Saturday, August 31, 2013

'I Should Watch...These To Hear'

It's no exaggeration to say that Indian Sunset is a monument to Elton and Bernie's abilities. All boxes ticked. The live version with Ray Cooper is one of those must see. must hear occasions. Never dull, never a chore and always a pleasure. It's separate movements when it switches from anger to melancholy to ultimately death is a triumph. Taupin is akin to Shakespeare in his creation of characters. Whether they be real, based on real or just plain unreal. But the common thread is they always sound believable. And the young warrior here is very genuine...

Around the time of the songs writing, 1970, the whole movement of civil rights in the US had been in full swing for a while. Minorities were speaking, as they had been for centuries, but were now being heard. The Native American was no exception, his and her's tale had been told by Hollywood since the first roll of film rolled. But it was not the true story, the voice we heard was not of an oppressed people, a people driven to almost extinction. And those who survived destined to lead of apartheid. But one of where they were portrayed as the bad guys time after time. But by the sixties the image was being to change. Cheyenne Autumn (1964), was one of the first to address the anomaly of the incorrect telling of their plight. It being one of the legendary Irish American director John Ford's final films. A man who had essentially made his name portraying the baddie as being men with no shirts and feathers on their heads. But in this film he set out to right some of the wrongs he (and his colleagues in the industry) had propagated for decades. By showing Indian tribes and the suffering, injustice and hardships they suffered. Too little too late maybe in some people's eyes, but nonetheless a statement. So it's even chance that Bernie with his love of western etc would have seen that film among others at the time and when he was finally on his way in the promised land in the Autumn of 1970 he quickly set about visiting the locations of these historical moments. Hence Indian Sunset was born, being debuted live in the US on the second visit in late 1970. It combined cinematic qualities of backdrop with proper character development to the forefront. All in the space of less than 7 minutes no less.

The eventual studio version ended up on Madman Across The Water. An album in my top 10. Gus Dudgeon produced a magnus opus for this one, it had to be. Paul Buckmaster waved his wand like the magician he is and built from Elton's piano outwards an arrangement worthy of an overture. The melody reflected the lyric and the shift in moods. Changing as and when. The opening hazy, swirling, dreamlike experience is like a fog clearing to reveal a cappella Elton. Menacing brass forbodes in the background, Elton's piano chimes in and the lyric 'sound of drums' indeeds heralds the thunderous thud of the toms as they flash around, Elton's voice becoming angrier just as the strings sweep in. Cutting to a quieter mood again, vocal and piano gently speak in unison. Discreet electric bass by that master of the instrument Herbie Flowers is then mirrored by acoustic bass higher up in the mix that impacts harder. The strings are reintroduced and as Elton's vocals die away slowly. The battle between piano and the orchestra intensifies, reflecting the character's outward and inner battles and turmoils. But solitude and calm returns, but only briefly. But not finally both in song and in life for the character. There is one fianl battle to be fought and won. The brass is the main background this time, though unlike the opening of the song it adds a serene feel. Which helps build up to the both life and song. The final play out of piano, orchestra and rhythm section all battle for supremacy. The sudden stop and silence means the end. Of life and song...a metaphor and device for the characters fate.

Elton only performed the orchestral version once at the disastrous 1972 show with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in London. It was a shame he didn't do this version during the orchestra shows in 2004, it would have been some sound to be fed...

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