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Thirty Years-ish of Elton concerts

Elton John at BST Festival, Hyde Park
750pm to 1020pm
Friday 24 June 2022

Many of you will have already read the reviews in the newspapers or fan forums or social media, of the 130th Elton John London concert, as he freely acknowledged the statistic on the night.

It will not be his last in London – as some of us have tickets for the twice-deferred O2 concert next July.

But officially, and so far, all we know is that July 2023 will be the final buffer for the rocket man’s rocket railroad that has encompassed more than 52 years, hundreds of crew and millions of passengers.

But for me, 24 June is already a landmark occasion, and I know I am in the minority of you that saw Elton on Friday night for the first time in 18 years. Even I had to Jump Up! when I realised. So my review might come over a little differently and I hope you enjoy its perspective any way.

If I was a Historian, but then again, no

In fact, I had lost count of what year I last saw Elton. At first I thought it was 2009.

Thanks to archives websites like www.concertarchives.org and setlist.fm I was able to track it down. Bristol City FC June 11, 2004 and then a month later the SSE Arena Wembley (Wembley Arena to you and me). That was July 3.

So what went wrong? Why did I leave it 18 years? Even allowing for the pandemic that’s a lousy record. Ok here is why and it will help explain my attitude to the latest gig.

As many of you will know, I was the first UK manager of the unofficial Elton John fan club Rocket Fan since 1993. It later renamed Hercules in the mid-1990s and then in 2002 I set up eltonjohnworld.com

I followed Elton every year from 1994 onwards and often several gigs back-to-back. Like the famous Elton and Ray Cooper double act at the Royal Albert Hall in 1995.

I also followed several of his Stately Home gigs across the UK in 2000, as well as three gigs in Germany, in Kassel, Cologne and Hamburg, also in 2000.

I was not the die-hard fan who spent their life savings following Elton but I was at many of the notable gigs through the 1990s and half way into the Noughties.

But apart from dispensing with the band to perform some classical orchestral gigs, most of the repertoire started to sound the same. I mean, it was the same!

So when I heard fan Mark Giles, whose face showed twice at Hyde Park on the promo video to “Crocodile Rock”, express on Facebook he had tickets for the BST show but decided to sell them as he was not keen to stand for hours to hear a Greatest Hits concert, I can relate to that.

Although in my case, it was almost like hearing the songs for the first time. Mark has been a greater stalwart of Elton concerts recently than me. Fact.

Sure I was thrilled that the song that started off my fandom was always on the setlist. Yes at every concert I attended. Always. And I was also thrilled that “Hercules” was performed soon after our fan club renamed.
There were also a few original events, like one in 2001 in Hammersmith.

I was amused that Elton was looking at me furiously when I was in the front row at the BBC Radio 2 live gig of his new album “Songs from the West Coast” Furious? Elton? It was not my aftershave. He was actually annoyed to see I was belting all the words to his new songs that premiered that night!
For me, it was an amazing night, having met band members like Nigel Olsson before the gig, broadcast from the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith on radio.

Let’s just say me and Elton have had our ups and downs about a few things over the years, including an episode when I destroyed part of his lawn days after the airing of ITV’s Tantrums And Tiaras documentary in 1996. Never a dull moment when I was in the fan club.

But to my point. The gigs and the choice of setlists was starting to rub off. It was clear that Elton, while performing very well and improvising along the way, was mostly playing it safe with his catalogue.

Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player. How apt a title for his early 1973 album. Sure, I don’t blame Elton. He had to play songs that the public had heard and although he was an album factory sometimes churning out 3 albums a year when most artists put out one album every three years, he still had to go with familiar songs globally.

But being a huge success had its price. It sadly led to stagnation artistically in my view. As a listener, as a fan, I was hoping for less top line predictable songs and more surprises for the fans. We were paying ever higher prices for our concert tickets after all. So we wanted to be surprised.

So, after shelling out 400 pounds for each ticket for the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Tour for next year’s O2 performance, it is fair to say I had decided I needed to spend my money elsewhere in the past two decades.

So, partly because of the ever-deferred concert, and partly because at 80 pounds a ticket it was only a fifth of what I paid for next year’s gig, I decided to go for Hyde Park too.

I don’t regret attending Hyde Park. But here is what happened and why this gig matters.

