Russell Watson, Albert Hall


Watson reckons his post-treatment voice is richer and fuller, though he was treading warily around the high notes during this gig. Rating: 

If brain tumours couldn’t beat Russell Watson, the critics don’t stand a chance, and this Albert Hall date demonstrated that he evokes the classical-crossover version of Beatlemania in his adoring supporters. It wasn’t so much a concert, more a kind of indoor street party festooned with Union Flags and blasts of tickertape shooting across the stage.

Resoundingly unsubtle and bursting with pride about it, Watson wrapped himself in the flag (literally) and climaxed the show with gigantic singalongs of Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory, as if it was the Last Night of the Proms.

Earlier, the “classical” part of the equation hadn’t got much of a look in as Watson trampled enthusiastically through popular standards, Neapolitan songs and a few highlights from the West End stage. Leonard Bernstein’s Somewhere and the Mario Lanza chestnut Be My Love set the scene, Watson riding the grand orchestral surge from the massed musicians filling the stage behind him (a surprising number of them just happening to be young, attractive and female). Volare and Strangers In The Night allowed Watson to indulge his glittery Rat Pack fantasies, while Funiculì Funiculà was the cue to unleash the massed singers of the London Chorus while Watson danced a shuffle alongside conductor Robert Emery. The latter, skipping around the rostrum in a velveteen suit, spent much of the evening mugging and waving at the audience like a Butlins compere.

Watson reckons his post-treatment voice is richer and fuller than it was before, though tonight, at least, he didn’t seem to be delivering the full throttle-open bellow, and was treading warily around the high notes. Tunes like Can’t Help Falling In Love or I Left My Heart in San Francisco are no-brainer crowd-pleasers, but not much of a challenge for Big Russ (who’s become a very chunky lad indeed, with a formidable set of prop forward’s shoulders).

However, he stretched out a little as the evening neared its close, turning up the afterburners for The Impossible Dream and essaying a rather impressive Bring Him Home (from Les Misérables), in which he seemed to be consciously readjusting his jaw to produce the higher notes.

A note of bathos crept in when Watson asked if we’d mind him singing a Christmas song, since the show was being filmed for a Christmas DVD release.

Nobody complained, funnily enough, so he sang O Holy Night. Most of the audience probably wouldn’t have minded if he’d sung the greatest hits of Chinese opera or Balinese fisherman’s ballads. This was the night they came out to celebrate the triumphant comeback of Salford’s so-called “Voice of a Generation”, and he didn’t disappoint them.

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