Last weekend saw me make my first visit to London of the new year, and a third visit to the wonderful St James Theatre to catch two of my favourite kind of show… a Hadley Fraser gig.
I’d last seen Hadley being all Shakespearean and badass as Aufidius in Josie Rourke’s MAGNIFICENT production of Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse, and the occasion before that was another play Josie directed called The Machine (also marvellous 😉 ) at Manchester’s International Festival. While I think it’s fantastic that he’s challenging himself with more straight acting away from the world of musical theatre and I’ll continue to support him in whatever he does, I admit I was thrilled to hear him singing again!
Now, if you know me well, you will know that I think the world of Hadley. He’s incredibly talented, has brought into my life all those people who I count as my closest friends (y’all know who you are 😉 ), and is just, quite simply, a pretty kick ass human being. Put all that together and in my book, you’ve got all the ingredients for an awesome day. Just prior to the matinee, we were greeted by Hadley’s mum, and her reaction warmed my heart. She had said hello and asked: ‘are you all going to the same place I am?’ to which we replied in the affirmative, and for both shows. She laughed, and I just got the feeling that she was incredibly proud of her son and genuinely really appreciates the support we all give him as his fans. Thankyou Mrs Fraser, it’s a genuine joy to do so.
One of the things I love most about Hadley’s concerts is his knack of creating a really varied and intriguing set list. Not only does he play his own material, he also covers songs, and often these can span genres and time periods. Amusingly, more often than not, this often exposes horrendous gaps in my own knowledge, and I come away with at least two new artists to listen to. The set list for these gigs was as follows:
But For Me
Fred Jones Pt 2
River Take Me
There Ain’t No Easy Way
It Ain’t Me Babe
On Constellation Street
Puncture Repair/Furious Ball
Free Man in Paris
Long Train Running
No One/Will the Circle
Just Let Go
Herne & the Red Kite
I mean, if we break that down, what we’ve got is seven of Hadley’s own songs (written or co- written), a mash up of him and Elbow, the Doobie Brothers, Tears for Fears, Darrell Scott, Ben Folds, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles & Joni Mitchell; I don’t know where else I’d find a mix like that, and I think it just demonstrates what a versatile artist Hadley is. Of course, no artist is complete without a kick ass band to have his back, here in the form of ‘The Sodastream Guards’, otherwise known as Rosalie Craig, Peter White, Nick Walsh and Tom Deering. Between the five of them, they gave us an awesome day of music and laughs.
As a performer, what I admire most about Hadley is that he seems to have this innate ability to make me believe in whatever he sings, and can pretty much turn his hand to any song regardless of genre. To start off my personal highlights of the set with the latter point in mind, I’m going to talk about Hard Times, the Ray Charles number. To my complete shame, I am near enough clueless when it comes to Ray’s music. I loved this song though- I loved the bluesy vibe and have still been singing it a week on from the gig. Hadley’s rendition was really smooth and effortless, and I’d be perfectly content if any eventual album he makes goes with this style. Not to mention some of the notes he hit were completely ridiculous, and I was once again blown away by the power of his voice and his range. In true Hadley style there was also an adorable and amusing moment with the opening of the song; it begins with My Mama told me…’ at which point he waved to his mum in the crowd, everyone laughed 😀
I was thrilled to hear another Darrell Scott song (There Ain’t No Easy Way) along with River Take Me, which I’d heard him sing at his first gig at the venue back in 2012. This is because I not only came away a little more ‘in the know’ about Darrell’s music, but it’s just a joy to watch Hadley sing the songs of someone he admires. You can tell he’s a fan as the enthusiasm radiates off him in waves when he’s singing it, as it did with every song he sang.
