By Roger Mansbridge
Review Date: 23rd March 2004_

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A review of the Llandudno concert of the UK leg of
The Pure Tour 2004.


Llandudno, North Wales TheatrePreviously, I had been privileged to see Hayley perform live four times - and to meet her on each occasion. One thing which continues to impress is that, each time, it just kept getting better. After the Royal Albert Hall event on December 12th last year, it was impossible to imagine how such a trend could be continued. But, it just did.

The concert in Llandudno was amazing to say the least. Hayley was backed by an eight-piece band comprising percussion, guitar, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass and keyboards. Every single one of them was a top-class musician and gave the concert a great deal in the excellence of their playing. I will give a full list at the end of this review.

The North Wales Theatre was to be full to capacity, and people began arriving around 5:45 pm - a full one and three quarter hours before the performance was due to start. As more people arrived, a buzz of eager anticipation slowly built up. Something I had never seen before was the tendency of people to not just sit in their own little groups, but to actually strike up conversations with others. What was the subject of conversation in many cases? Why, Hayley, of course. Everyone was looking forward to the concert almost with a feeling of excitement. They were not to be disappointed. Hayley, as usual, lifted herself up another level to give more - and better - than I have seen her do so far in other performances. She does this every time, so there is definitely a consistent trend. How she does it, I don't know. But, I have commented before on Hayley's apparent endless ability to improve on perfection.

And, what's more, there were to be some surprises which I, for one, found made the whole experience just that much more memorable. More about that later.

The concert was due to begin at 7:30pm. A minute or two before that, I decided that I would have a look around the auditorium. There was not a single empty seat. I have been to other concerts in the past, which were sold out performances, only to find that a number of seats remained empty because some people failed to turn up for one reason or another. This was not the case in Llandudno - every seat was occupied. No one had failed to turn up. The start was a couple of minutes late and I noticed that, again unusually, the audience began to fall silent of their own accord just before the actual start - they were clearly intent on not missing a moment. The musicians had taken their places. Then, Hayley came on stage to a hearty round of applause.

Without any fuss, she launched into her first number - what has become her signature tune - "Pokarekare Ana". At the back of the stage was a large screen and, as Hayley began to sing, we were treated to a scene of flying through fluffy white clouds. Overlaid on this, changing periodically, was Maori text (not a translation of the song) with the English translation. Each was almost like a proverb, showing the real beauty of Maori culture. I found it difficult to look at the screen as my eyes were drawn back to Hayley and I found myself wallowing blissfully in the all-encompassing beauty of her voice. Never have I known that song to appear so short, it seemed to be over in an instant. And the audience loved it. That was obvious by the enthusiasm of their applause.

Hayley had to wait until the applause was over before she could speak. While she waited, she had the most gorgeous smile of delight on her face. Eventually, the audience settled back ready for what was to come.

"Diolch-yn-fawr. Croeso." Said Hayley. That is "Thank you very much. Welcome," for the non-Welsh speakers who read this. This meant that Hayley had to stand and wait again. The audience went wild at being greeted in what is, for many of them, their native language. Clearly, they were impressed that Hayley should take the trouble to learn how to greet them in their own language and showed their approval and pleasure in no restrained terms. Periodically, throughout the evening, she would thank them again in Welsh.

Then, Hayley introduced her second song, which was to be "River of Dreams". The rear projection scene this time was to be of colourful fish swimming in a river, interspersed with water flowing over and between boulders. While Hayley was singing, there was not a sound from the audience - not even the clearing of a throat. Things were beginning to warm up now. When Hayley finished singing, the audience showed their approval with a more enthusiastic round of applause that before. The people gathered to witness this spectacle were giving their all, in return for Hayley doing likewise.

Now it was time for her third offering, which was "Beat of Your Heart". A truly beautiful song written for Hayley by Sir George Martin and his son Giles, both of whom had worked on the production of the album PURE. Once again, rapturous applause was offered up by the audience.

