Thursday, August 28, 2014

'Where's Ryan?...Again?'

The original plan for this update was to simply look at one of Elton's better collaborations from a a few years back. But during the course of it I got thinking again...a dangerous thing some may it's developed further than what I had anticipated. The conclusions have made me more hopeful about the future. Let's see what the great hope could be...

I dug these two shows out recently as I hadn't heard them in a while. At the time they were great, looking back now...the perspective element that frequently appears here...they seem even better. I'm going to look at both performances from Elton and Ryan in 2002 and then make a case for a new direction for beyond 2014.

We all know Elton has done some great hookups over the years, this one with Ryan Adams being of the highest order. There's no Lady Gaga vacuous rubbish here. Ryan Adams is an artist of the highest quality. Elton fan's have a lot to thank him for. Without the Heartbreaker album, the tremendous third age of Elton's recording career from SFTWC onwards wouldn't have happened. The inspiration it generated in Elton's aspirations to make better albums are clear to hear. If you listen to Heartbreaker the influence is incredible. I'll mention a few of them as I progress. But let's be clear, strong songwriting is the key. I mentioned that on the last post about CATK. Give the actor the great lines and it's ovations of the standing variety all round. Give him the cliche's and he's setting up a fruit stall of the rotten kind. Once Elton had got that part sorted out he was then able move on with the next plan. Recording it in an organic form that wasn't drained of any nutrients. Especially the harder ones. 

The concept of CMT Crossroads is to bring the best of country and the best of rock together for a musical summit that confirms the strong links between both houses. Country and rock but not country rock. The meeting of Ryan and Elton promised much and delivered...but not at the first attempt.

For the first performance in New York it's all Elton. Ryan took ill on the day and couldn't perform. A rearranged date two weeks later in Nashville was setup. But the show sans Ryan went on. As is always the case with Elton in adversity, the night is saved. So rather than sending the patrons home he put on masterclass to a mostly unfamiliar audience. For the first segment he did a showcase of hits both contemporary and new and the classic album tracks solo. The opening Your Song was impeccable, his voice was razor sharp clean. When you hear so many versions from today and then hear it from back then it's quite a contrast. Original Sin is incredibly cosy, it's slightly adjusted pace giving an extra depth. I Want Love, one of the all time classic Elton singles, still sounded powerful devoid of it's familiar motifs. SFTWC was out over six month's by this stage but Elton was still feeling the love for it. As were the audience. So far it was a spellbinding set of songwriting masterclass. Part of the deal was that both artists would perform each others songs. One of Elton's choices was Oh My Sweet Carolina, a deliberate choice as we'll see later, and he performed it with Ryan's terrific band. Complete with pedal steel inflections, the proper sound of American music, it's old style balladry bookbound with a classic melody. Luckily for us Elton took the song on the road for the next year or so as part of the solo section of the band tour. He'll Have To Go is played out with out any stereotypical mawkishness that sometimes appear when others take the song on board. The music flows with a shimmering solo. Rocket Man is another highlight, it's tight and determined. Plenty of Martian dust thrown up. By the end of the hour, the hour of Elton had arrived for those in the audience not tuned in. But they were spaced out I believe.

Hammersmith Ballroom, New York 19th March 2002

Your Song
Border Song
Original Sin
Mona Lisa's And Mad Hatters
I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues
I Want Love
Tiny Dancer
Oh My Sweet Carolina
He'll Have To Go
LaCienega Just Smiled
Rocket Man