Two of the songs in the softer moments of the set that were highlights for me were Evaporated (Ben Folds cover) and But For Me. Ben Folds was another new name for me, and what I enjoyed most about Hadley’s rendition was the way he made me connect with the lyrics. I talk a lot whenever I watch Hadley perform about how he draws me in as he is one of those performers that is truly expressive when he sings. He doesn’t just sing, he tells the story behind the song; I love to watch his eyes and how his facial expressions subtly change as it makes me be right on the journey of the song with him. The chorus for this song goes:
‘Here I stand, sad and free
I can’t cry and I can’t see
What I’ve done
Oh god, what have I done?’
Particularly when he sang this final line, I had chills- he had closed his eyes and was just there in the moment, and again the note was spine tingling on the last word. Kudos also to Tom for his beautiful piano accompaniment – more on the insane piano skills of this guy shortly!
But For Me is a Hadley original; was awesome to hear something new in amongst all those favourite Hadley tunes I knew already. It’s just got a lovely mellow vibe to it and I thought the lyrics were really beautiful; I look forward to hearing it again in the future!
Our Joni Mitchell fix for the day was left in the very capable hands of Rosalie Craig. For me personally it was just brilliant to hear her sing again after not being able to work a visit to see her in The Light Princess. Conversation was my favourite of the two Joni songs that were played, and like with hearing Hadley singing Hard Times, I have burst into it randomly on many an occasion since! She has vocal range I can only dream of and like Hadley really knows how to tell the story behind the lyrics. I spoke to her between shows and thanked her for introducing me to more of Joni’s work. She told me that that’s what she loves about these kinds of gigs, everyone learns! Apparently, we’re also ‘hardcore’ for doing both shows, a description I’m happy to live with! There was also a great moment of banter between the two: when introducing her, he said: ‘This lady has come to an end’, immediately you could tell it came out wrong; everyone was giggling and she replied: ‘is this my swan song, is it? Good to know!’ What he’d been trying to say and did once the laughter died away was that she’d just come to an end in The Light Princess. The funniest thing though, was that Rosie didn’t let it go; in the evening when Hadley introduced her, she laughed and said ‘much better than what you said earlier!’
I love watching them both play off each other, it’s obvious that they not only love what they do, but really love each other. It’s so endearing 😀
Tom Deering once again wowed me with his insane piano skills, especially in the mash up of Elbow’s Puncture Repair and Hadley’s own song Furious Ball. Seriously guys, Youtube it, my description will not do it justice. Peter White was equally amazing, showing he’s a master of numerous instruments. In that one set alone, he played guitar, banjo, urdu, cajon and my personal favourite, the melodica. Nick did a most excellent job with the Double Bass, and I just had the biggest smile on my face watching all five of them interact, you could tell how much they were enjoying it and their energy and enthusiasm was infectious.
One thing that struck me was that come the evening show, everyone seemed more relaxed about the whole thing- the drinks had been flowing and loosened the audience up, and as such the humour and banter was out in full force. For those of you who don’t know, I have a teddy bear given to me by two of my good friends who they named and dressed like Hadley. Actual Hadley loved his furry namesake last time I bought him along, so I figured I’d take him along again. I was holding him and Hadley caught my eye and smiled: ‘Oh look at Kerrie with the bear there!’ I smiled back: ‘Yeah, lost his glasses though!’
‘It’s ok, I’ve not got mine!
At this, one of my friends shouted: ‘He’s losing his pants, too!’
Everyone fell about laughing, and once Hadley had recovered he repled: ‘I won’t get you to repeat that’ with a wicked grin on his face. He seemed incredibly amused by the fact that his audience was pretty much the same for both shows- he’d launch into an introduction of a song then laugh: ‘why am I explaining, you know this! Have to do it though, just in case’ 😉
As always, it was a delight to catch up with Hadley between and after shows, and I can’t thank him, Rosie, Tom, Nick & Peter enough.
Special mention and thanks to the wonderful staff at St James – they’re always so helpful and enthusiastic, it’s a genuine pleasure!
Wonderful day that I’m still smiling about a week on, looking forward to the next time, whenever it might be 😉