Ok, look, Wordpretzels, I ‘ve had a look back at my recent blogs and realised there’s a danger that I’m turning into the NME, if the NME spent 6 months going to see lots of legendary acts from the 1960s and 70s. But I can’t let this moment pass without telling you all about Elton John playing at Kingsholm, home to the glorious Gloucester Rugby team.
When this concert was first announced, I had to check it wasn’t some kind of practical joke. It was hard to imagine Elton, one of the fussiest, cosseted music stars prone to explosive outbursts, playing in Gloucester. Now, our fine city has a lot of qualities, but it is not known for being pretentious or for standing for any precociousness. You see, as I’ve explained before, rugby football in Gloucester is a way of life, the team supported by all and sundry like a football team. Their fans are not backward in coming forward. In fact, the whole city takes no nonsense. The Sexton calls it a frontier town. So, I feared that Elton, upon arriving in Gloucester, would react in the way a very spoilt person who is used to shopping in Harrods being made to do his weekly purchases in Lidl.
But it was true, so Lady BSM bought some tickets early on in prime position. Elton was playing in ‘The Shed’, the infamous stand where Gloucester fans dish out their worst to the opposition, with seating on the pitch and in the stands. Actually, he wasn’t, the stage was built in front of The Shed. Of course, I’m used to being at Kingsholm to see the rugby, but this was a very slightly different audience and a bigger one than normal: sixteen and a half thousand Elton fans, including us and Miss Katherine, Pen and Miss Beth, who had The Sexton’s ticket. He’d been invited on a rugby tour to Ireland, so rather than politely turn the offer down with the excuse that he was going to see Elton John, decided on the option that would stop the piss being taken out of him by his rugby club cronies for all eternity.
Supported by Bright Light Bright Light, fronted by a rather sweet young man from Wales with a touch of Freddie Mercury about him, Elton finally appeared in front of The Shed to the haunting opening bars of ‘Funeral for a Friend’. He was resplendent in sparkly red coat, hair in place. We were 26 rows back, centre left of stage, with a great view of him. Two people a few rows down leapt to their feet, as did the rather imposing female steward at the front of our row, immediately at their side and demanding they sit down. Meanwhile, another man on the opposite side of the aisle tried his luck, with similar treatment from the zealous security woman. He tried again a few minutes later, resulting in a face to face argument with the yellow jacketed one, all played out in mime, as Elton blasted out ‘Bennie and the Jets’. It was, of course, quite distracting, but we had some respite during ‘Candle in the Wind’, which isn’t the sort of song you leap to your feet and dance about to. But when Elton launched into ‘All The Girls Love Alice’, the long haired man who wanted to stand up decided to wave his arms back and forth furiously, the elderly man beside him shrinking in fear of being battered. The large imposing lady returned to his side, demanding calm, before returning to her own seat at the front, right under Elton and his piano.
This is when it happened. The Elton melt down.
Lady Barton St Mary and I saw him play a double header with Eric Clapton 22 years ago at Wembley Stadium, when she was with child. We’ve always told Miss Katherine she’d been to an Elton John concert. He’d had a tantrum on stage that day, but his microphone was turned off. That was the reason for the melt down. On the big screens, even a poor lip reader could see his comments about the sound engineers were less than complimentary. Several expletives and the distinct possibility that their careers with Elton may be at an end were suggested by His Regness.
But this time, the target of his ire was the rather officious steward sitting below him.
“Can I just say something to the stewards? Especially this one sitting down here with the pony tail. These people have come to hear music and if they want to put their hands in the air let them. This is not fucking China, so piss off. You’ve got a fucking uniform on and you think you’re Hitler and you’re not. You can piss off! I mean really. Don’t have any sympathy with her, this is a concert ok?”
There was a momentary silence followed by a mighty roar of approval. The woman who had been the victim of Elton’s anger looked around, wide eyed, before bursting into tears and running off down the aisle. Two elderly ladies in front of us decided that they had seen enough, put on their coats and left. On reflection, Elton’s outburst was a little unfair, comparing her to Hitler. Then again, if there was something Hitler was good at, it was crowd control. I also assume he won’t be playing a gig in Beijing anytime soon. To be fair, if he wasn’t a celebrity behemoth he would be regarded as elderly and this is the sort of thing OAPs say.
Elton played on for a couple of songs, which gave the crowd the opportunity to do what all crowds do in these circumstances: no steward, no rules!
Hence a huge rush from the rear seats to dance about in front of Elton in our row. I could see him perfectly, but the people in the top notch top price seats had no chance. Of course, those who had rushed for the front did their best to block our view by placing children and girlfriends on their shoulders.
After a couple of songs, Elton saw the error of his ways and made a public apology.
“If she wants to come up here I will say sorry face to face, I was out of order”, he explained. Punters in the front row had a tendency to agree with him.
In came a team of security men who forced the trespassers back to the rear, no mean feat in Gloucester. It took several minutes and reminded me of a rather polite riot, people incredulous at the idea that they had to take their rightful place in the stadium rather than one they would like but hadn’t paid for. By the time Elton was singing ‘Rocket Man’, everything was back to normal. Well, as normal as it can be in Gloucester. Just behind me, the security people were doing their best to hold back the Gloucester throng.
The lady in the yellow jacket appeared on stage. Elton welcomed her with a hug and a seat on his piano stool. I was starting to wonder whether it was all a weird dream. The hoards just behind my seat was getting restless and growing in numbers. I turned to see what was happening.
Elton sang ‘The Bitch is Back’ whilst a rather large man with greased back hair and a ratty faced wife stood nose to nose with the young but muscular bouncer barring his way and recited ‘You’re a dickhead’ over and over, as if somehow the enforcer in the black polo shirt would see his point of view, say ‘Actually, you’re correct, I am a dickhead! Please feel free to approach the front of the stage and intimidate somebody else!’
Elton was at full pelt now; we all stood and danced to ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’. I was starting to wonder whether this should be Gloucester’s anthem, even if it was a Sunday.
Then Elton gave a cheery wave, disappeared and then reappeared to perform ‘Crocodile Rock’, his one obligatory encore song to satisfy the Gloucester leg of his tour. If only he knew Gloucester, but, to be fair, he spent years in Watford and grew up in Pinner, not too far away from me (my cousin went to school with him), so rather anarchical, maverick, slightly dodgy behaviour shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him.
Thanks, Gloucester and Elton, for a rather distracting and surreal evening.