Monday, November 2, 2015

'From Tin Pan Alley To Yellow Brick Road by Keith Hayward' - Review

One thing you can certainly say is that Elton has had many a word scribed about him over the years. Or in the modern way of thinking, tapped out...there's too few have scratched the surface. This time the veneer is lifted and what lies underneath can be revealed. More tell than kiss, thankfully.

When 'Tin Pan Alley - The Rise Of Elton John' by Keith Hayward came out JW&AT didn't exist so a review was not forthcoming. Here's a quick roundup of it though. Starting at the very beginning of Elton's musical education, both formal and informal, it charts that learning curve right through the Bluesology era deeply and stops just as fame began to come into view in 1970. Stopping off at points such as the recording of the DJM 'demos' and the first couple of albums (influence of Hookfoot on Tumbleweed for example) as you do. But that's only the basis on which the book was formed. Interspersed (as is the case with vol.2) was the background to the whole British music business; the characters who occupied it and the environment they existed in. The changes that took place from the early 60's onwards with the example of the whole in-house writing culture and how the singer/songwriter (for which Elton certainly accelerated the revolution) became the main focus is clearly documented. By those on the very inside, to name check the characters involved would be like a flick through a general musical who's who, never mind just those connected with Elton. If I say the names Paul Buckmaster, Stephen James, Steve Brown you get the idea. If you've not got the first book yet, get it. Though not reading it before volume two won't ruin the ending...there hasn't been an ending yet as far as I'm aware.

I remember the old England goalie Peter Shilton giving an interview a few years ago about his book. The interview was painful, it merely consisted of him avoiding answering any question so as not to reveal any snippets from the book. I'll not do a Shilts now...but what I can reveal is the bare rudiments of some of amazing insights that Keith has come up with. Just like the first book he gives some great information (again by those involved) for example to the side projects that Elton did especially in the early years, The Bread And Beer Band sessions in the first book is looked at and this time around the 'Saturday Sun Sessions' have more details revealed about them. They need a proper release at this time, any Nick Drake fan I've shared them with have been quite impressed with Elton's interpretation of his songs. 

But of course it's the that gargantuan march to the top and beyond in the early 70's that is vividly captured. There's a nice balance between the onstage and off stage antics. Both are key as they frequently influence each other as we'll see later. The narrative is broken up with contributions from direct and indirect Elton connections. Some of the direct names are speaking here for the first time in great depth; John Reid in particular comes across as been honest and with no ill will towards Elton. I still think on the whole he was a positive influence for Elton over the years. Annette Murray, widow of Dee, gives a terrific 'band' insight throughout as does Roger Pope who thankfully got his thoughts down before he left us so soon. Caleb Quaye, who has spoken many times open and candidly especially in his own book with Dale Berryhill, again tells it as he saw it. What did Crocodile Rock ever do to anyone?! Kiki Dee rounds out things from that angle, always associated with Elton but her own musical identity does shine through here.  Tony King, being a friend and fixer to all people of the music business, regularly appears as a conduit to Elton getting in contact with the real music heavyweights, the Lennon collaborations in studio and on stage being documented accurately here.

There's some great recollections from former colleagues of Elton's band, Davey in particular has some light shed on him from Noel Murphy of Draught Porridge fame. The folk influence as we all know stayed with Davey and seeped into Elton's music seamlessly and subconsciously. It's quite interesting to see how Davey had an almost instantaneous revolution in terms of the style he played to a style that came from influences he hadn't yet tapped into at that time, in other words rock. The discussion of his early electric playing is very insightful. It has been noted before about when Davey joined the band the dynamic changed in how they perceived themselves, though that wouldn't be the last upheaval as we'll see now.  

Almost at the end of the book we finally get into a part of Elton's career that has always intrigued on one hand and baffled me on the other. The removal of Nigel and Dee. I've made no secret of the fact on JW&AT that I think it was terrible decision from a music point of view. That's not being disrespectful to those who replaced them, it wouldn't have mattered who came in.Anette Murray recounts Dee's lament on that very fact plus the comments by Kenny Passarelli about Gus Dudgeon and his attitude towards him tells its own story. They had all recorded GYBR together, untoppable in some eyes, and then a year later recorded Captain Fantastic. Which did top it in some eyes. That's some progression curve, isn't it. Where they were on that curve we can only imagine. What they could have done next is truly astonishing to comprehend if they had continued at that rate. It's interesting to note that large vats of vintage alcohol and lines of devils sherbert dip appear from this point on. One of the most startling revelations is the fact that, wait for this, even Davey was out for a while. That's right, the entire band were gone. That's quite some concept to sink in if it had been seen through. But what is recounted afterwards in terms of how the studio work and live work seem to go further away from each other is telling too. 

Fleetwood Mac's Rumours came about as did the later ABBA classics from internal breakups. The Bernie/Maxine/Kenny Passarelli eternal triangle of the EJ band became an unforeseen muse. Kenny P. goes into detail about his relationship with Maxine and how it started, how her's ended with Bernie and how his relationship with Bernie was affected. It's not news to any longstanding Elton fan all this but when it's all laid out and put in context from the very people themselves in terms of how the music was shaped and affected that was born out of these complex relationships woes and ultimately perceived it adds depth. It's funny when you look at the post '76 era and how disjointed it all became. Gary Osborne appears sporadically throughout but at the end is in more detail and gives shape to that period in time where Elton seemed unsure of his musical footing. It was only when he started touring again with more definite purpose that his focus sharpened up.

And that's what you get in this book, depth. There isn't any hearsay, it comes from the mouths of some thoroughbred horses. Nobody bad mouth's Elton, I suspect even if they tried it mightn't amount to much. Much appreciated background to already known facts further build the layers that is Elton's incredible ongoing merry go round journey. This volume taken in tandem with the first one are now essential Elton books. Why do I say that? Because all threads of Elton's career are linked together in an non-opinionated way so that on the surface what looks like a vast canvas has been neatly drawn together to give a clear and concise look at Elton up to and including 1979. I look forward to volume three...speaking of vast canvas's the limited edition comes with incredible poster designed by David Larkham. This isn't his only contribution, he recounts some tales into the design of the various albums covers he was involved with. It's similar in concept the cover of the first book, it would have great as the cover of this edition. 

Davis Larkham designed and signed poster
Keith Hayward signed edition
Any new fans of Elton should get this book as it doesn't stray into any salaciousness and gives a wide understanding of how Elton's music came together and those who helped put it together. Older fans like ourselves have been given some new insights into the projects that were on the periphery of the main events, some of which are quite surprising.

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