I was lucky enough, along with Registrar Cordelia “Givvi” Flynn, to be at The Grand Theatre in Swansea on Saturday 17th November, to witness the first-ever solo concert by the man we’re lucky enough to have as our Patron, and one of the UK’s finest voices: John Owen Jones.
The seasoned actor & singer is well-known for his towering performances in Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, but it’s one thing to be great in the relative security of a major box-office-hit show, and quite another to be the show. John declared himself to be “excited and nervous” before curtain-up in the sold-out theatre (which is a beautiful 19th Century 1000-seater, well worth a visit).
Backed by a tight on-stage orchestra led by musical director John Quirk, who exuded charm and personality as well as leading the orchestra with flair, the show opened with “Nature Boy”, which is the opening number on John’s album “Unmasked”. This was followed up by “Thunderball” and host of songs from the albums, some of which he’d never sung on stage before.
I’ve never seen nerves from the man who we at VIDLA call “The Master” (due to his impeccable technique) but he was less self-assured than usual through much of the first half, probably because this first-ever solo concert clearly meant a good deal to him. Once he’d realised that the audience was collectively worshipping at his feet and buying what he was selling that changed, and he settled into his usual confident demeanour. Speaking from a personal perspective, I relished that slight nervousness – not that I (or anyone else, for that matter) wanted him to feel uncomfortable, but it lent him a certain vulnerability that was very endearing. Charm he has in buckets, by the way – his sense of humour leaps off the stage and isn’t carefully controlled or stage-managed, which makes a refreshing change in an era when concert-platform artists routinely spout politically-correct platitudes. Long live a genuine opinion, say I!
Highlights of the show, for me, were performances of Jason Robert Brown’s “Someone To Fall Back On”, and “Til I hear You Sing” from Love Never Dies – a song which he owns, lock stock and barrel (sorry, Ramin)! Naturally he delivered the Les Mis hit “Bring Him Home” for which he’s so famous, and rightly so, but it was great to hear him sing, y’know, something else! I would have loved a couple more uptempo pieces (maybe even a rock tune or two?) but hey, as far as the audience was concerned, he could absolutely do no wrong.
A huge bonus was a guest appearance by Phantom veteran Peter Karrie, who stormed the stage and almost threatened not to return it to the main attraction. The man’s got rock n roll attitude written all over him and he had both Givvi and I beaming from ear to ear – I love to see a performer owning the stage. His duet with JOJ on “Music of the Night” was another highlight of a show that was littered with great moments.
So what’s next? Well, there are a bunch of concerts coming up, with other musical theatre luminaries, and there are apparently more solo concerts on the cards for 2013. Check John’s website for details. If you’re a fan of good old-fashioned ‘proper’ entertainment that relies on talent and stagecraft rather than special effects and hype, I urge you to start queueing for your tickets now. I make no apologies for loving the show – I am a huge fan, after all – but even speaking from a more objective stance, there is no doubt in my mind that JOJ could rival Michael Buble as a concert-platform and recording artist (and with more range)! Yeah. Let’s make that happen.