Little did I know as I set off for Llandudno yesterday morning just how different the day was going to pan out, or how significant the lucky omen of seeing two Magpies as my bus sped into town would turn out to be as the concert unfolded. But I’m getting ahead of myself!
My train journey, although rather convoluted, was uneventful and I arrived, on schedule, just before 2pm. Karsten is on the platform to meet me and we walked up to my hotel. Not the Jenivore that I had booked into, but the sister hotel “Bella Vista”, as I had got home from Cardiff to find a message saying that the Jenivore was having some building work done.
I am the only guest tonight so the first question is “What time would you like your breakfast?” I’m soon changed and heading up to Venue Cymru with Karsten, where we arrived a little before three. On the way I had received a text from Andy saying he would be late. There is no sign of anyone else at the venue – not even the equipment truck.
Venue Cymru lit by the winter sun
We had only been at the stage door for a few minutes when a very familiar vehicle appeared “Gosh! They’re early” and so they were. Pulling up beside us a few seconds later and disembarking a couple of unfamiliar faces, Hayley soon appeared and greeted us with familiar smile and “Hi guys!”
The first surprise was soon explained by Hayley who announced “I’ve got a special guest on the show, this is Alexei”. Hayley then introduced Karsten and I, by name, to Alexei and we shook hands, saying that he was going to sing a few numbers, but it seems they haven’t yet worked out the format.
It’s cold where we are stood and Hayley is not exactly dressed for outdoors so, after a quickly snapped photo, we took our leave as Hayley and everyone made their way inside.
"Love from Hayley"
This early arrival has upset the usual routine and deprived us of an hour or so’s wait in the cold and we have to find something else to do until it’s time to eat, well, it is the seaside, so yet another walk along the promenade is called for.
Having walked our legs off, found somewhere to eat and walked back to the venue, we found Andy waiting and settled down to wait for the concert. There is a table alongside where we are sat which has a familiar look to it. Sure enough, tour manager Dave soon appears with several large boxes and Ron arrived with his wife to make our group five.
“It’s all happening back stage” he says “Oh? Problems?” I enquire. Seems there’s a Japanese film crew in shooting a promotional video for the upcoming tour, as well as everyone having to sort out and work with the altered format to include Alexei. Another interesting snippet imparted by Dave is that Hayley and Alexei are going to do a duet.
There was an obvious clue as to what we might expect in what Dave had told us. We should have twigged, but we didn’t!!
The concert began as it had, two days earlier, in Cardiff, with the lights going down and Hayley's voice coming bell-like from the wings and the opening lines of “Prayer” filling the vast auditorium.
As the music began to play, Hayley, as yet unseen, walked onto stage to be suddenly spot-lit for all to see. Applause filled the air then quietened as Hayley began to sing again. After the first number Hayley earned more applause with her Welsh greeting and apologised for the fact that it was the only Welsh she knew. Giggling, she promised to be fluent next time she came to Wales.
Remarking that she was happy to have finally made it, a voice from the audience welcomed her back, which drew the comment that she loved the Welsh people and was very sorry that she had had to pull out of her performance last November, but said that it had been out of her control. It was clear that this audience understood and were just happy to have her back.
For much of the first half the concert followed it’s regular pattern. After “Songbird” at the point where Hayley introduces the musicians, it became very clear that everyone on stage was having a blast. Hayley commented that she had been ‘sort of’ told off for how she was addressing pianist Tim – apparently, according to his grandmother, he was always to be referred to as Timothy!
As you would expect, this is how Hayley now referred to him and as she carried on with her chatter, the Raven girls started to giggle and Hayley asked why. According to Stephanie, ‘Timothy’ had blushed causing Hayley to remark that she hadn’t realised that he was so easily embarrassed!
When Hayley returned to stage she had changed into the dark blue dress she wore during the Valentines tour and the concert continued in this happy vein until “Shenandoah” and when Hayley started to joke about there being 100 verses, I waited for my moment and jumped in with “Just sing 99!” “Thank you” replied Hayley, looking and pointing directly at me “But I think we’ll just stick to my favourite three” I’m sure at the end of the song, as she turned for a sip of water that she gave me an almost imperceptible nod, as if to say “Thank you, that worked”.
This is the point where things began to change as Hayley introduced Alexei (you may remember him as the very tall young man who dueted with Katherine Jenkins at the Festival of Remembrance) turns out he’s a 19 year old mathematics student on a gap year, which prompted Hayley to say at one point that she wasn’t used to being the oldest!
Maybe it was his nerves, or the fact that I didn’t much care for the first song, but I wasn’t impressed by his rendition of Ivor Gurney’s “Sleep”, but Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” for which he accompanied himself at the piano, was much better. Hayley then returned to stage as the musicians began to play the intro to “All I Ask Of You”. I really enjoyed this duet. It didn’t have the chemistry we’ve seen with Jonathan, but it worked well and got a very good reception. Hayley remained on stage to close out the first half with “Danny Boy”
It was during the interval, when Dave laid out the set lists for the second half and I had a sneaky look that I realised we were in for a very special treat. I was reading upside down and the words weren’t making sense, I repeated them to myself – Huh!? – Ooohhh!! – The penny dropped. I revealed my discovery to the others and to a number of random patrons sitting close by, much to their amusement.
As the lights dimmed I sat down, very unusually for me, looking forward to the end of the concert. Once again, the format remained unchanged for much of the second half of the concert. Until “Sonny” after which Alexei returned for one more number “Gira Con Me” which replaced the Raven piece whilst Hayley changed into her fourth dress of the concert.
