Leeds in Lichfield ~ Report

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On Saturday 13 September, the cathedral city of Lichfield became the latest venue for Gary to spend a weekend with his Discussion Group members.  Gary's show with Mike Powell (the voice of Scott Walker & Matt Monro) at The Garrick Theatre on Sunday 14 September initially prompted the get together, and Gary decided to arrive on the Saturday so he could spend more time with his fans who had travelled from all around the UK, and even Monaco, for the occasion.  There was a steady flow of arrivals throughout Saturday at the Cathedral Lodge Hotel, and much excitement as everyone met up again and new members were introduced and welcomed.  Gary and his lovely wife, Barbara, checked in during the afternoon before getting themselves organised for some relaxation and fun, which started early on Saturday evening when everybody met up in the hotel bar for pre-dinner drinks.  As usual, Gary entertained everyone with his stories, even continuing during the now customary group photos, taken outside the hotel where passing motorists must have wondered what on earth was going on!

Another round or two of drinks preceded an excellent meal in the hotel restaurant where nothing was too much trouble for the proprietor, Billy.  With typical Irish charm and generosity he looked after the whole group superbly.  Ruth, a first time visitor to one of Gary's gatherings, was celebrating her birthday and, unknown to her, arrangements had been made for Gary to present her with a card, bottle of champagne and a cake.  To say it made her day would be an understatement, and Gary certainly made it a birthday for Ruth to remember for many years to come.  Following dinner, the group retired to the bar once more, where Gary circulated around the room, telling more of his endless stories, and ensuring everyone was able to chat with him in an intimate and informal atmosphere.  Platters of sandwiches, courtesy of Billy, appeared around midnight before everyone decided they better catch up on some sleep as Sunday was going to be another busy day.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny and, after a leisurely breakfast, most people took the opportunity to explore the historic city of Lichfield.  The imposing cathedral dates back to the 7th century and is the only medieval English cathedral with three spires.  Sadly there was a special service taking place that morning so nobody was able to view the interior of such a stunning building.  It was also interesting to learn that there is a memorial statue in Beacon Park commemorating Captain Edward Smith of the Titanic.  The statue was the work of Lady Kathleen Scott, widow of Captain R F Scott, the Antarctic explorer, and was unveiled by Captain Smith's daughter, Helen, on 29th July 1914.  Gary was delighted to discover and photograph the statue, as he has previously made models of the Titanic, and has long had a interest in the ill-fated liner.  Gary and Barbara were later spotted talking a leisurely stroll around the local shops where Gary was sorely tempted to enter the one with a very appealing window display of hand-made chocolates.  He did resist, though he is known to have a very sweet tooth!! 

Two ardent Walker fans, a very young Adam and a more mature Dave, had set themselves for a long wait outside the Garrick Theatre that afternoon in the hope of meeting Gary.  Once they were spotted by some of the group members who were out for a walk, they were invited to join in with everyone at the hotel and didn't need to be asked twice!  Adam and Dave then spent the early part of the afternoon swapping Walker stories with other group members before Gary arrived in the bar to entertain them with yet more tales while signing autographs and posing for photos.  Two very happy gentlemen!

Most people returned to the Cathedral Lodge during the course of the afternoon, where they were joined by others who had arrived that day, for a late Sunday lunch (or early dinner!) before the show.  Once again, the ever-delightful Billy and his staff provided excellent service and food that was enjoyed by all.  During the meal, Gary passed through the restaurant, and stayed rather longer than he should have, on his way to the Garrick Theatre for the soundcheck.  By the time Gary returned to the hotel to change into his stage outfit everybody was arranging transport or setting out on the short walk into Lichfield city centre for the show.  Those who walked were treated to a wave from Gary as he drove past.  He was later asked why he didn't stop to pick them all up!!

The Garrick Theatre is located in an attractive glass-fronted building in Lichfield's modern shopping centre, with Gary and Mike's show taking place in the intimate, amphitheatre-style studio.  The stage was dominated by a grand piano that caused much discussion amongst the audience on arrival.  This was soon replaced by loud applause when the house lights dimmed and, after some apparent confusion, Gary appeared from the right of the stage.  He mysteriously explained that "something should have happened then, but it didn't!"  It wasn't until much later in the show that everyone learned that Gary's entrance should have been accompanied by a medley of Walker hits, however the PA system failed at just the wrong moment.  Thankfully the fault was rectified for Gary's entrance in the second half of the show.  Despite the initial confusion, Gary was quickly into his stride and clearly enjoyed explaining the presence of the grand piano.  It seems it had been badly damaged by recent flooding and was likely to collapse at any moment.  Of course Gary and Mike had received strict instructions not to touch it, which made it an almost irresistible temptation for both of them throughout the show and was the brunt of many of their jokes.  This was Gary and Mike's second appearance together and it is evident that they have already developed a great rapport.

Gary eventually tore himself away from the fascinations of the piano to share a few Walker memories before introducing Mike as the voice of Matt Monro for the remainder of the first half of the show.  Mike performed a fine selection of Matt's hits including a stunning version of Before You Go, which he described as a song he "always thought the Walker Brothers should have recorded".  Mike's stunning rendition certainly provided a very convincing case.  Another highlight of Mike's first set was the Divine Comedy's song Our Mutual Friend, which includes a mention of The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore in the lyrics.

Following a short intermission, Gary returned, this time accompanied by the medley of Walker tunes that had been missing from his first stage entrance.  He mentioned several times that the theatre had "a very strict curfew" so he'd been told that he must not talk for too long.  This caused great hilarity as Gary is not known for his brevity once he starts his story telling!  Many funny tales followed, all interspersed with Gary's reminders to himself that he must not stay on for too long.  They didn't seem to be working (not that anybody minded!) because a cap was eventually thrown from backstage in a further attempt to prompt Gary to introduce Mike again.  This time Mike was the voice of Scott Walker and it was a truly haunting experience listening to so many great songs being performed live once more.  Mike delivered a wide variety of Walker songs, including Make It Easy On Yourself, Joanna, The Lights Of Cincinnati, Another Tear Falls, Stay With Me Baby, a stunning Lines and The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore.  After putting his heart and soul into Stay With Me Baby Mike said he "needed a drink of water after that one".......enter Gary, stage right, with a glass of water, which prompted an hysterical exchange between the two of them about whether the piano might collapse if they risked putting the glass on it.  During his performance Mike broke away from his planned set list to talk about how impressed he'd been when he saw Scott on TV during the 70s singing a Val Doonican hit, a song that Scott had not recorded but Mike wished he had.  Mike followed this story with a seemingly effortless acapella rendition of What Would I Be that received loud and long applause.

Following The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore, Gary returned to the stage for yet more comical exchanges with Mike.  All too soon, it was time for Mike's finale, the classic Tom Rush song No Regrets.  Mike invited everybody to join in, and all but Gary did.  As he had in Solihull, Gary once again promised "next time".  He will have to be held to his word next time, which shouldn't be too far away if the standing ovation that he and Mike received is anything to go by.  Several members of the audience had tissues at hand and lumps in their throats when the show ended, and all felt as if they'd been transported back 40 years in time.

After spending some time in the theatre foyer signing autographs and posing for photos, Mike had to leave for a long drive home, but Gary was soon back in the hotel bar where the laughter and chat again continued long into the night.  Not many made it to breakfast the following morning!

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