Skip forward two weeks to the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville and Ryan has passed his fitness test. Both artists play off each other like two spinning dice. The second performance is a more windswept affair. It has an unpredictable swagger throughout and though not off the cuff it gives that impression. A quickly dished out cover like Lovesick Blues emphasising that point. Elton favourites like Daniel and Tiny Dancer are spiced up with Ryan's input but don't overtly sting the pallet but leave a nice after taste. My Sweet Carolina is again played, this time in keeping with the album version but roles reversed. On disc Emmy Lou Harris harmonises with Ryan on the chorus, a device and technique that Elton in turn employed to great effect on SFTWC with Rufus Wainwright doing a similar turn on American Triangle. This time however Ryan takes the Emmy Lou position and let's Elton take centre stage. Sensational performance here, this is incredible. Answering Bell with an amazing high note from Elton at that the time has a terrific solo from him. Firecracker is a melodic uptempo number with yet more vocal muscle from Elton, clear succinct lines all the way through. Rocket Man appears again as the finale, more rockier again than the first outing. Ryan's short vocal jabs backed up with equally punchy guitar licks from him. A thunderous end to a successful summit.  

Grand Ole Opry, Nashville 2nd April 2002

Answering Bell
Tiny Dancer
Oh, My Sweet Carolina
Lovesick Blues
He'll Have To Go
Great Balls Of Fire
Rocket Man

So what did we learn. On the night and soon after we saw the affection Elton had for Ryan. Talk of songwriting together unfortunately never materialised. Nor did any other engagement much between the two. No doubting though the influence lasted long after, ultimately Peachtree Road in particular and CATK channeled Elton's American taste into his own style with stunning albums in both cases. I say American and I stress that. I stress it to differentiate between it and 'Americana'. Similar sounding when you say them, totally alien to each other on disc. Like Martians...and Uranus's (or whatever people from that planet are called). 

Ryan is preparing to release another album right at this minute. He's been pretty busy in the intervening time, this album he's producing himself. He's already produced other artists during that time so is no stranger to the job. I was reading recently on some Elton forum's about when, or if, or even dare I say it why, Elton should record again. Let's be positive and say he will. Who should produce and what should it sound like? Assuming Elton wants to keep the American theme going, or at least take the critical elements from it, then one thing should happen. The current producer has no business foisting his own brand of watered down 'Americana' style in my opinion. It's a toned down, too safe of a sound. He walks around in a black and white persona in a colourful music world. More Nicholas Parsons than Gram Parsons. Devoid of grit and gristle. Ryan Adams has that in steel buckets. He has a connection with younger fans, the hip set without the hopping around. That vibrancy of colour to channel Elton's live persona (which is lacking so much on the last album I put electric pads on it once to revive it. It's still flat lining) into the studio that it makes you feel he's sweating in front of the mike when the red light is on. The edginess I keep going on about, SFTWC up until CATK is dripping like a torrent with it. That's what helps them work on so many levels. A bit of acceleration thrown in and we've got a winner. Ryan has the hard edge that tempered with Elton's more honed style shall we say would be a killer combo. 

Somebody like Ryan Adams gets airplay. Not so much on pop stations, but on the more musically aware stations. Over here there's a station I sometimes tune in to, TXFM (formally Phantom FM). That's where I first heard his new song, Gimme Something Good. It has a caustic sound. An Eagle's influence is evident, plenty of harmonies with some stunning organ. A properly recorded sound that lets the substance dominate and the style find it's own place. Strong songwriting wins every time. 'But these radio stations won't play Elton though, will they? He's old hat!' I hear the critics chime in. But hold on trolls, get this one in under your furry heads. A few songs later they played the new song from Leonard Cohen, he who is 80 years of age of course. Produced by Patrick Leonard if you please. A small world and shrinking. 

The point I'm making is with a younger, yet experienced producer who knows his Elton onions, one last stab at getting a proper finale to the recording career can be achieved. This time last year we were waiting for the new album to be released. If you listen closely you can still hear the sudden intake of breath when it dropped. Some stopped breathing permanently I believe, electric pads no use again. I was asked by some folks to do something here evaluating it twelve month's on. I've absolutely no wish to go back to it, it's in the past thankfully. I'm looking forward to the future and the great hope that one day we'll hear a proper Elton album again. With strong, adventurous songwriting. And with the band of course, that's a deal breaker as far as I'm concerned. If the band aren't on any future recordings then Elton will further alienate certain sections of the fanbase by parking them yet again. If that concept escaped some people grasps twelve month's ago, the message has been delivered. You can't go round praising the band on one hand then not caring whether they play on the albums or not. They're musicians, not photo opportunities. It's either all in or not at all in my book.