This was the point at which Hayley introduced Katherine Jenkins, the Welsh mezzo-soprano, who will appear in all the concerts in hayley's UK tour. Now, I'm not one who particularly likes mezzo-sopranos but, it is only fair to say that Katherine is excellent. A beautiful young woman, with a beautiful voice. I cannot remember the title of the first song she sang, only that it was foreign (typical English comment) but, it set the standard for Katherine's part in the proceedings. It was excellent and full of expression. Her second song was "The Ash Grove", a Welsh song which, unfortunately, I cannot remember the Welsh title of.

Katherine introduced Hayley again and, this time, the welcome given to her was definitely more enthusiastic than at the beginning of the concert. Hayley's next song was "Dark Waltz". When this is sung live, it just has so much more impact than on the CD. The rear projection was of close-up shots of people's hands, unusual and yet seemed just right for the event. It was a fantastic version, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all present. Once again, the appreciation of the audience was a delight to behold.

Hayley spoke again and, this is where my heart melted. "I would like to introduce my gorgeous sister, Sophie," she said. There was more enthusiastic applause from the audience, even though they did not know quite what a treat they were really in for. The song they sang together was "Panis Angelicus". If the sound of one Westenra singing could send me to paradise on the wings of ecstasy this, my first experience of seeing Sophie perform live, took me to a far better place than that. I have no words to describe how beautiful it was. Enough to say that I had to wipe away more than one tear of pure pleasure during the performance - just as now when, through writing this, I think back to that glorious experience. Sophie's voice is absolutely beautiful, her ability is astounding, and her stage presence is awesome. In fact, it was like watching two Hayley's. After hearing Sophie sing on two of the tracks on My Gift To You, I knew she was good. But, I had no idea just how good she is. I do now. I just wish I could express myself better when describing the experience. The audience nearly went ballistic with their applause. Just as the applause was starting to die down, Sophie left the stage and the volume of the applause built right back up. They absolutely loved her - and quite right too. This duet MUST be recorded for all to enjoy.

Now, we were in for another surprise as Hayley introduced her next guest. It was Brandon Pou. This young man is yet another exceptionally gifted performer, maintaining the extremely high standard already exhibited by those who had gone before. Together, they sang "All I Ask Of You" from Phantom of the Opera. This is a reprise from Hayley's eponymous album and, although that was recorded almost three years ago, and Hayley's voice has matured a lot since then, she showed with no difficulty that she could still hit the high notes. It was a beautifully executed number, performed by two great entertainers. Every moment was a delight to the ears. And the audience showed their approval in no short measure.

That brought us to a twenty-minute interval. And, I can tell you I needed it, my hands were smarting from all the applause.

The second half opened with the band playing a piece, which was not announced - so I have no idea what it was. Just that it was thoroughly enjoyable and was an opportunity for the musicians to show that they were, each and every one, accomplished in their own right.

Hayley returned to the stage accompanied by the expected applause of the audience (well, expected by me anyway). This song was "Who Painted The Moon Black". The rear projection this time was of the moon, moving across the screen in various directions - close-ups and longer shots. The backdrop around the screen was lit up like a starry sky. This really added to the mood of the song beautifully. The audience reaction was getting better all the time.

The next song offered for the delectation of those gathered was "Never Say Goodbye". Once again, delivered to absolute perfection and received so well.

It was now time for Katherine to return to the stage to warm applause from the audience. During this part, she gave us three songs. The first was a Welsh song which, yet again, I have forgotten the title of. Second came a song called "This Is For You". Well, that's the English title anyway. Before singing it, as it was Mother's Day, she dedicated it to her mother, who has never yet missed one of Katherine's performances. Her last song in this part was "Habanera", which she gave an absolutely stunning performance of. One thing she managed to tell us was, all her songs in the concert come from her debut album, 'Premiere', which is now to be released on April 5th (instead of April 19th).

