United Kingdom Paul Potts In Concert: Paul Potts with special guests Laura Wright and Elektra; musicians, Chris Taylor (piano/music director) and Robert Willis (conductor). Cliffs Pavilion, Southend, Essex. 23.10.2014. (JPr)
This was a show to remember in so very many ways. Firstly I must state that Paul Potts thoroughly deserves all the success he has had. He has survived winning the first series of Britain’s Got Talent in 2007 and is still going, whilst subsequent winners have – courtesy of Simon Cowell – seem to have about 18 months in the limelight … then it is off to pantomime! Of course, his is a very inspiring ‘rags to riches’ story and it is clear from his performance that through his life-long joy of singing Paul Potts continues to be living the dream. From all the publicity – at the time and subsequently – I knew some of his real-like story that has also received the Hollywood treatment in a somewhat fictionalised, but nevertheless still entertaining and inspiring, 2013 film One Chance staring James Corden: Paul Potts published his autobiography at the same time to tie-in with its release.
The real story in brief is that Potts was born in Bristol and his father was a bus driver and mother, a supermarket cashier. He enjoyed singing from an early age starting in his junior school choir then in the choirs at several local churches. Potts blames bullying at school for making him lack self-confidence and says how his voice had always been a source of solace when he was being abused in the playground. After he left school in 1987 various menial jobs came and went but subsequently he gained a BA (Hons.) in Humanities and was even elected as the youngest member of Bristol City Council. Potts first sang opera in minor roles in Puccini’s Turandot for Bath Opera, an amateur company, in 1999. (One of his roles was The Prince of Persia – incidentally, that was exactly what my favourite tenor, Alberto Remedios, began his career with). Some leading roles followed for similar companies but always as an amateur which usually means little more than expenses, if that. More memorably he was a manager for the Carphone Warehouse mobile phone store in Bridgend, Wales, whilst living in Port Talbot which is still his home. At the same time he took singing lessons in Italy – including a single masterclass with Pavarotti – but they were too expensive and had to give them up.
In 2003 he broke his collarbone and suffered whiplash in a bicycle accident, this mishap – plus some other health problems and the financial difficulties that followed in subsequent years – led him to enter Britain’s Got Talent despite not having sung in public for a number of years. He stunned the judges, the watching public voted for him in huge numbers and the rest – as they say – is history. It was truly a life-changing event; he subsequently released his first album One Chance the same year, topped the charts in 13 countries (including the UK), appeared twice on Oprah, brought New York’s Times Square to a standstill, and has toured ever since and become a household name garnering millions of fans throughout the world having performed in about 620 concerts in 45 countries in the intervening years. Paul Potts is now performing a series of concerts in the UK to publicise his fourth CD release, Home; 15 songs that are an eclectic mic of musical genres described as ‘without rules, one that celebrates the beauty of the song and the power of the voice.’
Now at ‘44 and one week’ as he mentioned himself, he is back after five years at the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend to start the short tour. To his great credit through his humble presence on stage and some fine singing and supported by his accomplished musical director, Chris Taylor – with 10 excellent musicians under conductor Bob Willis – they saved a show that seems to be heading towards disaster during the first half. They achieved a thoroughly deserved standing ovation at the end from the encouragingly full theatre.
What was the problem? Well it certainly had nothing to do with Paul Potts but it was his ‘special guest’ Laura Wright who had probably been shoehorned into the tour by their joint representation because the rugby-loving young singer is apparently ‘The nation’s favourite sporting soprano’! Sadly if she spent as much time on her performance as with her couture (bright red and split to the waist) then ‘disaster’ might have been averted. Apparently with all those musicians available behind her she needed backing tracks to help her. She was left standing by a ‘technical hitch’ and claiming she was not a ‘mime act’ proceeded to be just that and it was impossible to discern what part of what we were hearing she was actually singing. Ms Wright thought the best way to fill in the gaps while problems were trying to be sorted out was to talk about fish and chips, mushy peas and ketchup! I’ll leave this depressing and embarrassing interlude without further comment and suggest before Laura Wright does her own series of shows next year she becomes somewhat more professional.
