Durham County Cricket Club
Saturday June 10, 2006
You know you're in for a right royal treat, when you're holding in your clammy mitts (on a balmy summer’s eve), a ticket for an evening with Sir Elton John – playing, more or less in your back yard.
And who else, but Elton, would issue such tickets; stamped with an official holographic image - maybe, only the Queen herself?
|Elton: Knight of the keyboards|
The concert venue is the immaculately kempt Durham County Cricket Club - a perfect arena for what promised to be a near perfect night.
The grounds had been open since 17.00 to ensure everyone is parked, fed, powdered and in their seats in time for kick off at 20.15. The sun, graciously, hung around late into the evening to bathe the eager punters.
It was also an opportunity to enjoy the picturesque surroundings, in the shadow of Lumley Castle, were Elton is purported to have spent the night!
Sneaking on stage
Like many fellow concert goers, I was dutifully queuing at the chip and drink vans, when there was a slight ripple in the crowds, a mere frisson. Sir Elton had taken the stage and was halfway through "Bennie & the Jets" before we realised what was happening.
There was no fanfare, no marching band, and no ear shattering euphoric cheer; Elton was up and running and nothing was going to stop him.
|Elton: Star of stage and screen|
The audience was equally excited and bemused, as they took to their seats in orderly fashion, reverently tapping their feet in unison.
Elton strode on stage in a black tail coat adorned with a satin lips and floral appliqué; subtler garb than in his heyday of wardrobe malfunctions, (the platforms and plumage are long gone), though I suspect he may still wear the odd tiara on high days and holidays.
Elton's more demure image was reflected in the audience; predominantly middle-aged, inhabitants of nouveau-middle England, accompanied by a handful of thirty-somethings. Most people had dressed for the occasion – the great the good and their gold were out to support Elton.
There was also a group of youngsters from the local junior school; as special guests, Elton had given them free tickets in compensation for not being able to open their school fete.
|"How can you stay put to "Crocodile Rock", or not feel inclined to dance around your handbag to "Your Ready for Love"?"|
It wasn't till I saw Sir Elton's face, looming down on the stunned crowd, via two gigantic screens, that I realised – this is it, he's here and he's real. And that was as near to Elton as I got for the rest of the night – a giant sized Orwellian head (not unlike when Dorothy first meets the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City), projected across the county, delivering sweet music to his subjects.
Elton opened with "Bennie and the Jets", and then seamlessly segued into the Motown tinged foot stomper, Philadelphia Freedom - the crowd were on their feet; fleetingly - the unbelievably polite security tried to keep the rowdy mob in their seats.
The hits kept on coming; a selection of gentle ballads including "Daniel" and one of my favourites, "Rocketman", which, sadly, never really took off. Elton was feeding the crowd the tunes they expected, delivering them gift-wrapped in a flourish of bluesy, piano workouts with the occasional guitar, synth and drum wig-outs.
|Elton: In the days before the Knighthood|
The reliable sweetness of songs such as the vintage "Tiny Dancer" and the newer "Turn the Lights Out When You Leave", (from his acclaimed album, Peachtree Road), were lost under the heavy percussion and synths that, quiet frankly, got in the way of what should have been a lovely melodic moment.
It's alright for dancing
For the 2006 tour, Sir Elton is backed by a stunning five-piece band, including Nigel Oslen, originally from Sunderland. The band provided amazing back-up and vocal harmonies, though for more gospel-blues tinged renditions, such as "Don't Let The Sun Go Down" and "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues", a few strong female harmonies wouldn't have come a miss.
So now we're on the final straight, and many bums have left seats, in order to dance! How can you stay put to "Crocodile Rock", or not feel inclined to dance around your handbag to "Are Your Ready for Love?" , and as it was Saturday night, it's alright for dancing, innit?
Elton dedicated the last tune of the night to the crowd. "Your Song" was the one none of us could go home without hearing. Lighters and mobile phones lit up and swayed like a swarm of lethargic fireflies. Couples young and old, gay and straight, embraced and gently rocked to and fro; singing every word.
Low on flamboyance
|Elton fans ooze spexappeal|
Elton's stagecraft was restricted to a few grand arm gestures, waves, smiles and the occasional trip around his piano stool; though he's not as flamboyant as in his rambunctious sequin splattered rock operatic days, like all of us, Elton isn't getting any younger - though deep down, many hoped to hear the flourishing opening chords of Pinball Wizard. Sadly no.
As the crowd made their way home, in cars and coaches queuing the length of the A167, the satiated Eltonites (or Johnnies) tuned into BBC Radio Newcastle to listen to Paddy MacDee’s Elton John special; keeping the magic alive.
Like all royal visits, an Elton John gig has a sense of occasion. Sir Elton is regal, and rather grown up these days. Maybe that's what comes of being happily married, middle-aged and not short of a bob or two; as well as a self assured musical genius and national treasure.
Befitting a monarch, Sir Elton went home in a helicopter.