Hayley came back on and, like mine, I bet there were quite a few people whose hands were stinging somewhat. Hayley now sang "Mary Did You Know?" At was so beautifully done and so moving. Far superior to any recording. At this point, Hayley left the stage again to extended rapturous applause. On to the stage came Sophie, this time, her entrance was greeted very enthusiastically. After two attempts to speak, the audience quietened down sufficiently for Sophie to say, "I would like to introduce my little brother, Isaac." I think by now people knew that they were in for yet another treat and the evening's events were going to go up yet another notch. They were not wrong. Sophie and Isaac sang "Greensleeves". They sang it in unison, in close harmony and then in answer to each other. Here we go again - Isaac has a fantastic voice. Far better than could be expected from one of his age. Tear wiping was necessary again. The audience was getting more appreciative as every song went by. And now, we had had the greatest experience I think it is ever possible to have. We had been privileged to witness the highest quality entertainment possible, from three members of the same family. If Isaac does not record his voice in the reasonably near future, there will be no justice in this world. A voice like that, given a little more time, should be recorded for posterity, and to share with the world. The last time I heard anyone say that, it was about Aled Jones all those years ago.

When they finished singing, they were given their just reward of a superb and unrestrained round of applause. Now the audience loved Isaac, too. Isaac left the stage, and Sophie moved off to the right hand side of the guitarist, but remained on stage. Hayley came back on and 1500 pairs of suffering hands were put mercilessly to work again. The next song was introduced by Hayley as follows. "The next song was written by Sarah Class while we were working in the studio. It is 'Across The Universe Of Time'." This is another song which is an absolute delight to listen to on the CD, but which takes on a whole new dimension when heard live. And then, we discovered the reason Sophie had remained on stage. She joined in the refrain, taking the song to even greater heights.

All too soon, it was time for the last song of the concert. Hayley began singing "Hine e Hine" and, as she sang, Brandon came back on stage. As Hayley paused, he took up the song. Then they were singing together. From either side, they were joined first by Katherine, then by Sophie and, finally, by Isaac and they all sang together. Before the end, they stopped singing, took their bows to thunderous applause and Hayley thanked the audience. Although I was sitting directly in front of her in the very front row, I could only just make out her voice. Excuse me, time to wipe away another tear or two. Turning, they left the stage, waving to the audience. The volume of the applause went up another notch. My hands were now hurting, I don't know about anyone else, but I didn't care. When Hayley, Brandon, Katherine, Sophie and Isaac had left the stage, there was no sign that the applause was going to let up. It was encore time.

Hayley came back on stage and the applause went up yet another notch. When they quietened down, Hayley launched into a fabulous rendition of "Amazing Grace". More punishment of hands followed. Next, she was joined by Katherine and Brandon and they sang "Ave Maria". The three of them producing a sound that can only be likened to a heavenly host. Even more punishment of hands. Mine were beginning to go numb. Everyone left the stage, but the audience were not having any of it. They wanted more. They got it with what could only be described as the very best of the night. We were treated to a rendition of "Wuthering Heights" which was absolutely inspired. Clearly, I was not the only one who thought so. At this stage, the audience produced a round of applause that topped anything which had gone before. This had really finished the evening off on a high. The applause wouldn't stop. Hayley brought everyone back on stage, and she brought the musicians forward to join her in a line to take their bows. Whilst this was going on, two bouquets of flowers were brought on. One for Katherine and one for Hayley. Up went the volume of applause again, and more bows followed. The applause did not start to die down until well after the stage was empty, and then only because they couldn't clap any more, I think.

What a night! That was, by a long way, the best yet. And it wasn't quite over. I went round to the stage door, people following close behind as I showed then where it was. There were that many people there, it took about an hour to get them in through the doors to see Hayley and family, and to get their autographs. I received another hug from Hayley and Steve, her manager, took a photograph of me with Hayley, Sophie and Isaac. This is something I will cherish for the rest of my life as a memento of probably the greatest experience yet. And I have it all to go through again in Cardiff - I can't wait.

Thank you Hayley. Thank you Sophie. Thank you Isaac. And a very special thank you to Gerald and Jill.

Also, thanks go to the members of an excellent band:

Gillon Cameron - Violin
Steve Hussey - Violin
Nina Cockburn - Viola
Katherine Jenkinson - Cello
Mark Cox - Guitars
Phil Donkin - Double Bass and Electric Bass
Gwilym Simcock - Piano and Keyboards
Mike Kruk - Drums and Percussion

Keith S.

23rd March, 2004.


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