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Lytham Summer Proms – 3 August 2014
12/08/14 @ 02:45:41 pm, Categories: General, 2751 words   English (UK)

After a wonderful week in the Highlands (a long held ambition of ours ever since we fell in love with Edinburgh) and a “little” detour to Chichester on the south coast, where we saw a breathtaking “Amadeus” with Rupert Everett as Salieri (hoping very much for a West End transfer), we arrived in Lytham (in northern England – so yes, it’s been a busy driving holiday for Kerstin – 2850 miles all in all to be exact!!) around noon to start queuing for the concert. After a simply gorgeous day down south we were greeted by rain and strong winds at the venue which was situated right next to the beach. We came prepared in wet weather gear though and it wasn’t all that cold. We chatted with fellow fans and gushed about the beauties of the UK when the sound check commenced (that’s the best bit about outdoor concerts, you hear the rehearsals and get two concerts for the price of one – he was not holding back either – very lucky us). Conversation was held for whenever we got to a money note or a really tender passage of course. This is nothing for people who want to avoid spoilers though. You will have a pretty good idea what is coming in the evening and we were very happy when we heard him rehearse “Gethsemane”. What a powerful song. Also we heard him rehearse “The Rose”, which was so hauntingly beautiful that we really wanted those gates to open there and then. Alas, we had to wait. And wait…and wait.

When the gates finally opened shortly after 5pm we managed to secure front row seats for our group and happily settled in, chatted to other fans, enjoyed a little picnic and watched the skies clear (yay!).

There were several warm-up acts on before the main concert would begin. A couple of local solo singers, who sang one song each, then another young man who sang a couple of songs including self-penned material with his guitar and finally the “Tenors of Rock”. They were quite noticeably professionals after the more amateur (but nonetheless enthusiastic) performances before. There was a great atmosphere despite the speakers droning over our heads. That’s probably necessary so that the VIPs at the very back of the enclosure can hear the singers well enough but for everyone sitting near the front it really was painful at moments.

After these warm-up acts there was a little break. Unfortunately no one mentioned how long it would be. So it came that just when many fans took the opportunity to get drinks or visit the loos they announced the first main act of the evening. Everyone knew the main acts would be Rhydian Roberts, Kerry Ellis, Lesley Garrett and Michael Ball. Unfortunately most people did not expect Mi-chael to be the opening act. So, when he entered the boards – you guessed it: The mad rush back to their chairs/blankets started.

As already said we sat in the first row, with only a small gangway row of metal plates between us and the barriers for safety reasons. This should have remained free to allow access to the crowd in case of an emergency. Nice in theory but it was this metal gangway that people from further back used to stand in front of everyone who was seated when the first notes of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (a cherished classic at open air concerts as he really usually succeeds in mellowing the weather gods with it) started. Those of us in the first few rows who remained sitting couldn’t see a single thing – well apart from loads of backs of strangers. And they wouldn’t budge but remained standing at the barriers to take photos (with mobile phones of all things! Why bother?! You will never manage a decent concert photo with those…) and looked like they would settle there. And the ushers? For there were loads of them, make no mistake. One of them walked past us and shrugged, the rest remained invisible. Probably all watching the gates as once in the concert enclosure you were not allowed to leave (to go to your car etc.) and return.

By the time Michael reached the second song (“Feeling Good”, another favourite of ours) Kerstin ended up having a discussion with a “fan” in front of her. This woman simply did not get that we had paid to see Michael and not her back. When we emphasized this by pointing in his direction, we found the man himself standing in front of us (yes, still on stage), raising his eyebrows quizzically.

It must have been quite a sight, most of the front row having discussions with the people blocking their view or straining their necks trying to catch a glimpse of him through gaps in the wall of backs. This is our tip if you want to end up with a good view at an open air concert: turn up early and queue! There is no other way. If it means so much to you then get there early.

Having said this, we were a bit luckier than others around us as we mostly had a gap in front of us. After some hefty discussions all around us people eventually did get the message though – mostly. For some their view remained solidly blocked. What a disappointment this must have been.

