Monday, June 30, 2014

'Look At Dolly, She Did It Right'

Over the weekend we had a couple of great sets from what can only be best described as fitting into the categories of late 60's (not the decade) and being a diva. Yes, Elton. And no, not Elton.

Glastonbury has always been of those strangely all together type events. A rag tag mixed bag that are usually climate experts by the end of the weekend. Due to it's inherent attraction of rain over the years. I always try to catch bits of it on TV or radio over the three days, the benefits of onlining means that you can pick and mix the best bits without having to sit through the music version of the test card. All colour and nothing interesting happening soundwise. The World Cup has grabbed my attention soley recently so it was good to divert for a while.

The reason I'm conjuring up the mysticism of Glastonbury, because it is by all accounts a slightly kooky venue at the worst never mind the great times, is to make the case as to why Elton should be first on the list of Michael Eavis's (the organiser) list for next year. Whether it be headlining or doing the legends slot (careful) at tea time as is now the norm. During the last decade Elton had some not kind words for the event, hopefully that outburst didn't burn any bridges to the part of the countryside. He gave an interview over the weekend lamenting the fact he's never been asked to play it. I wonder why that is. Elton has certainly developed an appetite for the festival diet again. Bestival last year and Bonnaroo this year being the major appearances. Maybe he only plays those with a 'B' at the start of it is name. Whatever the reasons why or why not, it's gotta be on the bucket list (awful phrase). Lets see why there and not where he was over the last weekend...

Anybody who picked up any sort of news information device this morning won't have failed to notice how Dolly Parton shepherded in nearly a a quarter of a million souls and corralled them for an hour. She wouldn't be my cup of tea, all that fake bona mie stuff has to be act. Hasn't it? The music is a bit glam for my taste. But is that the cliche? The whole thing on paper kinda doesn't work. But work it did in practice. Check out the reviews if you haven't seen them. The deal with Glastonbury is the tickets are sold before the acts are announced. Because of that high degree of security etc. it's very unlikely the diehards will have infiltrated in large numbers. If at all. So the crowd is a tough one. But if you do your 'thing' without straying from the laid out script then you're on the way to winning the battle. Whether it be mimed or not. A predominately (though not exclusively) young crowd who won't take any messing. Daphne and Celeste made a fortune at the bottle bank, didn't they. Though here on this blog we can't condone such behaviour. Glass is very expensive in today's market. The surprise element for both parties is a terrific spark. More than fireworks ignited, for sure.

The crowd at Glastonbury always strike me as one who will probably have a good time even if the stages weren't there. But as they are there, they will want feeding from them occasionally. So you gotta do your weekend best or you're toast. Look at the run down of this years list and it's a veritable A-Z of the current, past and the future. There's no bracketing, no pigeon holing. If you're good, you're on. If not, you do something else for the weekend. It's a hardcore, back to the people type exercise. If Dolly can do it, then there's no reason why others of a similar persuasion can't.

Further east on the Saturday night Elton was doing his thing. This time in a solo setting. A rare type of show nowadays, a chance to show off the lesser cuts. Except not this time. What it did end up was an 18 song set that was devoid of The Diving Board songs. A type of show we were told by those who claim to be clued into this type of thing that was to be the very environment where these things would appear. Except they didn't. So any inference of it being some grandiose moment to perform songs from the album evaporated. The event at Stoke Park was a lavishly over priced occasion (for charity I believe, but that still doesn't mean rip offs can be allowed) that was the polar opposite of the above event. Posh nosh and champers were the order of the day. A luxury location that the prices reflected. Except it poured rain and a shorter set than normal was the ultimate reward for the hardy annuals. So rather than commanding a restless sea of humanity, it was Daniel (for the millionth time) being played with rain drops in the eyes. And slowly flattening champers.

As I alluded to earlier, at this stage of things everybody, anybody and a lot of nobodies have played Glastonbury over the years. The gaping omission at this stage is Elton. These upper echelon type events, where it's almost a dinner party on a large scale in the uncertain outdoors, are all fine and dandy in their place. But he should be pitching up his tent (naughty) in the west country and giving a stellar, possibly late live career defining moment. Hold on, I hear my readers say. We all know great he is live!! That's not the point. The point is, as Dolly showed, you turn up to an unsuspecting and unknowing crowd, catch them, tame them and then do with them what you please. I suspect all this could be done in the space of Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. After that, they have been assumed. 

