Review written by Pat Stearman:
Another concert awaited with much anticipation! After all the reports from Liverpool, I was really wondering what to expect today, (apart from perfection, of course..me, biased? nah, of course not!)
Well, the first thing I never expected for an open-air concert in England in 'summer' - the weather was glorious! Hot, hot, hot! (a good omen for what was to follow??). The setting was beautiful, as these Stately Home venues always are - Audley End is a Tudor 'pile' (I haven't checked the dates, it just looked 'Tudor' to me!) - very lovely, and as they hold concerts every weekend in the summer, they are well organised for concerts.... but I don't think they've ever dealt with a crowd like Michael Ball fans before. Like, the concert starts at 7.30pm, so why would there be someone here at 7.30am? (Thank you, Jen...)
We arrived slightly later than expected, partly due to me thinking I knew where I was going and so not bothering to look at the map till we'd gone quite a long way out of our route...oops - and partly because they only signed the concert car park from one direction, which wasn't the one most people came from..(did I say they were well-organised? - well, mostly they were.)
Anyway, when we finally had found the car park and were driving in we heard the unmistakeable sound of Michael rehearsing 'Last night of the world',mmmmm. We went off to find out where this wonderful sound was coming from, and found two long lines of people waiting for the gates to open. (This was about 3pm) , but not the friends we had expected to be here much earlier. A question to another friend revealed the existence of another queue at another entrance - and here we did find the 'gang' - and discovered that one of our 'runners' was at the front of this queue - well done Jen! what a way to spend an afternoon - sitting in hot sun, with lots of sunscreen and a hat, listening to Michael rehearse. We could see him too - not well, he was a bit of a speck on the horizon, but it was certainly him - in a white T-shirt and what appeared to be blue crop pants - what, Michael, no shorts? unlike him! not that we could have seen the legs from there, but, well,, we just like them... I couldn't do a songlist, either from rehearsal or the actual concert, but I gather it was the same as Liverpool. Claire Moore arrived around 3pm and they went into her songs and their duets, so we did get a preview of the Phantom section - pretty hot even from that distance. I won't repeat Michael's comment at the end of 'Think of me' , just to say I hope Claire's husband covered the children's ears!! (although at another time he was asking her daughter if she could sing better than Mummy!) It's so much fun watching/listening to these rehearsals - he feels free to clown about much more than in a proper concert, so amongst brilliant renditions of the songs, and lots of technical detail about microphones, he does songs in the style of ...(in this case, Elvis and Gene Pitney!), and generally has a good time.
So, we had rehearsal of the entire show, the stewards telling us what time they expected to let us in as this changed periodically ( from messages from Michael's crew), and were finally let in around 5pm. (You think I was looking at my watch at the time?) Jane and Jen were our 'runners' and a great job they made of it - getting us prime position just right of the centre at the very front. So we settled down to picnics and were happy to sample free 'Cointreau' (an orange liquer) being brought amongst the crowd. Before the concert started I managed to find Pat Hensley from Texas, which was lovely, even tho we didn't get chance to talk much. Debbie also found me. Gareth came over to say Hello, and told us he was going to wake Michael in a few minutes. We did offer to do this job for him, reminding him that we could think of lots of nicer ways than he could of doing it, but he didn't seem convinced.
Half past seven arrived and so did Michael: 'Let the rivers run', and we were on our feet - the official photographer in front of us having been warned this would happen! - and Michael arrived onstage. Looking cool and beautiful (sorry, it's not a word normally used about men, but he was beautiful!) in a cream suit and white shirt. Took my breath away. This was followed (I think - I didn't take notes) by 'Last night of the world' (so we hadn't missed much of the rehearsal!). Perfect voice, perfect looks, what more could you ask? well, we got it - long, lingering eye-contact in this song (well, it was for Stella really, but close enough to get my hormones racing!) 'Show me' gets wickeder each time he does it - and my was he being wicked tonight! so many sexy moves, even in songs we wouldn't maybe expect them in! (and has he been reading old forum messages? - about how sexy we, ie me! - find the 'hands in the trouser pockets' bit? -he did it sooooo often!)
He brought Claire Moore to do 'You and I' - I do love this song and I'm always pleased when he puts in back in. (and sometimes 'stories like ours, [do] have happy endings' !!) which she followed with 'I want to be a showstopper' as she was! and a song she'd wriiten herself , which was very sweet. This of course was quite long enough for Michael to get changed and he came back in a dark suit, with the white shirt. (my favourite!!) . 'Prepare ye/Gethsemane' ended the first half in stunning manner.
One quite unbelievable thing happened before this, in mid-song some people got up, walked across the front and came back during Gethsemane with burgers and coffee! Very strange behaviour. The crowd by this time was enormous, stretching back almost to the gates, with some people in full evening dress and many with full size tables, I even saw someone struggling in with proper cane chairs! These people mostly stayed at the top of the hill, and obviously are regulars at Audley End and other light classical fireworks concerts. I can't help but wonder what they made of our Michael - especially the rock'n'roll etc!
The second half started with Any Dream will do, and Michael in black shirt, black tuxedo trousers (with the satin stripe down the side) and a long black coat/jacket, very suitable for playing the Phantom, which he then proceded to do. Wow! I'd heard this was a 3 cigarette job, but Wow! talk about sexy? Lucky Claire is all I can say - tho, whether it was due to Cathy or Claire's husband and children being in the audience, we didn't get the vampire bit (neck-nuzzling!) and his hands stayed very carefully at least half an inch (a centimetre?) from her skin! (for the second half, she wore a black strappy glittery dress we all decided we'd like Thank You, in the first half it was long, flowing purple). Little as I like the idea of him spending a whole show behind a mask - now I really would love to see him play the Phantom for real, tho he still looks far too young! Other highlights - Send in the Clowns - oh, I do love this song and even more the way he sings it! The Boy from Nowhere of course! with now-traditional standing ovation - but we all sat down nicely again afterwards and only stood up when he started 'Why haven't I heard from you' and had a great party with full r'n'r section, followed by Love Changes, Help Yourself and You'll never walk alone, which gave Claire chance to come back for her bows. He came back for LCE in a black T-shirt under the long jacket etc - saying he was so hot he had to change! (probably just cos he knew he looked $1million!), which was even nicer when he removed the jacket - have I mentioned this was one very sexy man last night?. (oh, just a few times?- well, in case you missed the references, 'sex on legs' was a pretty good description..)
We did catch sight of him once more after he left the stage.There were fireworks, which we couldn't see from where we were so we moved round to the side of the stage, there being no connection between this manoevre and the fact that from this position we could
also watch Michael watching them! still in black clothes but with a blue towel round his neck.
We collected the others and made our way back to a position from which we would be able to see him leave, which he did a while later but in a 'people carrier' with tinted windows,so he would have seen us waving but we couldn't see him.
After a few more goodbye hugs we got back to the car and started on the 5 hour journey home, arriving here at 4.30am. Another long day but so worth it - what a show! what a performer! what a voice! why weren't we taking him home tonight? oh, because Cathy was, OK, then, that's fine...really it is...you don't believe me?
Pat Stearman, for JustBall Productions, Hartlepool. 6.45pm, July 29th.