It was down to Paul Potts with, I suspect, his regular MD, Chris Taylor, to save the evening; not only was Potts seemingly determined to make amends for this debacle by returning to the stage having shed the nerves that slightly undermined his first songs such as ‘Grenada’, but after an extended interval it seemed Ms Wright’s further involvement was replaced by a performance from two violinists from the orchestra who appear – in their own right(!) – as the duo Elektra and they played with great virtuosity an arrangement of ‘Over the Rainbow’ and what seemed like an Irish air.
As for Paul Potts himself, I do not wish to be condescending but he was much better than I expected and, I repeat, deserves all the success he has had … and should continue to have. His joy of singing shone through all he did and each song was performed with a full-on, heart-on-his sleeve, commitment. His sincerity and unaffected demeanour were his chief assets from the moment he wanders on stage in a very (too?) low-key way for the opening of the show. If his voice took a little time to find true focus in the aforementioned ‘Grenada’ and ‘Forbidden Colours’ (from his Cinema Paradiso album) it was never less than good. Next followed a beautiful Romano Musumarra number ‘Il mio miracolo’ from his new Home CD. From then on it was the same mix of famous arias and songs balanced with new arrangements of more recent music. This was all interspersed by chatting with the audience when he revealed – amongst other anecdotes and tales – his affection and awe of his wife, Julie-Ann, as well as, how José Carreras was his real inspiration and how he had only recently passed his driving test and had driven himself to Southend and tried to avoid being caught a second time for speeding. His genuineness and innate reticence became more and more appealing as the evening proceeded and it was like being in the presence of a friend singing his party-pieces in his front room or at a family gathering.
On Home he has covered The Eagles’s ‘Desperado’ and he returned after the Laura Wright interlude to sing what he revealed was his father-in-law’s favourite song. It was obvious a lot of what he sings and records is very personal to him. Guns N’ Roses ‘November Rain’ was his wife’s favourite and later another Romano Musumarra song ‘I’m Yours’ was dedicated to her. One very funny story was when he recounted how there is not a word apparently in Dutch for ‘drive’ so when he was interviewed in Holland, ‘drive my wife up the wall’ became ride my wife …! Before the interval he sang a wonderfully heartfelt ‘Caruso’ and after that long break he was back with the Beatles’ ‘Something’, a refined ‘Tristesse’ followed splendidly accompanied by Chris Taylor’s eloquent piano and a plangent ‘Non ti scordar di me’ (‘Never Forget About Me’) often sung by José Carreras – who was revealed as a greater inspiration to him than Pavarotti.
After Elektra had played Paul Potts returned in black tie replacing a plush velvet jacket that seemed slightly too small for him and channeled his inner-Mario Lanza with some more impressive singing; first with that great singer’s ‘Be My Love’, followed by ‘Parla più piano’ (‘Speak Softly Love’ – Nino Rota’s theme from The Godfather). I suspect for the very familiar ‘Time To Say Goodbye’ he would originally have been joined by Laura Wright, but left on his own he still brought the evening to a rousing conclusion. Everyone had been expecting one particular aria and it was left for his encore – that of course had to be ‘Nessun Dorma’ for which he became famous on Britain’s Got Talent. After the last of many resplendent top notes throughout his performance he brought his audience to its feet again – and as suggested earlier – very deservedly so.
Paul Potts has a real talent to entertain and deserves to be cherished. Having earlier praised Southend for being ‘understated and undervalued and more beautiful than people know’ – something that, for me, could apply both to the Cliffs Pavilion venue and Paul Potts himself in a way – his concluding words were typical of the man as he thanked his audience for ‘such a special opportunity I have been given.’
For more about Paul Potts and his recording and live performances visit http://www.paulpottsofficial.com/ .