The solo show at Stoke Park was quite all right in it's own time and place. But when Elton mentioned Glastonbury in the aforementioned interview it said more to me than what it appeared to say. He turned up to play a venue that didn't sell out by any stretch of the imagination whereas he could have been commanding a whole legion of listeners. Rather than a comparatively small company. The clash of both these contrasting shows and the style that they emit couldn't be more harsh. An unlikely old timer basically stealing the show from a list of acts as long as your arm. Elton on the other hand does a shortened set at hugely inflated ticket prices. The event was for a worthwhile charity, but it's the contrast I mentioned earlier. What's wrong too is the location. It's alludes this air of exclusivity and disconnect from the average fan. The ticket prices confirm that. It all seems too safe and cosy on some levels. Promoters and advisers are badly directing and catching the mood all wrong. 

Elton at this stage won't stray from the setlist to any great degree. So why not take it to the biggest and most watched festival on Earth? And expose it to virtually a whole new audience. Elton has dipped the toe back into the festival pool, no matter how many he plays over the next few years none will touch Glastonbury. Both for prestige and plain old entertainment. He's obviously itching to do more dates of this type. I'd say the itch to do Glastonbury is one than frequently, especially at this time of the year, decides to boil up. If or when he plays it, then he will sweep all the old cliches and stereotypes that the man in the street who works 9 to 5 has become accustomed to over the years to one side. Whatever time he comes on stage at, it will have a massive television audience supplemented by those online. Come on Elton, see what Dolly did. She did it right!!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

'All Is Not Quiet On The World Cup Front'

Elton with the home shirt of Atlético Mineiro in 2013 at  Mineirão

Alcides Ghiggia, Frank Sinatra and Pope John Paul II. What have they all in common? All three have silenced the Maracana. A tough thing to do when Brazilians are at full pelt at the spiritual home of football in South America. At the moment in the World Cup, the Brazilian fans are hovering over the line between despair and joy. Tonight they stared over the abyss from the position of paradise. This evenings match was low in quality but high in tension. 

If people think I'm opinionated about Elton matters, then they ain't heard or read anything yet. My opinions on football makes my Elton outlook very bland. Bland being a golden sin in my book. At the moment the World Cup is gripping my attention. I remember the 1978 edition in Argentina vaguely, Espana '82 being the first true experience of the beautiful game in a beautiful place. The Brazil team of that tournament being the best never to win the World Cup. Because the 2014 team ain't gonna lift little Jules. 

Elton did some incredible tours over the last two years on the southern continent of the America's. Any show down there is a must see. Following them is always a pleasure, the locations are as exotic as the fans are passionate. If anyone has been watching the tournament will have noticed some familiar locations. Mineirão, Fortaleza and Salvador being the notable ones. Fantastic stadiums with great atmospheres. There's been some great matches played there so far in the tournament, some of the best of the tournament in fact. Not for the first time though they've played host to big names showing off their talents. Elton played the former in 2013, the other two in 2014. Massive attendances. The huge roar at the end of the penalty shoot out during the Brazil v Chile match was incredible. As huge no doubt when Elton would have walked out. The silence when Neymar stepped up to take his penalty as hushed as when Elton played Skyline Pigeon. 

The three people I mentioned at the start may have silenced a nation for different reasons. It's part and parcel of what they do. Or did I suppose. The ability to stir up emotions and control them. The World Cup has been great so far. And will be till the end. If you're watching over the next couple of weeks, watch the games at those stadiums and sit back in the knowledge that Elton was supported and idolised like the players from Brazil. Well, almost as much!!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

'Look At Them Working'

There won't be too many updates on the blog for the next while due the World Cup grabbing all my attention! It's been a terrific tournament so far, I won't be missing one second of it.

But to keep everyone going I'll post this YouTube clip that may be of some interest. Both of these guys have played on Elton albums and have had very successful careers in their own right. Anyone who has kept up with the blog for the past year will know that I have high regard for David Paton. His work on the mid 80's albums and on the 85/86 World Tour and the subsequent Tour De Force is legendary. 