However, you came to read about the show, so here goes: The next song reminded us of a happy summer in London when we first saw Mr Ball sporting a proper beard: Kismet. He sang the “Stranger in Paradise/This is my Beloved” medley. Happy tour memories, too (Remember when he was all excited about the prospect of doing Kismet at the ENO? – And then he did Kismet at the ENO…and the excitement waned somewhat). Amazing money notes. It was so good to hear him sing again after 8 month of withdrawal.

After this Michael announced Lesley and after a short welcome kiss (chaste, it has to be said, we exchanged surprised looks) left the stage for her.

Unfortunately in our excitement to be at a concert again we completely forgot to pack something to write on, but of course we are still young and our memories function brilliantly….*cue to coughing fit and some heartfelt “yeah, right”s*… So, we remember all of his songs but the others’ are a bit of a blur to be honest. We did enjoy them though. He really had great guest singers. But we were a bit too focused on the Ball.

After Lesley Garrett’s two songs we were treated to a lovely Chitty Chitty Bang Bang overture. More happy memories of the very first musical we ever saw Michael in. And we really were impressed with the Hallé Orchestra. They were superb!

All too soon we moved into the Les Mis section, that we already heard during sound check in the afternoon. So the disappointment was not too big, when Michael did not sing Stars (that is not to say we were not disappointed, we know it’s not his favourite song but he does it SO beautifully!). Instead he sang “Bring him Home”. This was lovely, too, of course. ;-)

Unfortunately the heavy wind (going on storm) was playing havoc with the sound quality. Well, we knew beforehand that it would be a stormy, possibly wet and cold day and after all we’d rather sit through a storm than having the whole concert cancelled due to dangerous winds.

Rhydian Roberts sang “Stars” instead, Kerry Ellis sang “On My Own” and Lesley treated us to “I Dreamed a Dream”. (We do remember some of the songs of the others, you see.) For the finale of the first act everyone got back on stage for the obligatory “One Day More”. A very energetic rendi-tion.

The weather during the interval was not too bad, well, we were only shivering a tiny little bit – but we all had our eyes on the stage as they had warned us previously that if the wind picked up and there was danger of pieces of the set coming down, they would have to cancel the concert (naturally).

In preparation for the second Act we moved our chairs further to the front (to keep people from pulling another let’s-just-wander-down-that-aisle-and-block-people’s-view act) and made ourselves comfortable. It was some time until we were to see Michael again though.

First Rhydian Roberts sang a solo from Wicked and then handed the stage to Kerry Ellis who gave a great rendition of “Defying Gravity”. Already through his song you sometimes heard more wind then voice and during her song Kerstin pointed out the rain visible in the spotlight but not yet reaching us on the ground as the wind was too strong. When Kerry Ellis was done though said rain gave way for a torrential downpour. Everyone frantically dived for their rain capes, fiddling with the folded pieces of plastic with wet hands in in raging winds. Not an easy task! But this was only us getting soaked and we had come prepared. What was far more dramatic was that the wind carried the rain into the sheltered stage area and the musicians had to grab their instruments and run for cover. As was explained later on there were instruments worth several millions of Pounds on stage. These must, of course, never get wet. We had an announcement by Rhydian Roberts, saying the concert was stopped for about ten minutes to wait for the rain to pass. They played “Singing in the Rain” over the speakers…

The rain did not last long, thankfully, but we had a 15 to 20 minute intermission which resulted – we believe – in the cancellation of several songs we had heard during sound check. We were very sad that “The way we were/The Rose” were among them. But we had heard them in rehearsals at least. What an unsuspected treat.

This unplanned intermission showed us we are still quite a way away from being true Brits (okay, only honorary Brit title can be achieved, we know that – AND blame our parents). Whilst we were huddled into little balls on our picnic chairs trying to stay warm and dry the people around us were enjoying themselves, waving their Union Jacks and just having fun.

When the musicians were back on stage Rhydian Roberts and Kelly Ellis sang a duet from Wicked. Afterwards Lesley treated us to “Impossible Dream” and welcomed Michael back on stage. He thanked us all for braving the elements and said that his weather voodoo only works when HE is singing, so no wonder it started pouring while the others were on. Together he and Lesley sang “All I ask of You” from Phantom of the Opera. Later to be known as THE DUET featuring THE KISS.

