Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Support Acts For Australian Tour Confirmed

Soul, country-folk and the didgeridoo will comprise just some of the styles that will open for legendary pop superstar Elton John on his three-concert tour of Australia this month – playing Perth, Sydney and, for the first time in history, Darwin.

When Sir Elton kicks off the first concert of his tour in Perth on May 10, Broome-based country folk/rock band the Pigram Brothers will open, whilst Aussie soul sensation, Eran James (who supported Elton by special request last year), again graces the pop superstar’s stage for all three concerts, including the prestigious 25 year celebrations at the Sydney Entertainment Centre on May 12.

Then, when the Rocket Man lands on May 17 in Darwin, Eran James will start the TIO Stadium’s open-air concert, followed by blind aboriginal multi-instrumentalist Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, also called Gudjuk, who will perform songs from his Gumatj country, one of the First Nations of North East Arnhemland, and mostly in his Yolngu tongue.

Hailed by the Sydney Morning Herald as “the greatest voice this continent has ever recorded”, Gudjuk sings with the voice of an angel of his love of country, being born blind, the death of his father and creation stories of his Yolngu people.

Elton John’s interest and support of new and eclectic artists is legendary – he gave a leg up to Australia’s Catherine Britt who scored a Nashville signing after he made a couple of calls; was the butt of 2001’s mad media storm when he performed a duet with then break-through controversial rapper Eminem at the Grammys; and cited “25-year-old bohemian, sharp, witty and brilliant songwriter”, Ryan Adams and his Heartbreaker album as the inspiration for his 2001 Songs From the West Coast. Elton thanked Adams on the album’s liner notes “for making me do better” and told MTV, “I also like Macy Gray and Mary J. Blige. These people are very inspiring to me. They are young, very talented, and they give me a kick of new life. I've made 40 albums. It's nice to listen to new things."

And it’s new things Elton is promised to hear on this tour: from the saltwater-lifestyle, earthy harmonies of the seven-piece indigenous Pigram Brothers (yes, all seven are brothers), to the elegant soul of teenager Eran James, and the beautiful singing voice, and songs, of Gudjuk.

With Elton’s ear, and influence, genuinely tuned to new and exciting talent, could Australia be the next frontier in scouting new international megastars at the grand master’s hand?

Certainly it’s a distinct possibility for the “I can’t believe he’s white” Eran James. The 19 year old, Melbourne-born, prodigy has been signing since he was eight and signed his first record deal with Universal Music when he was just 13. They say he’s the business, the real deal, and already he’s worked with the same big fish as Craig David, Christina Aguilera, Brandy and Norah Jones.

His debut album Reviewing The Situation was released in 2004 and his sophomore album Ten Songs About Love came out in October last year, just before he hit the road with Elton the first time.

Elton is a fan and the return of James for the multi Grammy winning legend’s three 2008 concerts is a testament to the young talent’s substance.

From the pearling town of Broome, the bright lights of the big city might not be as enticing to the Pigram Brothers who have already shied away from beckoning international stardom.

Their original music has an enormous affinity with the visually spectacular Broome and Kimberley landscapes and captures their Saltwater Spirit and Country. Pigram Brothers songs have become Broome hometown anthems and their CDs are rated one of Broome’s most popular souvenirs.

Despite winning numerous Awards, being featured on national radio and TV programs and being tempted with international Festival spots, the Pigram Brothers will tour only occasionally and prefer to stay at home, be with family, go fishing and stay connected to their country.

They reckon that Broome is a tourist hot-spot and with the several hundred thousand who visit each year, they play some of their biggest gigs and get considerable exposure staying home.

Probably not too dissimilar for the intensely shy and blind from birth, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, a former member of Yothu Yindi, he’s an old hat at the star-turn, has toured the world and played for the Queen. Constant touring tired him and he likes living on Elcho Island, his birthplace, 500 km east of Darwin.

The 37-year-old’s February-released debut album Gurrumul is already a rare phenomenon, breaking into the mainstream; it knocked the John Butler Trio out of the number one spot on iTunes Roots music chart and hit number five on the mainstream iTunes chart in early April.

The Sydney Morning Herald called Gudjuk’s voice “a gift from the gods”. His music has no political agenda; he just wants to tell stories.

And it’s stories that will be told from any of these superb Australian artists performing on the same stage as Sir Elton when he tours this month.

Whether the story is of a great concert given by great artists on a shared great line-up or whether bigger things turn for any one, or all, of them at the hand of Elton, doesn’t matter in the long run.

In the short run, for Australian audiences it’s all good news. Great music, by great artists and you can only see it here – in Perth, Sydney or Darwin.

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