Rick Wakeman...younger readers may be familiar with him on Watchdog or even on Countdown a few years back...but he's one of the keyboard greats. The old debate of Wakeman versus Emerson kept many a prog head up all night slugging it out about who was the greatest. My opinion on that topic is not that important. But consider this, Keith Emerson was asked to replace to Wakeman in Yes for the Relayer (1974) album. Point being, somebody somewhere considered them both on a par. Wakeman's albums with Yes in the 70's are all top class. His solo albums, especially the studio (1973) and live version (2009) of The Six Wives of Henry VIII are incredible pieces of work. Check out the credits on both those albums, plenty of Elton connections on them. Ray Cooper appears on both for example.

As you can see and hear on this clip, David is a terrific six string player. He has a fine touch and musically is incredibly interesting. Traits he brought to his bass playing. Wakeman is sometimes critiqued in some quarters as being too flashy. Not in my eyes or ears. He merely makes the music sound grander. And no grander piece than Eleanor Rigby. David playing the familiar melody and Wakeman introducing a flamboyant arrangement. Two masters playing a classic form two masters.

Friday, June 6, 2014

'Sounds For Saturday - DVD Review'

When I was doing the tours retrospective series, I mentioned this briefly. Though not necessarily part of a tour it's still a critical performance from Elton, Nigel and Dee.

Unfortunately the DVD is an unofficial one though in saying that it's still excellent quality. Sound and picture are A1. Filmed by the BBC in late 1971 for an early 1972 broadcast it's one of the lucky TV broadcasts from that era that has survived the BBC's criminal wiping policy. Expertly directed, it's filmed with great panache and detailed attention. All the key moments are captured.

Dressed in a super shirt (I want it!), Elton highlights and delights with his serious side in this performance. His chatter is reserved yet engaging. His playing is altogether another matter. Playing that is of the entire Madman album less All The Nasties. The three piece demonstrating yet again why they were cut above the rest. Madman is one of my favourite albums of all time, a glorious audio land. Stripped of all the terrific arrangements, this live example is a tremendous companion piece to the recorded version.

Seated at an open lid piano, he delicately and roughly plays as needs be as he runs through the set. Nigel on a riser with his huge kit towers over Elton. Dee is placed between them, standing solidly and playing with the equivalent ability. Deep in concentration. The interesting way it was filmed gives us some unique views of Nigel from the rear and the incredible footwork he does. The first time we see Nigel and Dee however is with them both standing at the microphone 'la, la, la-ing' on the outro to Rotten Peaches. Holiday Inn has the extra verse that was snipped from the album cut, the broken rhythms played with great timing by Nigel. The title track is a 10 minute odyssey of feelings and moods. The solo's are wildly temperamental. Dee's heavy bass notes adding great weight, Nigel's switching from ride cymbal to hi-hat carrying those swings with ease. 

The small audience gives it that intimate affair, when does he does some of the songs solo it draws the walls in further. Indian Sunset purely solo is mesmeric. The intensity of it is powerful. Even the opening of the show with Tiny Dancer is gripping. On the bridge to the chorus Elton's left switches to a heavy sound that hammers home with tenacity. The sound of a proper grand piano stepping up and coming through very clearly at that moment.

Overall it's an excellent one off show, an almost full album performance is very rare. Then or now. The marriage of the rhythm section and leader is on full display here. They didn't play on any of the songs on the album performed on this broadcast apart from some backing vocals but they make them their own. Elton's early voice is on the rise to it's defining moment, he still has that slight American twang in there that creeps out every so often. But it's the playing as per usual that seals the deal. The piano man made his stand...

'Making Connections'

Before I launch into another Elton tirade, I first want to thank everyone who took time out to read the last series of posts on the tours retrospectives. It would be no lie to say it garnered the greatest amount of positive reaction since I started the blog. It certainly struck a chord with a lot of fans, I had great fun doing it.

I want to take a slightly different deviation for this update. I'm not one of those...oops, better stop there...that talks about myself all the time when it comes to Elton. Unless it happens to be relevant to what I'm discussing. Today however I will divulge a little about me.

