Singer/Songwriter Mika (who was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and raised in Paris and London) opened up Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2023 on the main stage in The Big Top Tent on Wednesday 26th April 2023.
I haven’t always been a fan of Mika. I partially put that down to radio overkill of Grace Kelly back in 2007 and from then I simply didn’t give him the chance. Regardless of the fact I wasn’t a fan, I always appreciated his talent. Mika is an undeniably phenomenal singer and it was easy to see why he was and is so popular, even if he wasn’t to my taste.
Fast forward to 2022 when Mika Co-hosted Eurovision in Italy. Mika came across as a very humble and a true gentleman and his performance on Eurovision was so energetic and fun that I started to change my mind about him.
When Mika was announced for Cheltenham Jazz Festival, I saw this as my opportunity to see him live for the first time and really make my mind up about him.
A sold out show, Mika was the perfect artist to kick off the weeks festivities. I won’t pretend that I am knowledgeable on his entire back catalogue because I’m not. However, sometimes going in to a concert only knowing a handful of songs can make the experience that much better and surprising!
On The Good Ship Lollipop as intro, Mika was met to rapturous applause and extremely loud cheers as he entered the stage discreetly!
The spotlight on him, Mika starts by telling a story about a girl who messed everything up in a somewhat perfect yet peculiar village. (Mika fans may be able to shed some light on that one! ) This story then led to his song Lollipop. The band and choir were sublime!
The atmosphere in the tent was silent at first but full of hardcore fans waiting to burst. Origin of Love was next followed by the intro of Big Girl (You are Beautiful) on the bass. A hilarious moment, the intro first went slightly wrong to which Mika just laughed but then he laughed again and said to the crowd;
“At some point I will have to go and change my trousers as they are falling off.” A laughing audience he then continues;
“I am going to change my trousers as they ARE falling off. There’s one thing that I fear and that is standing when I dont want to…..in my briefs”.
With that, Mika left us to his bassist Max Taylor to keep us entertained whilst he changed. Playing the intro to Big Girl on a loop and prancing around the stage, the crowd cheered Taylor on and were having a great time! Mika returned on stage sporting a red suit rather than his green suit in which he was originally in. Mika tells the audience how Cheltenham square is the fanciest place he has played in and that it’s posher outside than inside the venue which is rare.
Mika shared the story of watching a documentary with Victoria Wood in it at about 2am and how it inspired the Big Girl song. He kept the documentary playing as he took to the piano to write it! The song live, was engaging and fun and the crowd at this point, were up and dancing as Mika entered the audience to mingle. Running around and walking down one of the aisles in the stalls section, fans went crazy but were respectful of his space.
Tiny Love, Take It Easy and Ice Cream were next. Mika then addressed the crowd saying “The thing about starting off (his tour) at a beautiful festival like this, is we can try new things”. He then shares the story of meeting a talented young girl on zoom during the pandemic. He tells us of how he was asked to write a song for a French film ( Zodi et Téhu – Fréres du Désert) they wanted it in French but he wrote it in English and asked the young girl (Nomfundo Moh) to duet it with him. Having never met other than on zoom, the pair met for the first time last night in Cheltenham. Nomfundo had come over all the way from South Africa to join Mika. Awaiting her to take to the stage after quite the introduction, Mika laughs “she is here I promise, it’s because I changed the set list”.
Entering the stage, Nomfundo was met with a cheering crowd! Performing Feels Like Fire and rather spectacularly, this was the first time they had sung this song live together, what a privilege. Numfundo’s vocals were perfection and her voice soared throughout the big top tent! A standing ovation, Mika explains that there is another layer to the story. Saying how he had another idea for himself and Numfundo. He shares how he called her up to ask her to do a duet cover of Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba’s One More Dance. As he and Numfundo were in their cars in the way to rehearse, they both heard the news that Belfonte had sadly passed. A pure coincidence that they had chosen this song just days before, they dedicated the song to him. A comical song, the delivery was on point and very entertaining.
More fun moments came from Popular Song which I was delighted had a mash up with Popular from Wicked! The choir were especially fantastic during this song!
Underwater was beautifully atmospheric and Mika entered the crowd again. This time he stood up in one of the rows and used an audience member (Molly I believe?) phone to shine the torch. The house lights down, Mika asked the audience to shine their torches to represent stars. “Does Cheltenham know that about 2000 stars are about to explode on Cheltenham tonight” he says.
Rain was a great crowd moment when chanting “I hate days like this”and things went a bit club classic for YoYo. The band were simply brilliant and YoYo showcased their collective talents to play a multitude of songs.
Playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the piano, Mika asked about the houses that surround the venue and if anyone in the audience lived there. Whispering, Mika says “this song is for everyone outside trying to sleep” and with that the band went LOUD with the intro of Grace Kelly. A roaring crowd, everyone who could, were up on their feet and members of the audience ran to the aisles to dance. The song live was loud and proud and so much fun!
We Are Golden was next which brought an even more energetic vibe! Seemingly closing his set with the track, the audience stomped their feet and clapped their hands rapidly until Mika returned to the stage to of course, end the night with Love Today!
None of the songs performed were exact to their studio version. Mika improvises on each track and makes them even more theatrical which brings something really unique to his shows. A masterful performer, there really is no-one quite like Mika.
Mika is a little bonkers, very dramatic and very energetic but he is also humble, witty and makes his audience feel incredibly special.
He was absolutely sensational and a phenomenal entertainer all round. There wasn’t a moment where people weren’t having fun! Mika put on a masterclass of entertainment and certainly set the bar high for the rest of the festival. He kicked off Cheltenham Jazz Festival in high fashion delivering a colourful, crazy and completely fabulous show!
Not only did Mika get me in the mood for a weeks worth of good music at Cheltenham Jazz Festival but also for a fun few days of Eurovision in May! Euro music is on the rise! We went from watching it for the comedy affect back in the day to now watching it for all the new amazing acts to discover and love! Mika is a big part of why Euro music is loved and why it’s becoming more popular.
You have gained a new, loyal fan in me tonight Mika! Thank you for such an engaging and fun evening that I won’t forget! And now, I am a fan of Grace Kelly.
Categories: Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Latest, Live Reviews
you have written exactly how I was feeling – not a fan, didn’t know his music particularly. My goodness jaw dropping entertainment, what a talent and a phenomenal kick start to the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
Thank you Karen, that means a lot! He really was special wasn’t he? I think sometimes it takes seeing an artist live to appreciate their music.