30th anniversary attendance

George Matlock – Hyde Park 24 June 2022

Friday night was a significant milestone for me personally. It was 30 years almost to the very day, that I saw Elton for the first time on stage. That gig was on either 26 or more likely 28 June 1992 with headliners Elton and Eric Clapton at Wembley Stadium. Yes I am certain it the second night at Wembley. Seated almost at the back and high up in the Stadium, the original one from 1923, it was still just a great experience. My ears were ringing on the Route 83 London bus all the way home afterwards. I needed to get used to that experience as it was going to happen many more times to me over the years – but never was I going to be that far away from Elton again.

Elton and Eric was also only my second-ever concert. In November 1991 I attended the comeback tour of another of my favourite artists, Dire Straits, at Earl’s Court London. But that was more by chance. As a recent junior financial reporter I was handed the ticket from the Scarborough Building Society after my news editor Amanda Richards could not attend with the flu. So a nice press junkie!
But Elton has dominated my skyline since my teens.

Although a fan since March 1983 when I was hooked on his evergreen hit “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues”, I had been largely a collector of his albums, viewed Elton’s first ever castaways collection at Victoria & Albert Museum in 1988, and wrote some articles about Elton’s catalogue for an underground music magazine in east Europe called Fonorama (September 1991). Here’s the link to the first of four editions serialised by publisher Fonopress in Poland.
So it was nice to see that at Friday’s gig during “I’m Still Standing” the now-common video sequence on the huge screens depicted many of Elton’s landmark moments – including towards the end of the song him meeting Polish freedom fighter Lech Walesa back in 1984.

Hyde Park BST

So I came to BST festival, which included a line-up of young artists, at around 630pm. Luckily, the rain stayed off until drizzle set in as everyone was dispersing at the end of the show. So God was on our side too! The crowd was all settled and luckily the week-long rail dispute was off for one day. So looks like the unions were on our side too!

Elton was due on stage at 750pm. And very punctually he was. This was standing room only but everyone was on their feet from the first moment of this performance. I was close enough but not fussed to be half way as far back as in 1992. A little behind the sound tower in the middle of the crowd. I remember Elton’s soundman Clive Franks once telling me that the best seat in the house is around the tower. As that’s where the sound has to be optimal. He thought the fans wanted to be up close to the stage but not because of any superior sound quality!

The crowds, like at all Elton concerts I have attended, were a complete cross section of ages. Elton came on stage and straight into “Bennie and the Jets” using the awkward first note repeatedly to align the audience with what he was about to play.
From that moment on it was a party. I decided to wear a Covid mask although I was the only person that I could see wearing one. Covid cases are on the increase again in the capital so I did not want to take chances.
A few people looked on in case I was someone famous. Well not to the public I am not. A few fans might still remember me however.
As the hits flowed I know that fans at the front would have been going fairly wild as always. They were enjoying being up close. For me, the event was different. I was actually reflecting on nearly 40 years of fandom and next year, the final gig, will be 40 years of being a fan. So another milestone beckons.

But it may seem strange to others, that another sensation going through me during the Hyde Park gig was thinking of all the fans I had known over the years. Many of them face-to-face and not just from sticking labels on the envelopes I used to post the fanzine to the members every quarter.

I wondered what became of some of them. I know many are sill on Facebook like Mark Giles, Nigel Coleman, Tammy Law (Smedley), David Wright, Andy Thorpe, Arjen Buikstra, Stephan Heimbecher and many others. But what about Robert Cargill, Holger Wagner, Sabine Seifert (Assenkirchbaumer) Jimmie Collins, John Michie, Sharon Kalinoski, and Dale Berryhill?
Many more I would care to mention.

And of course I reflected on those I know we have lost, such as Alan Peter McCormick whose Elton store Wrap It Up aka eltonwrap was a fixture of every fan convention I organised. Were Alan still alive, he would turn 80 on 28 June. We lost him in 2014.
I also reflected on the members of Elton’s band and staff who were always kind to me. Some are in the band. Others no longer. And some have, such as Stewart A Brown, Roger Pope, Gus Dudgeon, Paul Buckmaster, Steve Brown, Elton Dean and Long John Baldry, joined the orchestra in the sky.
But despite these moments of sadness, that didn’t stop me engaging with the songs.

