Most fans of any particular artist can pinpoint the moment they became a fan. For me and this artist in question, it happened in June 2007. I’d missed the introduction so didn’t catch his name, but I remember being completely mesmerised by his voice from the minute he opened his mouth until he played the final chord and just thinking ‘who is this guy and where has his voice been all my life?’ I learned later that his name was Josh Groban, an American multi-platinum singer songwriter, actor, producer and philanthropist. I learned that the song he performed was called February Song and featured on his album Awake. I hastened to Itunes, downloaded said album and more of his music, grateful that I had discovered such an incredible talent and longed one day for the chance to see him live.
For the ensuing 7 years, I just couldn’t make the dream work. I wasn’t terribly au fait with keeping up with tour announcements at the time and would always find out too late so dates would be sold out, or he wouldn’t be playing anywhere convenient for me to travel to. A couple of my friends are devoted ‘Grobanites’, and I would look at their photos from and hear their stories about concerts with a mixture of pleasure, envy and sadness that I hadn’t yet had my turn and wondering if I ever would.
Jump ahead another year, and Josh has released his seventh studio album: Stages, a collection of songs from the world of musical theatre. As before a tour was announced, and I was determined I wasn’t going to miss out again if I could help it and was thrilled to see he’d be playing at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, a beautiful venue that I’d last been in an audience in back in 2011. I was on the phone for over an hour, each passing minute on hold sapping my optimism. Eventually, I’d got through and enquired and was informed they’d sold out. I knew she was going to say so, but I still had to bite my lip and take a breath to stop myself yelling in frustration down the phone, and a lump formed in my throat as I said thankyou. I took my mobile away from my ear and was about to press hang up, when she said: ‘wait, let me just double check.’ A few moments passed, then she said: ‘we do actually have the last wheelchair space, my mistake. It’s in Row Y at the back of stalls, do you want it?’
I said yes. Of course I did. Normally being in my chair frustrates me especially at concerts and the theatre as you’re limited as to your options for seating, and these are usually at the back. This time though, I went through an entirely different thought process, namely: I don’t care. I’m going to be in the same space as him after years of waiting, and that meant more to me than I think I can properly explain, even in my writing this. The buzz from the audience was amazing, and Josh’s vocals were magnificent from start to finish. What I especially loved was this innate, effortless ability he seems to have of making me feel like I’m the only person he was singing to when I know full well there were in excess of 2000 others in the room, so intense were the chills I was getting up my spine every song! My highlights from the set were: Anthem, Finishing the Hat, Children Will Listen/Not While I’m Around, You’ll Never Walk Alone, Try to Remember, and Old Devil Moon, but let’s be honest here; he could have got up there and sang anything and I’d have been completely overjoyed! All of these were coupled with some amusing anecdotes, including his time at high school (he compares himself to Ralph Wiggum of Simpsons fame, which just made me giggle) and how it felt seeing Antonio Banderas onstage in Nine followed by a gorgeous rendition of Unusual Way, a song I was only vaguely familiar with. It was just wonderful to see his warmth and cheeky good humour shine through and I had the biggest smile on my face regardless of whether he was singing or not!
As an extra treat, Josh was joined by Louise Dearman, a leading lady of the West End I have had the pleasure of seeing onstage recently, so am thrilled that her appearances with Josh are introducing her to new audiences and fans. She joined Josh in duets of All I Ask of You and an all time favourite musical love song of mine, If I Loved You. She also sang Astonishing from the musical version of Little Women, and as someone who confesses I am not a major Wicked fan, her rendition of Defying Gravity blew my mind! Special mention to Josh’s band and the orchestra, I left once more wishing I had the dexterity to play the piano and guitar, and the prelude to Sweeney Todd was spine tingling, and a shoutout to the students of Birmingham’s Institute of Theatre Arts, who accompanied Josh during Anthem and You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Early on in the evening, Josh talked about he was grateful to a particular teacher for giving him that push to get up and sing solo in his school concert. He then spoke about the differences in Arts education between here in the UK and the States, and how it was tragic that the funding and Arts programmes in schools are being cut left, right and centre at an alarming rate. As someone who was never adept at things like Music, Drama and Art at school but enjoyed them immensely and continues to do so at 25 and appreciates the benefits they give to enrich my life and our culture, it was wonderful to hear him speak so passionately and bring his foundation: Find Your Light to my attention, and I will definitely be donating, and would encourage all of you to take a look: www.findyourlightfoundation.org
Being a fan of concerts and musical theatre, anticipation and sometimes lengthy waits are part of the territory. As such, something I hear and see get bandied around a lot is: ‘don’t get your hopes up it won’t be as good as you expect’ when you’ve waited years for something to happen. I’d agree. Sometimes, just sometimes: they’re everything you hope, dream and so much more. Then Josh tweets you saying thanks and that’s the icing on the cake 😉