A promise can to deliver. If Elton wants to stand like justice herself and balance the scales of commercial and critical success, then this route, if carefully navigated, will deliver a unanimous verdict.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

'They Came Around And Brightened Up Our Lives'

I hadn't intended to do this blog piece at this time, I have something else lined up for later in the week on a vaguely similar theme but the iron is hot and I'm hitting it hard! A discussion topic raised on Facebook about it kind of got me thinking and typing...the thing is this album is in my top 10. There isn't one element of it that can be faulted. It's an album that can never date, the subject matter is pure #throwbackeveryday. But what's even starker on that front is how the contemporary element of the album, namely some of those playing on it, have tragically become part of the same time we've lost. I'm not going to a review of it...I think it's great and it can't be faulted. I said it at the time when it came out, it sounded like the end. Which for me it was. They say a three legged chair is the most stable known to man. All the ticks appear beside the right three boxes on this one, from songwriting, production and musicianship. So stability is guaranteed. 

I don't think anyone, not even Elton or Bernie, would rank CATK in the same class bracket as CF. To achieve that high water mark again is impossible, but that's not to say they didn't come close to reaching it. If CF is a 10, then CATK is a 9.5. From all the judges on the board. Trying to reclaim or recast the past is like rewriting history. But the truth about history when laid out honestly and concisely has no greater impact of delivery.

I think the key to the album's success as a concept is the way Bernie sets up the narrative and develops it throughout. It's not often that we hear Elton singing about himself in the same context as Bernie. Certainly not on a whole album. Look at the various stopping points on the album; arrival, ascendancy, supremacy, descent, phoenix like resurgence and ultimately consolidation of their careers. Mixed with personal highs and lows for both characters. That lyrical tale is a once only deal, you'll not get that on any other Elton album. Or with such degree of honesty and insight on any other artists similar attempt. Once you have that solid base to build on, the rest was going sweep neatly up behind it with ease. If you watch the bonus DVD that came with the de-luxe version, when bonus material was exactly that, then you get to hear a further incredible insight into each and every song on the disc. So we're getting double dose of the colourful back story. The lyrical connections run throughout, this example is a fine explanation of their interconnectivity with earlier works. 

Musically the album is a delight. The melodies are incredibly original for such a late edition to the catalogue. Excepting of course the deliberate use of the CF riff to cleverly bookend the entire story. Which is instead of being cliched sounds fresh as a daisy. The lack of the uptempo input might at times be lamented, but if you include Across The River Thames as part of the package then the balance is restored. Elton's vocals are plain, simple with very little of the over stressing that can sometimes be present in later recordings. Recorded with care and clarity.

Finally, to present all of this the band is fine form. Incredibly fine form. Co producer Matt Still along with Elton strikes a fine balance. If you actually listen to it it's an incredibly stripped back affair, though it never sounds as if anything has been left out. Plenty happening but not all argiug to be heard. In other words when something appears it's there for a reason, the harmonica on I Must Have Lost In On The Wind sounds like it's being carried along by the said breeze. The edge that Davey brings is present and correct, standing with equal uprightness alongside his traditional roots input. The Bridge with the trademark Guy synth vocals blending seamlessly with the organic vocals harmonies of the band is both melancholic (for reasons that became more apparent later) and sensual. 

If you look at the sight of Bob standing with his friends and colleagues with no instruments just choral-ling and Guy playing some beautiful watery electric piano on any of the live tv appearances from around the time of it's release then some incredible emotions come into play. The album itself is nostalgic by it's very concept. Those performances of The Bridge have taken that nostalgic level up to something extraordinary. Coupled with Blues Never Fade Away, they were lamenting a past on disc in the present but very soon that present would turn into the past. Quite incredible.

