Ross Leadbeater's Great British Songbook

Ross Leadbeater is an alumnus of the all-male Welsh choir Only Men Aloud!, who won the 2008 television show Last Choir Standing. He’s in Edinburgh singing songs from the Great British Songbook, but over the course of a hit-and-miss hour it proves quite difficult to pin down exactly what this Songbook is supposed to be. The result is a show that feels like it’s still trying to find its feet, or its audience.

Leadbeater is talented, but would benefit from making a decision about what he wants from his audience, and what he wants to play.

Leabeater’s model is clearly the Great American Songbook, but whilst that phrase refers to a defined period in American music (think Irving Berlin and Cole Porter), Leadbeater tells us that The Great British Songbook contains music all the way up to the present day. Is it simply songs by singer-songwriters, or from musicals and films then? Apparently not, for Leadbeater confidently informs us that Chris Martin of Coldplay belongs to the pantheon of Great British songwriters. Is it just great music from Great Britain? Then why does Leadbeater sing all his songs in the style of music written by men like Noel Gay and Ivor Novello (“very much the Ed Sheeran of his day”), who belong to roughly the same period as their Great American counterparts? Leadbeater isn’t very much more helpful when he proclaims that he’s discovered the formula which makes a Great song: “It’s that combination of words and music”. Even he can’t be too convinced by this, since he goes on to perform a wordless rendition of the piano-part for the song Memory from the musical Cats.

This lack of clarity in his theme would be forgivable if Leadbeater would relax and let the audience sink into the medley of hits that he plays – he’s likeable, a talented and engaging singer, and a smooth piano player – but he doesn’t. The audience, on a quiet Sunday evening, is clearly smaller than Leadbeater is used to, and this noticeably affects his patter with the crowd. He often turns to the audience asking whether they at least enjoyed his last track, as if they were being ungenerous. By my reckoning they weren’t – it’s just that Leadbeater misjudges the kind of reaction he should be hoping for. The crowd was older and generally content to enjoy the performance, occasionally quietly singing along with the songs they were familiar with. This seemed appropriate given the pacing of the show – Leadbeater sits alone at a keyboard and gently serenades the audience. But instead of trusting the audience to do what they’re comfortable with, Leadbeater often aims for some energetic call-and-response, which aside from anything is out of step with the style of music he’s playing. And while it’s of course understandable that Leadbeater had an off-night, he should know better than to make jokes about how badly the show is going. I can’t remember ever seeing this tactic make a show suddenly go better.

Leadbeater is talented, but would benefit from making a decision about what he wants from his audience, and what he wants to play.

Reviews by Matthew Bradley

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Performances

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The Blurb

Following his critically acclaimed West End concerts and 2016 UK Tour, the award-winning singer/pianist celebrates The Great British Songbook. From Ivor Novello to Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Beatles, Ed Sheeran and some original material, there is something for everyone! Ross shot to fame in 2008 with Classical Brit Award-winning group Only Men Aloud, releasing two albums with Decca, achieving record sales of over 300,000, performing alongside Shirley Bassey, Katherine Jenkins and Josh Groban. A regular on BBC Radio and TV appearances include The Royal Variety Show, The Classical Brit Awards and One Show.