Friday, July 3, 2015

'8 Lives A Day'

10 years and 1 day ago an 8 month wait ended...but not without a few challenging final hurdles that had to be negotiated. Oh, the nerves!

November 2004. Aiken Promotions announced Elton was to play outdoors at the RDS for the first time since 1984. Taking my Old Moore's Almanac, I looked at the long range weather forecast for the 2nd of July 2005. Plenty of time to do the anti-rain dance by showtime...don't wish it away but time flew (and still does unfortunately) and it was almost time to take our seats.

The buildup to the week of an Elton should be as stress free as possible, if it's outdoors you want blue skies and light winds. And Elton to be fighting fit. And of course available to turn up. Who'd have thought the latter would possibly become the main issue.

Sir Bob...not looking for effin' money this time
In the week or so before the show Bob Geldof announced a 20th anniversary multi act, multi venue concert to move the Live Aid agenda of 1985 further on, to Make Poverty History. Not to raise money but to raise awareness. So in 8 cities around the world from the same 8 countries taking part in the G8 summit concerts were to be staged on the same day. Hyde Park in London was the UK location, a massive plethora of acts to be assembled. As is always the case, Elton was one of the first acts on Sir Bob's speed dial and it was announced he was to play in London. The date of the concert. 2nd of July 2005.

Uh-oh. How was Live8 going to work? Elton has mastered most things in life but bi-location I don't think has appeared on the setlist. At least not yet. In a moment of gross uncertainty I contacted Aiken and asked them what's the story. They assured me Elton would be there at the RDS on the 2nd. Then in the days leading up the big night the schedule for Hyde Park was set out. Elton was to be an early afternoon slot so playing later that night would be no trouble. Then the threat, sorry, idea was floated of special guests from Hyde Park joining Elton on the plane over from Biggin Hill. Thankfully that payload was never dropped on us.

Aiken realising a huge event was about to unfold and wanting folks to be part of it, they opened the gates at lunchtime in order for the Elton fans to view the Hyde Park show on the big screens at the RDS. With 'perfect' timing, I was on route to D4 when Elton hit the stage. I bet he had an inclination to hit somebody by the time it was over. A spectacular performance from Elton was gatecrashed by the most shambolic live duets of all time he's ever had the misfortune to be intertwined with.

First the good bit. When the DVD of the show was released, Bob Geldof was discussing in an interview to promote it the merits of Elton choice the first two songs he sang. And the wisdom of it for an early afternoon atmosphere. But when he saw the performance and how it established the feelgood factor of the vast crowd early on, setting the tone and precedent for every other act that followed he realised, not for the first time in his own words, just why Elton was still at the top of his game. An uptempo, rollicking set that was ideally gauged and delivered with maximum impact. The lessons of 2001 had been learned. In the space of The Bitch Is Back and Saturday Night's Alright he cranked up the energy, found the locking valve and shut it tight. The last song in the set was to be one of those old hand, new dog coming together type of enterprise. But the dog was doped and it's bark had more than a slight tinge of distemper.

Pete Doherty...shortly after falling out of a Stuka
Sometime's I've been accused of going on a bit too long about Elton things. At the other end of the scale my friend Mr. B. delivered a one word review of Pete Doherty's performance over the phone to me whilst sitting in the sun in the RDS that summed it up perfectly. Dire. And that indeed said it all. Looking like a downed Luftwaffe pilot from some years ago, Doherty took part in a duet of Children of the Revolution by Marc Bolan. Looking and sounding like a right Hun (or a word that sounds like it) in the sun he gave a first class display of performing roadkill. The aural aroma was similarly vile. Elton had given over one of his allotted songs to help him out and the hand that had fed him was severely bitten. In between slurring and rambling his way through the song, he cut a pathetic sight with his BIC lighter in one hand and a Union Jack waving over his head like some trophy of war, hat at an undignified angle. If somebody has said ten years later he would be getting 5 star reviews at Glastonbury it would have just confirmed my suspicion of most music scribes. Singing from the same hymn/rap sheet...

'We're off to Dublin' declared Elton and not a moment too soon. If patience were to be milked dry over 8 month's then the last few drops were being squeezed with excruciating vigour. Because before Elton took to the stage we had the 'pleasure' of a couple of support acts. Nothing much to report here, Rufus with his truly awful singing voice and James Blunt with his truly awful bland material took the Michael indeed. Elton and circumstances were keeping us waiting...but it would be worth it.

The 3 dimensional sound that was the Guy Babylon creation otherwise knows as the Pinball Wizard intro was bright, loud and full of strong colours. Bit like the sun that shone earlier but had now clouded over. Those intros he did over the years are truly terrific and need to be released in some compilation form. It's slow burning buildup giving way to a multi explosive chain reaction that was Elton's piano, Davey's aggressive chords on the Flying 'V' and finally Nigel heavy pounds. 

Perspective is always an ongoing feature of this blog, 30% of the set that night is no longer played. Plus we had something going on that is very unlikely to happen in the future. Two recorded projects almost existing simultaneously. Peachtree Road (brilliant album) had 4 songs in the setlist, whether it was a chart success or not was irrelevant to Elton and the audience. He felt it, the band felt it and the crowd appreciated it. Winners all round. Even though it was only out 8 month's it was already being superseded by a current hit single from another Elton project. Younger readers might not be familiar with the notion of hit singles  for Elton but Electricity was indeed a proper chart hit. Lifted from the stage version of Billy Elliot, Elton's take on it (the best, of course) was a classic case study of why he had so many chart hits over the years. An uncomplicated production, the airy verses with Nigel on harmony vocal soared even higher on the chorus as it swept out into the darkening night sky. Davey's licks on the slide guitar leaving a slowly dissipating glow in the dusk. No wonder it was hit in the charts and the stars. And if that's not enough chart Elton for you, his 1971 voice could be heard on a certain rap hit of the day too...what a time we've lost.

No money in the world can ever recreate that sight
It goes without saying the show was a triumph,  Elton dedicating Sacrifice to Bob Geldof in the Rat's hometown. Classic Elton moments that are no longer with us are peppered throughout, the long and varying from night to night that was the excursion otherwise known as the intro to Take Me To The Pilot for instance. The recently introduced switch over by Davey from acoustic to electric on the extended Rocket Man was to become a byword over the next several years of multi tasking by a multi instrumentalist. Indeed Davey is more than just one was that band lineup more than just a group. The much missed Guy Babylon as mentioned earlier did his usual intricate work all the way through. As did his also much missed colleague and friend, Bob Birch. The sight of him standing behind Elton at the piano as both their heavy hands beat a march towards the final crescendo of Love Lies Bleeding was something we took for granted. Another one of life's pleasures taken from us. Too soon.

It was only the next day when I looked back at the DVD recording of the show (no Youtube of any consequence back then, of course) that you realised the enormity of it. Is poverty history? No, but the first trickle of making it happen had appeared and once it started can't be returned. It also showed how important Elton is the grand scheme of these things. When you want the A-listers, the really big stars, then Elton is no brainer to have on your bill. Glastonbury, can you hear me?! On the day he masterfully navigated his way through getting the crowd in Hyde Park wound up early on, an escaped POW on a bender and of course bi-location. But even more remarkable he played for the first, and so far only and last time, two shows in one day in two different countries. Luckily for me I was on the right side of the Irish Sea that day!

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