I was singing away to the tunes. Mostly because years back I used to play keyboards and practised many of the songs. Once when I had to “stand in” for Elton at Liverpool’s Cavern Club for a reunion concert of Elton’s first-ever band, Bluesology. So that was a lovely release in Hyde Park. The one time you can belt in the park and not get arrested.

So yes, this was much more than a gig for me. It was a time to remember. To respect. And most of all to be grateful.

Nuts and bolts of the gig

I used to offer no-holds-barred reviews of Elton’s albums and now I direct it at the Hyde Park gig.

The show was a decent 2 hours 25 minutes and spanned 23 songs plus the playout with Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” (Kiki Dee version). You can see the set list from setlist.fm. Elton dedicated “Border Song” to the late great Aretha Franklin. He spent longer talking about her last performances for Elton John AIDS Foundation, that at any time later in the show, save for introducing the band members.

Elton also dedicated the 1974 anthem “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” to George Michael, with whom he had a revived live version scoop number 1 in November 1991. I hope I got that right without looking it up!

Elton was on top form. And I was curious to see how he would cope after the recent press coverage of his wheelchair outings. So it was a relief to see Elton manoeuvre well and sing with undiminished vigour and control.

It was also refreshing to see that he was in a good mood and none of the swearing and hostile remarks directed at his staff that blighted recent shows. Those upset a lot of fans and I admit if he had done it at Hyde Park I was all prepared to bolt for the exit. I don’t pay to see abuse of any kind, thank you.
So this was a level-headed and fun gig.

Late in the show we were also treated to a wave from partner David Furnish and their two sons Elijah Joseph Daniel Furnish-John and Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John.

Hard to say what famous faces were in the crowd, but none that Elton called out.

He did mention past members who had died. Such as Dee Murray. He also mentioned that roadie boss Baz Marshall was recovering after medical treatment.

As some of you know, I appealed two years ago to Elton and his management to consider a concert format that would give other surviving members of Elton’s band a chance to perform at a few concerts of this Farewell tour. After all, it should be a celebratory gala of 52 years on the road.
But it was not to be. Elton played it safe with Davey Johnstone, Nigel Olsson, Ray Cooper, John Mahon and a few other more recent members. No problem with that. All are great and it was good to see them all after nearly two decades away!

But there are others who could have been in the line-up with a little persuasion. And why never females? No backing singers but also no women on the instruments. In this gender equality era you might have hoped for more balance.

But how about something that other fans have been complaining about? So I know I am not in a minority of one here. The repertoire. It was almost totally 1970s. Yes we know those were some of Elton’s most creative years. But come on! Only three songs from the 1980s? And none from the 1990s, Noughties, 2010s?
It felt like most of the 52 years were left out. Made In England, Believe, Electricity, Something About the Way You Look Tonight, I Want Love, and many more.

The setlist was the exact same as in gigs like The Netherlands, and that’s fine. You would hope that audiences would be treated to the same the world over with perhaps one or two changes for songs that were uber hits in some regions.
But to limit it to the 1970s was very disappointing.

So maybe Greatest Hits concert as Mark stated is a tad generous. I felt short-changed that some of Elton’s more recently creative content was left out. Sure, Elton’s 2022 hit courtesy of Pnau and Dua Lipa was in, back-to-back with his first big hit, “Your Song”. But let’s not forget that delicate ballad only scored 7 on the UK singles chart in 1971.

I suspect that in July 2023 as the Tour ends we will be treated to more of the same. I can only hope the line-up and the choice of songs will do what Elton has been doing on stage up until the 1990s – surprise and stun us.

If you have yet to see the Tour and like me have not been to any lately, you will be treated to all the graphic wizardry that has really taken off inside the 20 years that I did not attend such gigs.
Is it worth going? For hundreds of reasons , Yes! Enjoy!

George Matlock

Eltonjohnworld

BST Hyde Park Setlist

Bennie and the Jets
Philadelphia Freedom
I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
Border Song
(Dedicated to Aretha Franklin)
Tiny Dancer
Have Mercy on the Criminal
Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)
Take Me to the Pilot
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Levon
Candle in the Wind
Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Burn Down the Mission
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
(dedicated to George Michael)
The Bitch Is Back
I’m Still Standing
Crocodile Rock
Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
Encore:
Cold Heart
(PNAU remix)
Your Song
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart
(Elton John & Kiki Dee song)

Source: Setlist.fm