I already did a piece a while back on the title track and how important it is. The importance of this album cannot be ignored, overlooked or neglected. Hopefully time will position it to it's rightful place...

Related Posts:

'Riding Off Into The Sunset'
'Ten Years A Slave To Rock And Roll...Getting More Roll Than Rock'

Thursday, August 14, 2014

'If At First... - Part IV - Where Have All The Good Times Gone'

The final part of this short series finds us in early 80's territory. And what a number we have to round things up. Where did the time go...

Jump Up! (1982)

The first attempt at this song is truly excellent. Of the all songs we've looked at so far it's probably the best initial effort. Taupin's nostalgic lyric cues a lot of things of the song. James Newton Howard's arrangement evokes the soulful style of the 60's & 70's ('remember all those good old Four Tops songs'), it's left, right, left, right military style again taking lyrical inspiration ('as time goes marching to a different beat'). Jeff Porcaro's heavy drum beat keeps that hard line in check, the bridge, as is usually the case with Elton's musical prowess, hits home. The desperation of the lyric is off set by the rise up, levelling out on a higher plain. Acoustic piano appears on the outro, harping back to that earlier notion. A contrast to the intro with electric piano. The production, thanks to Chris Thomas, catches the songs mood and encourages a greater exploration of it's sentiment. The whole thing has been perfectly matched. Once dispatched to the outside world, it would hatch into something quite different.

The 1982 tour was Elton's most rockiest. Look back on my tour retrospective to get a better flavour of that time. No matter what the song was, no matter where it's root lay it was given the rock treatment. This song being one such case. Whatever the reasons were during the sessions for Too Low Zero in September 1982 it was decided to record another version of it. If it were possible to top what was already a terrific piece, this could claim that crown.

B-side of All Quiet On The Western Front (1982)

As soon as proceedings commence, we know we're in for a ride. A fast one. Elton's acoustic piano has a much more rapid arrival, it's in before you know it. And brighter too. His vocal is much deeper than the first go with an added degree of urgency. Dee's bass has been pushed further up for a number of reasons. Primarily to replace the orchestral arrangement with one slay of his hands. It's incredibly vocal and chatty throughout. With plenty of purposeful things to say for itself. Nigel's drumming is incredibly brutal at times. The slap rhythms that transfer us into the first chorus and then back out of it are determined as they are effective. Davey's layered guitars are like stinging tendrils. His collage of sounds take up that absent orchestral space in tandem with Dee, his solo on the outro boils up and melts all before it. The three backing vocals combine with short interjections but are ultimately very necessary harmonies. This version rocks, it's tight uncompromising attitude leaves the pulse at a much faster rate (in three digits I suspect)  than when we started. 

Chris Thomas, often criticised in some quarters for 'filling the spaces', came very close to capturing a live stage performance in the studio. Listen to any version up that point on the tour and what you hear on disc is merely a version recorded in front of a few people. That's the only difference. The energy Elton and the band had on stage was channelled onto disc seamlessly. Like Gus earlier on Grey Seal, he showed his talent is more than one trick by taking the same song and reworking it but not reducing it's appeal. Stripped back with the remaining players acting out multiple roles.

What have we learned overall from these examples? I'll try and sum up...

The original Skyline Pigeon, whilst charming in it's own right, needed to be redone in order to bring it's full personality out. Grey Seal with it's funky feel and clever arrangement was a bit too slow placed which was rightly rectified. Shine On Through was over developed that in turn helped it to get lost under all that cladding. Once the crucial bits were retained and proper editing introduced it became a quality result second time around. Where Have All The Good Times is the most difficult here to separate. The original is terrific, if it had stopped there then nobody would have complained. The only way to have topped it would be to get Nigel, Dee and Davey in to butter it up. The aftermath of what they did to it is clear to hear. It matches it, no doubt there. For me the revised version gets the nod, merely because some things never seem to last...and they've gone away.