Now, those of you who have seen Michael sing this as a duet know there is always a kiss between Raoul and Christine in it. It is usually just a quick peck on the lips, depending on ….. well, let’s better not interpret what circumstances lead to the kiss ending up being more perfunctory or indeed quite long. Just remember, every now and then it does. When he’s with Lesley it’s prone to last just a little bit longer. Having been a fan for a while you just cannot help but notice a certain soft spot… She is one of us, really – only with an amazing soprano voice. What we did not realize was just how long you could keep doing it without coming up for air. Seriously! We let the camera drop to stare at each other open mouthed – in a funny contrast to the action on stage. And just when Michael wanted to end it, Lesley grabbed the back of his head and continued. You go girl! Not that we were jealous or anything, naaaahhh, of course not. LOL

Taking pictures felt a bit like being a paparazzo (paparazza?). Just when we feared for someone to shout “Get a room!” they broke off. It was hilarious. So many duets seen, so many stage kisses witnessed – and they still manage to make you speechless. These two certainly do get on well and he was asking for it for he was teasing her with tender nose rubs before. Never challenge an eager woman – you will get what you were asking for! She definitely had a Ball (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Michael actually said that Lesley was the best snogger he ever worked with. It goes without saying that this duet got a very loud reception.

Next came our personal highlight: He sang “Gethsemane”. Now, we knew he would, as he had rehearsed it (twice! Only few singers would rehearse such a song in full voice, let alone rehearse it twice to be sung a third time this evening), but this knowledge cannot prepare you for this power-house of a song. And the acting… Forgotten were storm, rain and freezing hands and feet. Standing ovations, of course.

Gethsemane is certainly among our all time favourite songs sung by Michael. Luckily his rendition in Lytham did not replace the wettest rendition ever. Those of you who were there will remember Dyffryn Gardens. Weather Forecasts predicted the rain would stop at 2pm. It actually only stopped after the concert had finished, meaning we were sat in torrential rain for 8 to 9 hours. Compared to this Lytham was a walk in a very sunny park.

This time he had introduced it as saying it was from the first West End show his dad (who was in attendance) took him to (“Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Palace Theatre) and he thought it would be fitting to sing it again after some time to mark his 30th stage anniversary. 30 years – what an achievement.

No concert would be complete without “Love Changes Everything”, of course. This time being even more special for he dedicated it to Steve Sutton and his family (Steve’s mum and aunt were at Lyth-am, too).

After this the Proms section began. Our very first Prom concert, we think.

Lesley came back onto the stage draped into a huge Union Jack flag and holding a Union Jack umbrella, that was already half blown away, so there was no chance of a true Mary Poppins moment. She sang “Rule Britannia”, first on her own and then joined by Michael, who commented “I feel so underdressed….But I am wearing my Union Jack pants!” to which Lesley replied “I’ve seen them!” This must have been one of extremely rare occasions where Michael was left speechless; he turned to the conductor and uttered a short incredulous laugh. Needless to say the audience loved it.

The finished the night with “Jerusalem” and “Land of Hope and Glory”, sung by all the singers that were part of the concert. We all waved our flags…well, the wind/storm did the waving for us, but we held them into it which made for some gorgeous photo moments. Luckily our friends had deemed us honorary Brits (despite our poor performance at not letting the elements dampen your enthusiasm, YES!) and we waved and sang with the best of them. There was an encore, thankfully, as the rain had stopped and the wind behaved, which was another rendition of “One Day More” … or as Michael put it: ‘Let’s sing something we all know for a change’. There seemed to have been some lyric floundering during the Proms section. We wouldn’t have noticed, of course.

Apparently there was a massive and spectacular fire works display to celebrate 5 years of Lytham Proms – unfortunately we could only hear the bangs but not see a single spark. You would have had to sit a good bit further back to be able to see behind the stage and set. They do advise you to sit in the middle of the grounds to see it properly – but we chose to be closer to the stage instead. Priorities.

Another great concert, another memorable one, too, with the intermission-due-to-downpour and of course THE KISS.

We had an amazing time, it was wonderful to catch up with everyone and well worth the hefty de-tour. Never mind all the rain and cold and storm. It’s the adventure that you will remember and that make the best anecdotes for years to come. Who needs sunshine, gentle breezes and uninterrupted performances anyways? Exactly.


On the road with Michael Ball.
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