When I was a kid I was the typical little fella always playing cowboys. Hat, holster and the works. The interest in the West, wild and otherwise, has followed me into what some may call adulthood. Maybe advanced child, others might say. So this interest in all things cowboy has had the perfect soundtrack from Elton. Helped by the evocative and often more than realistic imagery from Bernie. If you 'get' where Bernie is coming from, then the whole experience is incredibly fulfilling. And worthwhile. But the position Bernie first brought these early dusty tales to us in music form is similar to where I am at the moment.

At the time of writing I have yet to have the pleasure of getting the big silver bird over the Atlantic. Don't worry America, I will be there one day. No need to panic, it won't be for a while yet. The reason I mention that is because as we all know Tumbleweed Connection from written form the same perspective I view the land out west. Built upon tales of silver screen and in particular the small screen. Visual imagery that was built from imaginations and expectations. The unique perspective of being outside and looking in. Without actually being to see it, only someone else’s. interpretation of it. Back to the screens again.

The screen over the years has certainly fed our appetite for the tales of western daring do, the diet frequently flowed from low fibre to high octane. Bernie himself has gone on record many times evoking the great cinematic pieces that helped feed his hunger. I've mentioned John Ford here on the blog before, his films certainly took s particular slant that was eventually reconciled near the end of his career with a more balanced view. Howard Hawks being another of the great directors of the genre that deserves mention. John Wayne, the ultimate American cultural icon, whose politics on most levels were as foul as the desperados he frequently rounded up. A truly complex character, more complex off screen than on it for sure. All these elements in part helped shape Bernie’s intense fascination. The indepth cinematic upbringing if you wish seeped into his lyrics.

I'm sure though Bernie would have also treated himself to the weekly small screen tales that the old west was known for. My favourite two are Gunsmoke(1955-75) and Bonanza(1959-73). The time periods in which they were broadcast is important as we'll see later on. It's a fair bet however that during the 60's back in Lincolnshire and even when he moved down to London and the end of the decade he would have still been absorbing them. As he approached adulthood his insatiable appetite for all things west like still brimmed under the surface. When given the time and place to divulge them, he had no shortage of things to say. Colourful characters, desperate places all mixed and swam with each other in death and life.

The reason I mentioned those two series in particular is because I’m a huge fan of both of them. I mentioned the time period they were broadcast in earlier. As the 60's progressed, they used the writers tool (one which Bernie has used many times) of mirroring the social change in the present with tales of the past. Both these series became more edgy than they had been at their birth, only so many times you can kill one dimensional bad guys with equally wooden gals in tow. So a grittier element began to manifest itself. Looking back now it's amazing at how many 'current' issues cropped up. Race, female emancipation, the sex trade, gun restrictions, child abuse, decline of the west, political corruption and the Vietnam war were all examined against a backdrop of 100 years earlier. Incredibly strong writing that left the viewer in no doubt as to what message was been handed over. Quite brave on some levels, given the incredible volatile nature of the social problems that threatened to engulf the country at the end of the 60's and the start of the 70's. The issues they relayed back from the 19th century hadn’t changed much in a 100 years, merely the names and locations. And they related perfectly.

Where does this all take us? It takes me nowhere as I’m still here. I still have the romantic view in some regards though as I've detailed previously the romantic notion has been long since shattered. Bernie had his romantic view in 1970. The lyrics of TC are his sworn testimony to that. Once he crossed the Rubicon and touch down brought him round it was shattered in an instant. From suddenly being outside he was now in the beating heart. And standing where the same heart had died. The dust was real, the heat burned him down with no mercy. So if America was thrown slightly off kilter by Elton and his strange (to their eyes) act then Bernie quickly had a rethink after his harsh introduction. Forced on to him by the influx of real and tangible experiences. Not those created by someone else for the entertainment of others. The next album told that salutary tale from start to finish. The realism was realised.

To finish up, and to possibly sum up, when I watch those shows on DVD and then listen to Tumbleweed Connection you can't help but feel in some small way you're tapping into that innocent period. Innocent as regard not having been there and the myth still lingering. But it's merely a myth. Because that long since went. Like getting old and talking about it...