Why these and not others were chosen to be revisited is an interesting thought. There's talk on the street...and other places...that Elton may be going to redo some of the older classics for the forthcoming biopic. I suspect if they do go down that road it'll be like the Blondie situation I mentioned in the first part. These four examples were merely chosen at random and threw up intriguing and varying end results. Their unique quirkiness will never be replicated.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

'If At First... - Part III - Shine On Through'

Time for the next part. And it is a post about parts. The ending of one part of Elton's career and the start of another. The song this time doesn't have too many tweaks to it...but those that are effected are crucial. Let's go on through...

Thom Bell Sessions (1977)

The Thom Bell sessions are incredibly important in Elton's career. I've mentioned them before in relation to various aspects of Elton's career on this blog over the last year or so. His influence on Elton's vocal prowess set the stall out for the remainder of his career. The sessions overall are inoffensive in terms of the product that was doled out in various stages over the years. However, all was not perfect. Some things needed some fine tuning and 'Eltonising' very soon after.

For the first edition, there's a long piano intro. Very long. Occasional harp strums relieve the potential monotony. Elton's vocals, when they come in, are achingly slow. Not forced, just considered and measured. He was after all in uncharted waters at this time. A massive wall of strings with a very precise rhythm section gradually pitches up. It's all carefully choreographed so far. When the chorus kicks in, it's without any impact or power of delivery. This isn't immediately apparent, the later version will put it into context better. The slick production, the Philly sound in it's purest form, nearly engulfs the song in possibly too much baggage. However a fine line is held. The outro however is where it goes a bit wrong...long in the extreme. Instead of a natural end it becomes unnatural as vocal and orchestral jousting takes hold. Nearly eight minutes being a twelfth of an hour too long.

A Single Man (1978)

Very soon after this Elton decided to put his own stamp on it and recast the main players. Two of them in particular reclaimed the day. On this edition the piano is recorded better. It's heavier and that weight come through without bulk but with power. His vocal is now more comfortable, still hitting the lower notes he had been recently introduced to but carrying them with greater aplomb. An orchestral arrangement is still to be heard...this time Buckmaster cues it up wonderfully. Gone is the super slickness and in it's place are grittier, dynamic strings with the edginess coming through none more clearly than when you can detect the bows on the cello's almost hanging on the strings. But the pay off moment is still to come.

As I mentioned earlier, when the chorus came in first time around it sort of walked in laconically. This time when it does arrive it's devastating. The rhythm section is held back just for this very moment. The woodwinds are key here, the oboe yet again taking a lead and adding a terrific backup. Ray Coopers tambourine, a simple instrument in most peoples hands, an weapon of mass action when he has it, thuds and reverberates like a thousand babies rattles. Steve Holly's drums are more up front again, every fill is poised and communicated at the correct moment. The ending flourishes, it brings proceedings to a natural conclusion.

What do we have here then? Like I said the Thom Bell sessions are a nice side piece but at times the overtly dominant production wasn't necessary on strong songs. Second time around a far more tighter control was harnessed, with critical moments developed further. I suspect Elton, after hearing the first version, knew the strength of the song may have been undermined ad ultimately swamped with unnecessary additions. Adding some key men...we know who they are...never fail to deliver or disappoint. That, as we shall see, plays a major part in the final installment.

'If At First... - Part I - Skyline Pigeon'
'If At First... - Part II - Grey Seal'
'If At First... - Part IV - Where Have All The Good Times Gone'

'If At First... - Part II - Grey Seal'

For the second installment we stay in the early 70's and look at two wildly contrasting versions of the same theme.