Upon returning Hayley commented on yet another dress giggling “I’m such a girl!” Again, the regular three songs remained and so we came to “Wuthering Heights”. I’m certain Hayley just gets more into this song every time she sings it – it was just brilliant tonight and she came to the end, held her arms wide to acknowledge the musicians, thanked the audience and left the stage.
Knowing what to expect now, I was surprised to see everyone except Tim leave the stage and Dave and a technician come on, one to remove the microphone and Dave to swiftly remove the table containing Hayley's glass of water. All was soon revealed as Hayley returned to centre stage to make her big announcement.
“You may have noticed we have a Japanese film crew with us tonight and we thought it would be cool to sing a Japanese song. Would that be OK?” I don’t think many in the audience had a clue as to the magnitude of that statement, because there was hardly a murmur which prompted Hayley to say “You can have one in English as well”
Hayley then began to explain the song. That it was the first time that it would be sung outside Japan (and I guess, the first time sung in public by Hayley) “This is a very special song, written by Empress Michiko whilst she was in high school. It is a lullaby and it is called “Nemu No Ki”. Hayley stood by the piano to sing – I think she may have had some notes to refer to should she need them, but it didn’t look as though she did.
It was the first time that I and I guess everyone else there had heard Hayley sing in Japanese live and it was just wonderful. If the other tracks on the second HSJS are as good then it will be a stunning album. So, four dresses, 19 songs (is that a concert record?) and some very special ‘firsts’ and this very special “River of Dreams” concert ended with another lullaby – Hine e Hine and at least five very contented HWIers filed out of the auditorium.
I had hoped that Hayley may do a signing after the concert as they are staying in town and driving back in the morning, but it is not to be. Dave says “Usual place for the regulars!”
It’s a fairly small gathering tonight – the five of us and a similar number of local people with things for Hayley to sign. Tim is the first to appear and is happy to chat. We learn that he is flying over to Ireland with Hayley for the concert in Bangor as is Dave and ‘a violin’ – presumably Stephanie, but he didn’t expand. He also said that they still haven’t been told what Hayley is expected to do at the concert.
As the concert has run a bit longer with the extra’s, Hayley is a bit later coming out, going first to the minibus to deposit flowers. Whilst she chatted and signed for some of the patrons we took the opportunity to snap a few pictures, before it is our turn to talk to her. I asked if she thought that 19 songs was a record for her but she wasn’t sure. Not surprising really considering the number of concerts she has done!
With everyone else back on the bus and with Hayley obviously getting cold, we wished her good night and “See you in ….. where ever” and waved as the bus drove away and then said our personal goodbyes. Ron and his wife and Andy to drive home; Karsten and I heading in different directions to our respective hotels.
As I strode purposefully back along the now very windy promenade, I caught sight of the minibus parked in a side street. We had guessed right about which hotel they would be staying at, I thought, as I made my way up to my room. Settling down to enjoy a post concert glass of wine it felt nice to know that Hayley was only a few hundred yards away.
There are many different ways to get to the railway station from my hotel, so it perhaps won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I chose to walk down the street where the minibus was parked. Maybe with luck I would glance up and see Hayley's smiling face as she enjoyed her breakfast. Alas no, but as I drew level with the ‘bus, I spotted Dave coming down the hotel steps and stopped to say good morning with a “Fancy seeing you here!”
Their departure is imminent, Dave says, as both Andy and Rachael have commitments in London later in the day and it’s a long drive back. I would dearly have loved to have stayed to see Hayley again, but knew it would not be the right thing to do so with a “Give them all my love” I continued on towards the station. I did look over my shoulder a couple of times, but no one else had appeared by the time I turned the corner and the minibus disappeared from view.
Thank you for this exciting report. I couldn't stop reading it. They all seem to have a blast on stage. I like it when there are some changes during a tour like the new duet partner Alexei. I wonder how it will be in Leamington. I can't wait although I have to.
Wow! Thanks for a great report Grant. I guess that is only the second time she has sung a song from her Japanese songs albums live in the UK, or at least only the second song. Does anyone know what the other one was? I was present on one occasion when it was sung, but I vaguely remember she had sung it somewhere else too. This is what makes following Hayley so exciting I think. No two concerts are ever quite alike. I hope though that her apology at the start, increasing the number of songs, Hayley performed, the reduction of Raven's slot and the addition of Alexei was not a response to a certain out of order criticism of the Bridgewater Hall concert. But I fear it might have been.
I hope though that her apology at the start, increasing the number of songs, Hayley performed, the reduction of Raven's slot and the addition of Alexei was not a response to a certain out of order criticism of the Bridgewater Hall concert. But I fear it might have been.
Not at all Martin!
Both at Llandudno and Cardiff it was prompted by a member of the audience. The increased number of songs was down to the addition of the duet with Alexei and the 'one off' additional Japanese encore. Adding a guest in the shape of Alexei would not have answered the Manchester critic who wanted more Hayley.
The unpleasant episode after Bridgewater Hall has had enough of an airing now and should be put behind us and consigned to the recycle bin!
So, four dresses, 19 songs (is that a concert record?) ...
A record for dresses or songs? The most I have known her sing is 18 but I wouldn't know if that has been beaten at events to which I did not go. Probably unlikely. As for dresses, I wouldn't have a clue!