By George Matlock
In 1977, Elton said he wanted to become a comedian, after making his infamous retirement. Well, apart from some DJ work in the late 1970s for BBC Radio 1, Elton’s finally found a format which really fits. A chance to sing as well as crack jokes when the questions get nasty.
In the midst of an audience of celebrities, including Kiki Dee, at the London Studios on the Southbank on Sept. 21, Elton recorded a show broadcast on Sept. 27. Apparently, the original version included some very risque comments which would be edited out. But in any case, the show was extended from the normal 1 hour show other artists get. Elton was granted 1.5 hours, and only about 33% of it was Q&A – perhaps the only disappointment of the show.
Wearing an all-royal blue outfit of jacket, shirt and trousers, and blue-rimmed rectangular glasses, Elton came on stage a little apprehensive and straight into “I’m Still Standing” with the EJ Band. That is: Davey Johnstone, Bob Birch, Guy Babylon, John Jorgensen, John Mahon, Charlie Morgan, and Billy Trudel.
Apprehensive, his voice was weak and croaking in the song. But afterwards, his voice recovered once he had taken his first barrage of questions.
Elton invited the first question from Cher as he addressed her “you old bag”! After this, it was obvious that Elton is a natural as a tv presenter and enjoying himself – so I guess we’ll see him do this again!
EJ: “We go back a long way. I had hair when I first met you.”
C: “Describe yourself in 20 words or less.”
EJ: “Shy, generous, temperamental, fabulous, just an old tart!”
Kathleen Turner: “You have classical training. How come you switched to rock?”
EJ: “It’s in the hands. Classical pianists have long fingers. I have small hands. It’s the hands that did it! But I’m not small in every department! My reputation’s gone within two questions!”
Timothy Dalton (ex-Bond): “If you’d failed, what would you have become?”
EJ: “happy just being involved in music. I’d probably work in Tower Records, like the guys in baggy sweaters and unkept hair who know where every record’s kept – a glamorous record store of course!”
Scary Spice: “If you were in the Spice Boys, who would they be?”
EJ: “Rod Stewart. He’d be Mingey Spice! Sting would be Tantric Spice, George Michael, Hairy Spice. I’d be Mince Spice!”
Spice Girls join EJ on stage to sing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” using the 1976 accompaniment. There are rumours this might be released as a single. My view is that it was rehearsed, and not a spectacular rendition. The Girls’ were exposed: only two of them can actually sing (Scary and Baby)!
After a commercial break, in part two Elton’s on stage with a rack of his old eccentric costumes. Invites actor Stephen Fry on stage to help him distribute outlandish hats to the audience. DJ Chris Evans, sports commentator Desmond Lynam and Cher (she gets a witch’s hat!) are hatted. So are comedian Griff Rhys-Jones, cricketer David Gower, golfer and EJAF patron Nick Faldo, and Sting gets the multi-coloured punk hair-do from mid-1980s!
Heaved on stage by Elton are sportsmen Ewan MacGregor, Linford Christie, David Ginola, and Roger Black, to try on costumes. Claudia Schiffer, whom Elton calls the world’s most beautiful woman (no kidding!), comes on stage.
Linford returns from behind a screen in red/gold Satin outfit, Roger in silver angel costume with matching Trilby Hat, David in 1980 Donald Duck outfit (oh how relieved I was to see Elton’s still got that!) and Ewan in Minnie Mouse!
Elton sings “Something About…”
EJ: “Time for some more grilling.”
John Barnes (ex-Watford): “Did seeing Watford in FA Cup Final in 1984 mean more to you than a number one single?”
EJ: “Yes, it was more exciting. It was one of the most emotional days of my life. I’m very proud of it.”
JB: “Can you do it again?”
EJ: “Absolutely. I wouldn’t have gone back if I didn’t think we could achieve it again.”
JB: “I meant number one single!”
EJ: “I sell well in Finland! I think I can have another number one single.”
Graham Taylor (Watford Mgr): “Why do you say football’s kept you sane, when obviously it’s made me insane?”
EJ: “I like the people, supporters at the club. They say things like ‘you’ve put on weight’ or ‘don’t like your new hair-do. Why don’t you buy another one?’ At the Cup Final, the song ‘Abide With Me’ was played and that’s why I cried. It wasn’t because Renate stepped on my foot! The song evokes my memory of childhood.”
On stage are the Black Dyke Hills Band (I think the same brass band as when Elton recorded the song this year for Sting’s Rainbow album). Also, The Kingdom Choir join in as Elton sings “Abide With Me”. In my view, this song, which I too remember well from church mass and which I’ve enjoyed (if not exactly loved) sounds very different to what Elton strained. Sadly, his voice wasn’t in it. The only song to really disappoint.
Elton then heaves out sports stars to sing “Saturday Night’s Alright”: Pat Cash (to play on guitar), Greg Rusedski, David Coultard, Rory Underwood, Faldo, Gower, Leigh Chapman, Taylor and Barnes, among others.
When done, Elton exclaims: “The Eltonettes!”
Another commercial break, and part three starts with “If the River Can Bend”, the premiere of this song. The all-black Kingdom Choir join in alongside EJ Band.
Comedian Mel Smith then asks: “If you could be any vegetable, what would you be?”
EJ: “A cucumber, or a marrow.”
MS: “And a breed of dog?”
EJ: “Not a poodle. A spaniel probably.”
MS: “And which historical figure?”
EJ: “Dame Margot Fontaine, definitely. Or Archbishop Tutu. One of the three!”
Griff Rhys-Jones: “Has Bernie ever embarrassed you in public?”
He doesn’t get an answer! Griff throws in a second question. What duos do you admire. A long list of trivials later (if that includes Peters & Lee, and Sonny & Cher) he says the Pet Shop Boys.
The Boys come on stage, to play an enchanting “Song For Guy/Believe” remix with Elton. Rumoured to become a single.
Drag queen Lily Savage barges in. Apologises for being late.
Richard E. Grant: “I understand you write quickly. So I’ve brought some words along. The words are cooking instructions from my oven!”
EJ takes them to the piano in disbelief…mutters “Conventional oven thermostat, sounds like a Chemical Brothers song!”…And tinkles a 1920s show-stopper using the instructions. Soon he’s in full swing!
Then plays “Philadelphia Freedom” – in the audience are Boris Becker and Rusedski.
Part four begins with “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” which Elton sings especially well.
Back to Q&A. Says he doesn’t hang out much with musicians. But is close to Trudie Styler and Sting.
Sting comes on stage to sing “Come Down In Time”, Elton on piano. And a great version it was too, I might add. Elton sings the second verse.
Journalist Janet Street-Porter: “Do you ever use hair removal cream, and where?”
EJ: “On my testicles! It’s very hard to shave down there.”
JSP: “You told me to use that cream.”
EJ: “Yes, on YOUR testicles!”
Stephen Fry: “What drives you?”
EJ: “Usually a Bentley. I just like to perform, unlike you! (Fry once absconded from a theatre production and fled the country).
Sir George Martin: “Why won’t you sing your Diana tribute song ever again?”
EJ: “Not with those lyrics. Too upsetting. It would be in bad taste. There’ll be enough other people getting on the band wagon, putting out records. It was done as a matter of fate. A one-off thing.”
Elton says “Your Song” was my first hit, and I will never tire of singing it.”
Then sings “Your Song”, to the approval of Martin, who taps in time his own lap.
Elton then receives a standing ovation from the audience. The show ends.