We’re a funny breed us Mancunians. We show affection by insulting each other, we’re fiercely territorial and we like to put gravy on everything. Above all else, we’re loyal; especially when it’s one of our own. So, after biting my tongue the first 17 times I saw Jason Manford lumped in with the kind of dad-dancing karaoke singing embarrassments like Nick Knowles (who I’ve loved ever since I could say DIY SOS) and Bradley Walsh (no loyalties there whatsoever) I can no longer keep my mouth shut.
Jason Manford is a comedian. Everybody knows this. But what people don’t know is, like me, Jason grew up with a Nanna who loves musicals, and has the same deep and enduring love for musical theatre that has had me going to London’s West End and back like a yo-yo since I was fifteen. Something else people don’t seem to know by now? HE CAN SING. I know, it shocked me too. The first time I ever heard Jason Manford sing was with Alfie Boe, singing “The Impossible Dream” on some TV show I’ve forgotten the name of in around 2010. Matt Lucas was supposed to be singing but Jason had to step in at the last minute. Now I’m not going to lie, when Jason stood up and said, “and now, singing with Alfie Boe is… me,” I was waiting for the punchline. Even when the music started I thought Matt Lucas was going to run on stage and push Jason out of the way, but that didn’t happen either. Instead an incredibly nervous looking Jason stepped up and sang a note-perfect rendition of one of my favourite songs, looking almost apologetic as he did so. Where did that voice come from, and more importantly, WHY is he not doing anything with it?!
I’ve come across Jason a few times since then, at Alfie Boe’s concert at the Bridgewater Hall, as Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and, most memorably, at West End Live 2017 when he had to cover up every mistake Claire Sweeney made, which was a LOT, I mean how thick can you get?! co-hosted the event with Claire Sweeney. Let’s just say, it’s a good thing he’s got a sense of humour. On that stage, in front of thousands of stagey fans who would rip your arm off and beat you with it if you mispronounced “Jean Valjean,” he sang Stars from Les Misérables completely acapella with no warm up and no warning, just to fill a few minutes between acts. He’s seriously good. So, when my Mum text me and asked if I fancied seeing Jason live in concert I sent back “hell yes!” to which she replied, “good because I’ve already got the tickets.” Win!
I purposely didn’t buy or listen to Jason’s album before the concert as I wanted to be surprised – it worked. I was a tiny bit worried that, without any formal training, Jason’s vocals would be a bit superficial/less powerful than other musical theatre actors, especially alone on stage with live instruments. Nope. He blew the damn roof off with note after rich, deep note that filled your chest and, at times, made you cry (Stars is an emotional song ok?!) What I loved more than anything about the concert is how much it meant to Jason to be performing in Manchester. It was a reet family do for him, with parents and children and Nanna Manford herself all scattered around in the audience, and it was lovely to hear how he is still so proud to be from Salford. When he mentioned the Manchester Arena attack, which is still painfully fresh in everybody’s minds, he did it with gentle tact and genuine emotion that showed he really was as affected as we living at home were, unlike some I could mention who are really sorry for “Man…chester?” when they’ve never even set foot on Urbis, but I digress.
Another thing I loved was the diversity of the songs Jason chose. From Oasis to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (which went a lot better than it did at West End Live – I’m looking at you Claire Sweeney), from Sunset Boulevard to a gorgeous little Irish folk song, he came out with track after track that roused the audience and showed off his impressive vocal range. My favourite cover of Jason’s will always be Stars from Les Mis (#JasonForJavert) but I really loved his version of Falling Slowly from Once, performed with special guest Tiffany Graves. It’s a gorgeously simple song with tricky key changes and no room to hide but he pulled it off amazingly well. (I also really loved the way he wrinkles his nose when he goes for a high note, but it would be highly unprofessional of me to point that out right?)
All in all, it was a brilliant night with two well-deserved standing ovations at the end, and I left feeling just a little bit smug that I’ve known all along that he’s one hell of a singer and he just proved me right in front of a theatre full of people. What more can I say? The boy done good.