B-side of Rock And Roll Madonna (1970)

The original concept has a very quick electric piano intro giving way to acoustic piano. The rhythm section is gently introduced, carefully interwoven by Buckmaster with the orchestral arrangement. The piano breaks are very sparse, the welcoming of the second verse ups the pace. The chorus has a great string part with gradually descending chords, Elton's vocal keeping to a straight line. His early vocal style is clearly at play here. The outro with it's zig zagging strings crisscrossing with the funky vibes. Buckmaster is very much at play here again, his wildly imaginative arrangement reflects the equally visionary lyrics terrifically. 

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)

Jump forward three years and it's time to revisit the song. Gus, who produced the first example, comes up with as far removed as possible take on it from what he did first time around. It shows that his mind was full of invention, he could take the same song and create a totally different beast from the same DNA. 

The intro this time is far from gentile, a bootful kick from Nigel and the rippling piano (a trait that runs through the song) with some powerful strokes from Davey draw us in. Elton's vocal is softer this time, the attitude of the first attempt has been tempered. The mulitracking of it shows Elton is as good a harmoniser with his own voice than anyone else could be. A talent of his not often acknowledged. The piano breaks are similar in idea, but harder in execution. Davey's mirroring of the melody line contributes that punch. The drums here are massive, the bass completely expressive. Compare the (excellent) carefully arranged rhythm section from the first go, this has a greater cut and run feel. Buckmaster's arrangement has been greatly supplanted by Elton on the Mellotron. The other worldly feel it emotes carefully in tune with the lyrical evocation. The outro is a killer, Davey on the 'wah-wah', Nigel on the conga's and the discreet backing vocals all add up to a climatic and fulfilling finale. Not so grand on the earlier version, but the contrasting ways they both leave us is a dilemma of choice.

To conclude, which has the yay and which is nay. The first edition is carefully created, it's a more sedater affair that desires to break free but can't find the route. The second coming with it's new found freedom which it celebrates wholly and with joy unbounded. A theme of both examples so far, without giving the game away I suspect to be a theme that'll run through the series. 

'If At First... - Part I - Skyline Pigeon'
'If At First... - Part III - Shine On Through'
'If At First... - Part IV - Where Have All The Good Times Gone'

Monday, August 11, 2014

'If At First... - Part I - Skyline Pigeon'

For this next update I'm going to split it into four parts, they each won't be too long but are on a common theme. With threads of varying strength connecting them.

You be aware...or not...that Blondie released a 'greatest hits' package recently. On it was something unusual and the suspect of much discussion. Included was a disc of various said hits of the past re-recorded. Exactly the same way as they were originally done. Arrangements, production all replicated with precision. The only discernible difference being Debbie Harry's (obviously) aged vocals. Quite what the point was or what it hoped to achieve is kind of lost on me. It's not as if the were recorded in the dark ages, most of the original versions would stem from the digital era. As they stuck rigidly to the originals, any notion of reworkings or remixing wasn't a factor in revisiting them again. I found it baffling. So why do it? As we shall see, Elton did employ such a device on a number of occasions over the years with varying degrees of success.

A recent post highlighted both versions of Madman Across The Water, this series be will along similar lines. As we'll see, each time a particular song was started afresh the end result was quite different to the previous effort. Due in no small part to a different production ear controlling things and sometimes different (better) personnel contributing. Life experience and better artistic technique are also present and correct. For the first part we'll go back to the start and hone in on an early classic...

Empty Sky (1969)

The Empty Sky version is incredibly delicate, almost fragile. The sound is regal, helped by the noble sounding harpsichord, which evokes a religious feeling on top of it. The spectrum split of the stereo has Elton's vocal on one side and the keyboard on the other. Like as if they are sitting in the pews of the church. The coming together of voice and instrument into the middle is like them all congregating on the altar. Harmonium and organ join in as fellow celebrants. The track is incredibly keyboard pure, Elton's voice isn't exactly nervous but maybe unsure if it's taking the right path. His phrasing is incredibly pronounced, 'fountanes' and 'mountanes' sounding very proper. The sparseness of it all gives it an almost naive feel. Wholly unintentional I suspect but ultimately being the key to the song's charm. Could anymore be done to emphasise the songs statement. I think that could be done...

