in front of us in the first row. And then he started moondancing and people practically lunged forward offering their wombs. There was a collective sigh , and then he was up on the stage again. And it was like the violin lady never existed.
He knew exactly what he was doing, of course. By the end of Act I I was scribbling furiously in my seat trying to remember the set list and putting my thoughts down. None of it is legible now. I had to have a chocolate ice cream before I felt normal again. A charming and sophisticated performance – with the exception of the moonwalking – had completed Act I. I am ashamed to mention that, as he introduced me and my theatre friend’s favourite song, we both responded with an audible “Urghh” from the front row that sounded as if one of us was in pain. The second half brought us a Beatles cover, a song from his album which he didn’t seem to have the right words for, unfortunately, and we were granted the sight of watching his keyboardists embarrassingly supply backing vocals for “Jesus Christ Superstar” (one of whom was miming) which was so surreal it was worth the price of the ticket alone. Mead’s top note at the end of this one broke the sound barrier.
If there’s one thing I like it’s a bit of stool-singing. I don’t mean singing that you do on a toilet, I mean singing that you do sitting on a stool. There was one stagehand whose sole job it was to bring on the sainted stool and take it off again twice an act. We had two acoustic guitar and/or piano numbers like this – which was not enough – that showed the true smooth tone of Mead’s voice. Now, many musical theatre singers simply cannot do this. Having been somewhat vigorously trained to bellow out a loud vibrato at any given point, they often loose the knack of singing very softly. They think the louder the better. They think Ethel Merman. Sometimes, they don’t let the lyrics speak for themselves. They also have a tendency to underestimate the technical ability required for softer, more intimate singing – they think it’s what people who aren’t proper singers do. But it is, sometimes in the quietest of ways (those who heard Frank Sinatra singing in recording sessions were often surprised by his natural voice, which was very quiet). But, thankfully, Mead is extremely good at this. His voice actually sounds better when he performs in this way. It is rare that a musical theatre performer can understand and do justice to both types of singing, but he can. And he should do more of it. Preferably on a stool. Wearing tight trousers. Oh, you get the gist.
Chatty links between songs and a measured interaction with the audience also kept it all flowing professionally. Small segments of personal memories related the importance of songs and how the artist chooses to sing them and – just when he appeared to be fully worthy of his sainthood – he picked up a small child from the audience and sang to her. This was not the same small child who had been throwing drinks at me earlier.
He did what good professionals do – took a hard job, made it look easy, performed with lots of energy, behaved graciously and thanked everyone for coming to see him. Then the good people of the city sainted him (the Patron Saint of musical ballads) and he drove back to Hampstead. He seems to understand the value of two extremely important things; always play to your strengths as a performer and be very, very considerate to your public. He also comes across as astonishingly genuine for someone in showbusiness. If he continues doing this I imagine pretty soon he’ll be filling bigger arenas and branching off into other areas of acting work than theatre. A tall order? Well, watch this space.
St Mead of Albania getting used to his saintliness.
Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this. This blog is updated every Thursday.