It was quite a strange feeling having a big musical theatre performer choose my local theatre as the venue to showcase songs from his albums. In the weeks leading up to the show, there was a buzz from people all over the uk on twitter and for once I didn’t need to get train tickets or book a hotel or do the dreaded packing as I was already here.
As someone who is often at the Grand Theatre (in fact I’m there this week as stage crew for Abbey Player’s Sound of Music) I can tell you that I haven’t experienced an atmosphere here quite as electric as it was for John Owen Jones. The audience were made up of many familiar local faces, some familiar twitter faces (such as his biggest fans – the Archer family) and coach loads of completely unfamiliar faces.
The reason he chose Swansea is, of course, because he hails from a nearby town called Burry Port. This meant that all his family could attend, most of whom sat in one of the boxes on the left (or, to use the correct jargon, stage right... the stagey part of me won’t let that go).
This made for a few special moments, most prominently when he dedicated the song ‘New Words’ from his self-titled album to his son, at the end of which I could see his wife wiping away a tear or two.
He opened the show with his powerful version of ‘Thunderball’ from his most recent album ‘Unmasked’ then took us through the back catalogue of songs from both this album and his previous self-titled one.
John Owen Jones didn’t spend the evening alone on that stage, however. He was accompanied by a large orchestra who sat on stage with him and produced a beautiful wall of sound for his powerful vocals.
He’d also invited along some special guests including one of his Christine’s, the beautiful, talented soprano Katy Treharne who soared through a rendition of ‘Think of Me’ and dueted with Mr Owen Jones singing ‘All I Ask of You’ (during which John Owen Jones made an “on purpose” mistake.... to check we were listening properly, of course).
His next guest was a young boy called Jack Sullivan who toured with Oliver! last year and the beginning of this year and treated us to a performance of ‘Where is Love’ from the aforementioned musical as well as an Eva Cassidy style version of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. You can also catch him singing again with John Owen Jones next week in Edinburgh at The Usher Hall.
The last guest was the real surprise as he wasn’t even listed in the programme. This is a man who can challenge John Owen Jones for the crown of king of the Phantom’s, having been described as the definitive Phantom and clocking up an impressive 2750 performances. The final guest was the one and only Peter Karrie. It was a real treat hearing the pair do a specially arranged duet of ‘Music of the Night’. To see my Gramps’ face light up when Karrie came on stage was worth so much more than the price of the tickets (don’t worry, this is just a rare soppy moment and it won’t happen again.... probably).
Owen Jones left till last his two ‘most requested’ songs, both of which follow a similar theme and run nicely into one another. First the very moving, poignant ‘Tell My Father’ from a musical I’d never heard of called ‘Civil War’ by Frank Wildhorn (whose shows ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ and ‘Scarlett Pimpernel’ you might know) and ending with a song from one of the most loved musicals that he owes a lot to – that is, of course, ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables.
It wasn’t just an evening of serious songs though. A couple of comedy songs were thrown in, including a song where John Owen Jones called two audience members to the stage and had them blow raspberrys at various intervals, then asked all the audience members to join in.
Another was a song he claimed he’d never been able to get right and that the MD, John Quirk, had bet him £50 he couldn’t do. It was a song written to Chopin’s Minute Waltz (I think – please correct me if that’s wrong) which got a little faster each time it was played. By the end the lyrics were little more than a blur – very amusing yet impressive all at once.
There was good banter between John Owen Jones and John Quirk – you can tell that they get on really well and are friends as well as colleagues and there was even a nice moment where Quirk sang the harmony for a song the Owen Jones really wanted to do, but couldn’t have otherwise (I’m not going to tell you what the song was, though..... because I can’t remember, not because I’m mean)
At the end, John Owen Jones did a signing and luckily I was quite near the front of the queue and didn’t have to wait too long. As the queue was so long, however, we were rushed through a little.
It was a very enjoyable evening with a fantastic atmosphere full of people who were all there to celebrate John Owen Jones’s voice. If he tours this show, I feel it could use a little polishing as some bits seemed a little clunky and disjointed and he could, perhaps, have thrown in some more anecdotes as these are what make an audience warm to a performer. Overall, though, I had a really good time and my grandparents seemed to really enjoy it too.