B-side of Daniel (1973)

Skip forward a few years and Gus Dudgeon gets a hold of this one. If the instruments on the previous example were the main celebrants, the personnel here are the father figures. Straight in we are confronted with confident, purposeful piano. No fragility here, this is strong from the start with confidence that was lacking earlier. The fullsome beauty of the melody is now realised, the piano's stronger tones exemplify it no end. Elton's vocal phrasing is similar but now is less pronounced or forced as the earlier example. It's natural flow at this time more from ease than trying to please. Playing it live in the intervening years (a device that we'll see again employed later) had made him find the songs nuances and use them to better effect. Dee's flick switching plectrum introducing the rhythm section is another statement of intent. Davey's crisp strumming and Nigel's fills on the toms are incredibly important here. Nigel had the tom's tuned in those days in such a way that they were devoid of heavy 'dead' thud but still sounded huge. Wide without being overbearing. 

To top it all off, this is the cherry topping that others spoke of in other portals. Buckmaster adds more than colour here. It's a painting in it's own right that hangs side by side with the masterwork it is displayed with. Some canvas this! His low key strings introduce themselves slowly but surely, the gradual rise from the low end upwards to sweep over the various sights that Bernie's lyrics describe. His woodwind work, like his brass work, is often overlooked (not here) and is crucial to the songs impact. He introduces the woodwinds after the first chorus, holding them back until the time is right.  Later on we'll see this method acted out again. The oboe sound is nostalgic, it has to be. The song requires it. It was that type of song right from it's inception. Buckmaster found it and delivered it for our pleasure.

Overall we can see both songs are dramatically different in their approach. With that drama giving way to dramatically differing end results. Whereas the first version is more to do with getting the song out there, the second version is more in keeping with and finding out what the song is about. It's a tremendous moment of feelings and emotions, an evocation of freedom. The first version is very quaint and has it's moments, but the reworking of it was necessary and ultimately becomes the definitive version. How do we know that? The same arrangement is still used to day for the live band version. All in all a job well done!!

'If At First... - Part II - Grey Seal'
'If At First... - Part III - Shine On Through'
'If At First... - Part IV - Where Have All The Good Times Gone'

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

'Starship Trooper'

Whilst I've been away I've had my fingers in glue and paint. And my patience tested more than once.

Roden model kits, who reside in the Ukraine, have a range entitled 'The Music Series'. Releasing mainly Boeing 720's in 1:144 scale. The infamous Starship 1 was released last year in it's gold/brown scheme, alas with no Elton version. However, all that changed recently. Anybody familiar with the general music scene of the 70's will be very familiar with Starship 1. Luckily the good folks at Wikipedia have an excellent entry on it. Elton fans have particular reason to be fond of it, as we shall see.

This later version of the Starship in it's iconic stars and RWB combo is a delight. The terrific flamboyant colour scheme which appeared in 1974 couldn't be more striking than the previous colour scheme which was just plain awful. Visually it's colourful, it's history equally so. Ah, the stories it could tell...if it hadn't been sent to the canner. I'm going to give a brief rundown on the kit and the obstacles I encountered and thankfully flew over. Not your usual entry on this blog, but it's all Elton related. In a good way!

The kit itself is well moulded, very little filling or rubbing down needed. The plans were straightforward except for the main undercarriage. With the help of the interweb I was able to get the hang of the folding doors lark they were trying to describe. Painting was straightforward, the main colours of white and blue going on a treat. However, the main problem was with the red transfer stripe down the side. Patience, I nearly became one of those with shattered nerves!!

