Sunday, July 6, 2008

Elton at Darlington

JUST when you thought Elton was going to have to change song titles to Soggy Seems To Be The Hardest Word or Don't Let The Rain Go Down On Me the downpours stopped and Darlington's arena enjoyed a cool but enjoyable Knight of history.

There was no sign of the Rocket Man turning into a damp squib as Sir Elton arrived on stage, roared on by 16,000 onlookers, to finally put the venue on the musical map.

The familiar gingery spiked hair was accompanied by a sombre black tail-coated suit embroidered with musical notes plus the words Music Magic emblazoned on his back.

He didn't disappoint. The man is magic, The giant gold crucifix around his neck seemed perfect to bedeck the opening number of Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. And the uproar that greeted the end of the first number brought the dynamic 61-year-old up into arm-gesturing action as one gold-shoed foot hit the piano stool and the other whacked down on top of the trusty Yamaha at his disposal for the night.

With The Bitch Is Back grabbing our attention, he established his reason for selecting Darlington as the start of his 2008 Rocket Man Tour. "Good Evening Darlington. I'd been to the old one (Feethams) but I never thought I'd be playing in a stadium like this in Darlington... so congratulations," said Watford FC's life president, who dates back to 1987 when his beloved Hornets walloped Darlington 11-0 in a two-leg league cup clash.

Earlier there were signs that Elton would have to make sure Sad Songs was played to a certain section of the ground. People who had paid 75 smackers for the best seats had found they weren't in the blue- seated area covering the football club's hallowed turf.

Instead they were in the stadium seats contemplating a stiff neck from watching Elton side-on just like the £60 payers. "Several people have complained. They're not happy," said a stadium staff member.

Unaware of the seating snarls, Elton ploughed on with a concert mostly garnered from his 1970s heyday with just three tracks appearing to come from the 80s and a measly one, Believe (1995) selected from his massive collection of songs which has seen him sell 250 million records worldwide.

A few of his selections taken from the Madman Across The Water album were for dedicated Elton fans only, but soon the superb showman swung into the crowdpleasers like Yellow Brick Road, Daniel, Rocket Man, Honky Cat, Sacrifice and Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Med.

Introductions for backing band John Mahon, Guy Babylon, Bob Birch, Sunderland's Nigel Olsson and Davey Johnstone followed.

The sound, by now, was soaring out towards Neasham as the East Stand End stage, with its two giant video screens, had the crowd applauding, cheering and proving that the venue could cope with such a large attendance.

"This''ll be the biggest crowd the stadium is ever going to see,"

declared one wag to me.

I certainly hope not for Darlington's sake. Sitting next to me was, possibly, the youngest concert-goer of the night. Two-and-half-year -old Lucy Chandler from Scorton.

Sadly, long before Elton swung into a crowd-roaring finale which featured Bennie And The Jets, Are You Ready For Love, I'm Still Standing, Crocodile Rock and Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting young Lucy was asleep on her dad's lap.

The finale of Pinball Wizard and Your Song, which Elton has been using as an opener on previous tours, ensured that everyone appeared to go home happy.

Just remember Elton, Lucy will be expecting you back when she's only enough to bop with a little Crocodile Rock.... Watford might even be in the same league as Darlington by that time.

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