WORDS LISA KAYE / IMAGES PAUL DIXON
As Natasha Hemmings took to the stage to support Aled Jones and Russel Watson for their UK Christmas Tour she twinkled like a true star in her beautiful full length sequined gown.
Natasha’s first song of the evening “Mary did you know” bedazzled the audience with her elegant and polished performance. As her sparkling silhouette lit up the stage she looked and sounded almost angelic.
As the audience began to settle into the festive performance Natasha then sang “the Christmas song, Merry Christmas to you”.
Her smooth, rich vocals captured the audience and as the song came to a close the Christmas spirit was certainly evident within the crowd.
Natasha introduced her next song of the evening as “her favourite song”, “it’s just magical”. As Natasha began to sing “When you wish upon a star”, the audience were mesmerised by her effortless vocal range, and we really did begin to believe that dreams could come true.
Natasha then introduced her pianist, Ian Tilley. As the audience applauded, she stated “as a Christian, the hymn Amazing Grace seems the perfect song to leave you with”. Natasha then took the audience to church as she stood next to the piano and gave an intimate performance of her version of the song. It was breathtakingly beautiful and impossible not to have goosebumps as she sang.
As Natasha twinkled on stage, her performance left the audience with a sprinkling of Christmas magic “Thank you, I wish you all a very merry Christmas” she said as she departed from the stage.
Birmingham ICC (Symphony Hall) was the perfect festive venue for Christmas with Aled and Russell, featuring well-loved Christmas songs from their latest No1 album. Their fourth in a row!
As the Iconic venue opened its doors to adoring Aled and Russell fans young and old, it was evident that everyone was in the Christmas spirit, eager to see them perform their selection of Christmas classics.
The anticipation grew as the Choir entered the stage, which was decorated with a large Christmas tree and festive lighting. As the audience applauded and cheered, Aled and Russell burst on stage together immaculately dressed in suits and tie.
As their, hand-picked and super talented musicians on stage, began to play the introduction to “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”, Aled opened the song and Russell then joined him, their voices perfectly complimenting each other and filling the HUGE hall.
Their energy on stage was infectious as they sung, linking arms and dancing together. This was to be an evening of top class vocals, musicianship, banter and polished entertainment for any age! During the opening number Russell even delighted the audience with the “robot” as Aled hopped rhythmically on stage to the music.
As they song came to a climax, the audience cheered and Aled bellowed…
“Merry Christmas Birmingham”.
The duo’s witty repartee was evident as Aled pointed at the Christmas tree on stage and commented that it looked a little unwell, Russell retorted, “If Christmas trees could get Covid?”. As the audience laughed the band moved into the intro to their next number. “Little Drummer Boy”.
“Come they told me, Pa rum pum pum pum”, Aled led with, as the bass drum thumped to the beat. Russell again joined him, his tenor adding a rich majestic tone to the song. As the song began to build momentum, the drum felt like the driving heartbeat of the song, carrying Aled and Russell’s powerful voices to the crescendo. The audience was raptured by the duo’s performance and as the song came to an end the audience cheered and applauded.
The duo’s friendly banter continued as they joked between songs. Laughing and engaging with the audience.
“Mistletoe and wine “, was the next Christmas cracker to be served with all the trimmings by the playful duo. It was impossible not to sway along as the brilliant “ROCK CHOIR” joined Aled and Russell. Their heavenly performance transported the audience to church, and they divinely delivered the message of love, laughter, and joy ever after.
Aled then made the audience laugh as he told a story of how he beat Cliff Richard playing tennis and how he hadn’t heard from Cliff since. Russell returned with the volley of a joke about letting Cliff win when he played him….. “because that’s how showbiz works Aled”…. Cue… roars of hearty laughter.
Russell softly led into a stunning version of “Silent night” in German, Then Aled in Welsh. Then they came together to duet in English for the finale of the song. This powerful performance showcased their exceptional vocal talent and gave the audience a magical and unique version of a classic Christmas carol.
As Aled and Russell left stage to “powder their nose”….. I suspect water was taken on given the energy expanded so far! (up 3 flights of stairs as the lift wasn’t working), the Rock Choir then gave a fantastic performance of “Merry Christmas” for the audience.
As they returned on stage the duo got the crowd clapping along to “Lucky, Lucky me”. The atmosphere was full of festive fun and Christmas Cheer and as they danced around the stage. It was impossible not to tap your toes to this feel-good number. The highlight was the high kick from them both as the song finished to which Aled exclaimed he’d “pulled a hamstring”.
Aled then admitted that as he was feeling so relaxed during the performance, he hadn’t noticed his fly was undone. He laughed as he told the audience that this had also happened on an episode of songs of praise and his dad had been the one to tell him. Russ commented “the cage was open Aled, but the beast was certainly asleep”. As they both burst into laughter, their close friendship was evident in this moment and the audience fell in love with them that little bit more.
As the lights dimmed and the background changed to that of imagery of nature, the band began to play the introduction to “Shenandoah”. Aled and Russell transported us to the rolling river and their vulnerable, honest performance made it impossible not to feel a lump in the throat.
As Aled and Russell sang the last song of Act 1 “O little town of Bethlehem” the choir joined them, sounding vast and celestial. I am sure the angels were watching this perfect performance. As the first part of the evening came to a close the atmosphere in the concert hall was that of pure delight and excitement for what was to come in Act 2. The hubbub and laughter was almost tangible as people fled for their half time beverages and ice creams.