First off it was too long. It's supposed to cover the windows and leave the glazing peeking through the clear holes on it. This didn't happen when I put the first one on. So I quickly had to remove it and cut it in to three sections. I then reapplied it, overlapping where neccessary to make it fit. So far so good. When it was in place I noticed another problem. It was too thin, colourwise. It didn't quite have the depth I'd have liked. The blue underneath which I had expected to be covered by the red stripe was waving through. So with Humbrol gloss number 19 Red I was able to touch up any dark patches. I then cut the red stripe for the other side into three sections again before I put it on and had no problems this time. The red stripe should be in a straight line under the stabilisers on the real thing, but it curves slightly on the model. I decided to leave it that way as it wasn't very noticeable.

The band logo, reg number etc was very easy to put on. As were the stars, whcih I thought would be a pain. There's 30 big ones and 77 small ones. The smaller stars look a bit too small but they all went on very easily. The red tail transfer again was slightly too big. It stuck out a bit at the back but before it dried I was able to trim it with a scalpel. But it dried well and left no air bubbles.

The overall colour scheme I chose was early on in the 1974 tour. Later on the tour the 'rainbow' effect on the front nose appeared. I could have done it on the model, but when I found a pic without it I decided to leave it off. Also during the tour the MCA Records logo on the tail was redone with a white background. Somebody was a bit finicity about the colour scheme. I know the feeling!! It seems it went in and out of the paintshop a few times in late '74. But at least it's accurate!

Before I put the cockpit windscreen on, I put in ballast of 10 grams...or 4 one cent coins... to make the nose sit down. I glued the coins together in pairs, put masking tape over them and glued them into the front of the plane. With plasticard I made a bulkhead to stop them flying down the back of the plane and flattening Elton and the band. With the wings and stabilisers fitted, I then put on the main landing gear. I stuck them and before they went too hard put the plane down gently on a chopping board because it's dead flat and the plane's own wait made it sit naturally. The final part was my own creation, I uses the plasticard again to make the aerial for the top of the plane. They supplied one for the underneath but this one was missing. It finished it off nicely.

Overall the kit was a challenge, but a rewarding one. The sheet that comes with it describing the colour scheme is a joke. Without Google I'd have been stumped. If I were doing it again...which I won't be... I'd paint the red stripe down the side instead and use the doors part of the transfer stripe. I'd have to use the red transfer that went around the cockpit as it's too hard to mark out. I'd maybe paint the tail also, but it came out better than I thought so I'd chance it again. The transfers are strong, they didn't break up or disintegrate. Little details like information about the silver on the wings and where the blue meets it from the fuselage was non existent. If you've some experience of making model kits, it can be done. I did it in a week...patience non existent again...but if you take your time you will get there. If you've never made any kit've always got the box to look at. Because I wouldn't recommend any beginner tackling it.

I'm delighted with the way it turned out, it looks the biz. It's a great piece of rock history, Elton rock history in particular. We've all seen the pics with Elton and the band in front of it. The most colourful, flamboyant star of 1974 deserved an equally descriptive mode of transport. And who better than to design that memorable paint job...but the Captain himself!! Fantastic indeed...

This is the link to the photo album of the plane under construction and this is a link to the photo album of the finished plane.

Here are a list of the colours I used:

Humbrol 22 Gloss White acrylic (for the top of the fuselage)
Humbrol 15 Gloss Midnight blue enamel (for the bottom of the fuselage)
Humbrol 33 Matt Black acrylic (for the rear of the engine nacelles, tyres) 
Humbrol 19 Gloss Red enamel (for touching up the red stripe)
Humbrol 11 Silver acrylic (for the wings, stabilisers, undercarriage struts and legs)
Humbrol 21 Gloss Black enamel (for the radome nose on the front of the fuselage)
Xtracolor  Interior Green acrylic (for inside the main undercarriage wheel bay)
Xtracolor  Light Grey acrylic (for the leading edges on the wings and stabilisers)