I'm first home as I thought I would be! I'm not going to say much, I'll just whet your appetite a bit for Grant's report which will follow. He says he'll be up till 4am. I won't, I have to be up for work at 7am. So its Brief.
The show is wonderful, as you would expect from Hayley. There were some first night wobbles, but they didn't detract from the overall enjoyment of the show.
None of us saw Hayley arrive, but we did get to be present a the sound check/rehearsal. Peterborough Cathedral is a stunning location, and acoustically wonderful. Hayley's voice sounded fantastic.
There were so many highlights of this show it is difficult to pick a few. Quite a lot of the songs were being performed in public by Hayley for the first time. But Hayley accompanying herself on piano on River, Playing another instrument on Sleigh Ride (and getting in a bit of a tangle) and especially, singing The Coventry Carol without a microphone, which with the acoustics of the Cathedral and the choir backing her was wonderful. During the sound check she had started off singing with the mike, but seemed to be drowning out the choir, who were unmiked of course, and it was not working. When she came down off the stage and tried it without the mike, it sounded so much better, and I'm glad she chose to do that for the actual performance.
There was no official signing afterwards, but plenty of unofficial signing, and we did get to see her briefly. Steve, Grant, Karsten, and I think Paddy as well were in action with their cameras, and I also took a few myself, so there should be some photos of the concert and after show meeting posted once we get ourselves sorted out. No photos of the sound check though, as we were told that was Hayley's wish.
She wore a dress I haven't seen before for the first half, greenish, covered in sequins and just above knee length, so you fashion experts have something to look forward to.
Part 1 - The Afternoon Set off just before noon in showery conditions which got worse and worse as I headed east. At times the rain was so heavy even having windscreen wipers on their fastest setting could hardly cope. Fortunately it improved as I headed south down the A1 and I even saw the sun briefly.
Very impressed with direction signs around Peterborough, particularly the one that announced “The best car park for the Cathedral”! That’ll do for me then. Pity the rain started up again as I headed for the Cathedral itself and, although I found a short cut through, I was pretty soggy and bedraggled by the time I arrived at the huge and impressive west door.
There are no familiar faces to be seen outside or in, so I explored a bit, all the time looking for familiar faces. First to arrive were Nicola and Hannah from Bedlam and eventually, the first of our little group in the familiar shape of Martin. We didn’t actually see the minibus arrive but it perhaps wouldn’t have been sensible to wait at the ‘back door’ for them considering the prevailing weather. In any event, we spotted Tim and Andy in the stage area and wandered down to see what was happening and Tim came over for a brief chat. The Raven girls were also around and the six of them began rehearsing. As yet, no sign of Hayley.
By the time the sound check got underway, Steve had joined us and Hayley had also arrived on stage with a wave of acknowledgement in our direction and well wrapped up in her red coat.
I love sound checks. You get a real feel of how the end result of the concert itself is achieved. I’m sure many concert goers think the performers just turn up and get on with it, but I find it fascinating to watch Hayley and the team ‘work’ - a few words here, a hand signal from Hayley there – there were plenty of those this afternoon but with so many new songs that was no doubt inevitable.
There’s no point going into great detail about the sound check which lasted over 90 minutes and saw Hayley perform 13 songs - a concert in itself really. There was only one song from the sound check that wasn’t included in the concert and that was “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. There were a few bits of banter and Hayley did manage to ask how we all were in the middle of everything.
Apart from that, there were a few brief notes played by Hayley on the keyboard that gave cause for some excitement and a few giggles when Hayley tried to hide another musical instrument behind her back but, as Martin has said, the highlight was “The Coventry Carol” which Hayley sang with the choir and initially from the stage. She clearly wasn’t happy with the result using her mic. and joined the girls in front of the stage to sing without it. We all thought this sounded much better and commented that we hoped she would do the same in the concert.
By now it is almost 5pm and we have already decided that we need to be back to form the queue by 5.30 so it’s a quick dash to get some chips and a bottle of water before heading back to the Cathedral.
Part 2 The Concert. Act 1 Luckily for those at the front of the queue, there is a large covered porch and an inner vestibule which we occupied for the hour or so until the concert. At about 6.15 and without warning, the huge doors swung open and we were invited it, only to come face to face with a horrified Hannah who clearly wasn’t ready as the choir were still rehearsing. It seems the head steward was unhappy that people were queuing in the rain so here we were Steve, Karsten, Paddy and I at the head of the queue but now standing by the Font halfway down the Knave. Quite Bizarre!
Eventually we took our seats on the third row, the front two being reserved and the Cathedral filled up behind us. There were, apparently, tickets being sold at the door but, by 7.30pm their didn’t appear to be many empty seats apart from those with restricted view.
Now I have been getting very excited about this tour. We haven’t had a proper Christmas tour from Hayley since “Christmas Presence” and that was three years ago and, having had “Winter Magic” for 6 weeks now, I’m desperate to hear Hayley sing live, as many of the songs on the album as possible. OK, so having already sat through the sound check, we have a pretty good idea what is coming – Oh! And the set list is in the programme but I haven’t got one yet.