As the audience settled back into their seats, there was certainly a buzz in the air and anticipation for the Duo’s return onto the stage.
As the choir entered, signaling the arrival of Aled and Russell, the audience roared their appreciation with enthusiastic clapping and cheered them back to the front of stage. With big smiles and synchronised dance moves to the upbeat “Feliz Navidad”. Russell and Aled both looked like they were having the best time on stage together. They both agreed that this was their best choreography so far. “Smooth” commented Russell as Aled burst into laughter.
Russell then introduced the next track to the audience “In the Bleak Midwinter”.
“Imagine recording this track as we did back in June” Russell commented “It was 38 degrees outside, I was in shorts and a T-Shirt, sweating”. The audience laughed.
As they began to sing this beautiful Christmas carol, the choir joined them which added another dimension to their performance. It was almost Holy, and the audience felt the real meaning of Christmas during this song.
As the song came to an end, Russell exclaimed he was a little hot under the collar and removed his Tie, and asked Aled what he had been dreaming of?
The musicians then began to play the familiar introduction to “White Christmas”. As the lights changed to red, Aled and Russel began their intimate performance of my personal favourite
Christmas song. The warmth of their rich, smooth vocals transported us to an open fire whilst drinking hot chocolate and as the song came to an end the audience certainly felt merry and bright.
Aled and Russell then took us to another world as they sang “A spaceman came travelling”. The hall was lit with a dazzling light show from the brilliant production team. The hall looked like we were aboard a huge ocean liner.
The “Sweetest music filled the air” as Russel introduced their guitarist, John Bailey. John gave a solo performance whilst they left the stage briefly. The audience was mesmorised by his musical talent. Upon returning to stage, (after having their Borocca), they both shook his hand as the audience showed their appreciation.
The audience was delighted as Aled, and Russel began to sing “Have yourself a merry little Christmas”. Their heartfelt performance was an opportunity to reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas, especially after the difficulties of the last few years. “Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us once more” was incredibly poignant and the emotion of the song was felt by the audience. There wasn’t a dry eye in the hall.
“Still, still, still” was the next song to be skillfully delivered by the duo. As they both angelically sang “Sleep baby Jesus., sleep”, this calming Christmas lullaby would certainly have done that. A truly beautiful performance.
As the song came to an end, Aled and Russell engaged with the audience again, “Who believes in Father Christmas?”, The audience shouted, whistled, and cheered.
The drums kicked in and the choir joined them as Aled, and Russell encouraged the crowd to clap a long to this well-known song. It was impossible not to dance in your seat to the tempo and sing along. At this point many at the rear of the hall and on the many balconies were up and actually dancing and swaying! It was party time.
“We only have two more songs to go!” Shouted Aled as the audience groaned in huge disappointment. Someone shouted “No!!!” from the Balcony, and Aled retorted. “That’s my Mum!”, The audience belly-laughed….
“O Holy Night” the penultimate song of the evening began to play. As Aled opened the song and the choir joined him, it was impossible not to have that goosebump feeling once again. It takes a special talent and voices to bring that level of response to the human physicality. As they sang together their powerful voices combined, once again filled this huge and bulging venue to it’s limit and gave a majestic performance to remember.
Russell spoke to the audience as the song came to an end. “This is one of my favourite venues within the UK, it never disappoints”, the audience cheered. Playing devil’s advocate Aled said, “You didn’t say that about Ipswich!”. The audience laughed again, enjoying the duo’s spontaneous and hilarious rapport on stage.
The last song of the evening “Hark the Herold” raised the roof of the Symphony Hall. As the Choir joined Aled and Russell through to the final bars of the deep, chesty classic, the audience cheered, thirsty for more.
Aled and Russell ended with a hug, bowed, and walked off stage linking arms with each other. Not only fantastic artists but also true friends. The audience cheered for an encore and as they waited patiently the duo returned to the stage.
And they did not disappoint.
As Mike Moran, the famous musical director on piano, began to play the introductory chords for “Walking in the air”. The audience went wild. I think it even took the duo by surprise.
The blue stage lighting and the twinkling of the piano keys transported us back to the snowman. As Aled began to sing, it was if we were listening to the song for the very first time. Russell joined in and their voices combined with the smoothest, silkiest tones floating across the wide-eyed and awe inspired audience giving this long-time classic Christmas song another little sparkly dash of Christmas magic.
As the performance ended, the musicians were enthusiastically applauded by a, now standing and shouting audience and Aled and Russell took their final bow. There was just enough time for both to receive huge bouquets of flowers from two dedicated and long-time fans, before leaving the stage for the final time this evening.
As the audience filed out, smiling and with a spring it was very, very evident that Aled and Russell had certainly left them with an abundance of goodwill, Christmas spirit and festive fun.
And I was most certainly walking in the air.
1. Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas
2. Little Drummer boy
3. Mistletoe and Wine
4. Silent Night
5. Lucky, lucky me
7. O Little town of Bethlehem
8. Feliz Navidad
9. In the Bleak Midwinter
10. White Christmas
11. A spaceman cam travelling
12. Have yourself a very merry little Christmas
13. Still, Still, Still
14. I believe in Father Christmas
15. O Holy night
16. Hark the herold
17. Walking in the air
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