One of the priests did a brief introduction and led the audience in a prayer before the choir processed down to stage singing the Allelujah which sounded wonderful. They then did a short set before Andy Tim and Raven came on stage, the clip clop of heels signifying that Hayley was not far behind. We had speculated whilst waiting for the doors to open as to whether or not Hayley would have a new dress for this tour. Yes, of course she has!! Very appropriate too! Knee length, silver on white giving the effect of ice and snow with a sort of icicle effect on the bodice (you’ll have to wait for the pictures!) Quite simple from the front but with a deeply scalloped back and what appeared to be drawstrings in a ‘Y’ shape hanging down the back, almost to the waist.
After the welcoming applause died down, Hayley opened her concert with “Veni Veni Emanuel” one of my favourites from the album. I had been transfixed at the sound check hearing it live for the very first time, but with a packed Cathedral and superb acoustics, those first rich notes had the same effect that “Prayer” has done recently in setting the atmosphere for what was going to be one of the greatest Hayley concert successes of all time. I am transfixed again.
Hayley’s second song was a surprise as it hadn’t featured in the sound track and I had been a little disappointed. But here it was! “Little Drummer Boy” Don’t know what it is about this one, the simplicity of the words; the fact that I knew it as a small boy or maybe it is just the beautiful way Hayley sings it. I guess that must be it. The audience were loving it too – long and loud applause followed each song. “The Christmas Song” followed, after which Hayley left the stage to Raven who performed Bolero and a new one; a medley of Aires and jigs which incorporated “Mrs Jamieson’s Favourite”
Hayley returned to stage with Caccini’s “Ave Maria” one of only two songs from her existing repertoire and then it was back to the album with “The Little Road To Bethlehem” I love this, but had not been familiar with it prior to the album. It’s one that Hayley said she’d put her own take on and speeded it up and it works superbly well.
Now we come to one of the real highlights of the concert. This track has grown on me immensely since I began playing the album, essentially because of one note, probably the most gorgeous note on the whole album. In a live concert would it sound the same? Would it have the same impact? “Corpus Christi Carol” is one of the most incredible songs imaginable and I waited for that last note as I had done in the sound check. Well, Hayley has sent shivers running down my spine with her voice many times before but this was different, the shivers continued after the note had died away. How does she do that!!
We’re almost at the interval and the choir have returned to join Hayley with “The Coventry Carol” “I’m going to try the acoustics of this beautiful cathedral and not use a microphone. Hope it works!” said Hayley. It would have been interesting to hear what it sounded like from the back, but from where we were sitting it sounded amazing and Hayley really let rip on the final few notes – fantastic!
Part 3 The Concert Act 2 As with most concerts, Raven opened Act 2 with a couple of regular pieces; the Vivaldi Medley followed by Czardas/Godfather after which Hayley returned to stage wearing her knee length red dress with broad black belt. Now, I’d forgotten about those few interesting notes played on the keyboard by Hayley in the sound check – until now. “I’m not really a piano player” says Hayley as she settles herself at the keyboard, well you wouldn’t have been able to tell from her rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “River” just beautiful. What an extremely talented young lady our Hayley is!
Eva Cassidy’s “I Know You By Heart” was the second and only other non Christmas song included in the concert and this was followed by a carol that Hayley confirmed to be one of her favourites “O Holy Night”. I first heard this at Christmas Presence sung with Blake but, as a solo, Hayley makes this her own and it’s easy to see from her facial expression and the effort she puts into it, just how important it is to her.
At this point, Hayley leaves the stage again whilst Raven strike up with “The Holly And The Ivy” pending her return – with sleigh bells! Guess what’s coming next folks! Yep! “Sleigh Ride”, Seems the sleigh bells might have been an experiment. Hayley has the giggles and says she’s having trouble co-ordinating the bells with her singing so they might not make it onto stage at Ripon!
My other album favourite came next “Peace Shall Come” – one that Hayley says she actually wrote herself and another particular favourite of mine and which sounds absolutely stunning sung live. When Hayley announced that we’d come to the end of the concert, she was almost overwhelmed by the disappointment expressed by the audience and closed the second half with “Love Came Down At Christmas”. She wasn’t going to get away that easily though and she was soon back on stage with “Silent Night”.
That really was ‘out lot’ and the audience began to disperse. We had already established that there was not to be a formal signing tonight (although Nicola confirmed that there would be at all the other WM concerts) and were preparing to head for the back door when we noticed Hayley posing with the girls from the choir. “Lets go see what’s happening” so, off we went. Soon turned into an impromptu signing session and a chance to get a few pictures. Just about managed to say to Hayley that I thought the set list was inspirational and that I would see her in Banbury next Saturday and it’s time to think about heading home.