Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Backstage Tour

Our party of 6 lucky competition winners was met by none other than Keith Bradley Elton's Tour Director. He was a lovely kind man who was a softly spoken English gentleman. Keith talked about Rod Laver Arena, about how all the gear gets to the venue, how much equipment is used, the tour trucks and his passion for tennis.

Keith then introduced us all to Elton's chief rigger Michael Gomez. Michael is a very fun, professional and friendly American. He talked about the millions of lights used in the LED curtain on the stage, what it's like working at height installing Elton's robotic lighting and how the show is designed around the central idea of fast load-in and load-out.

We were then introduced to Kevin Bye "stick" Elton's lighting designer who plans all the "sticks" of lights that hang from the roofs of entertainment venues. He loves his audience blinders (the bright lights that blind the audience).

Then came the magical moment. We got to walk up Elton's steps and on to the grand stage. It was incredible to see a sea of empty seats and spotlights shining down on you. This is what Elton sees all the time. It's a surreal feeling to be allowed to sit at his piano and touch the very keys he is about to play. Michael told us all about how the piano is reinforced for Elton and how everything including the sofas in his dressing room tour with him and are made for his height and preference. He doesn't like leather - only cloth. The side of his piano stool is covered in masking tape so that his cape doesn't get caught on it. EJ has 4 pianos floating around the world that are named after jazz pianists. The piano actually has removable legs and it is packed into a flight case and shipped off with the rest of the gear. They can generally get the show packed onto 5 trucks within 2 hrs of Elton leaving the stage. It is a military operation.

It was so hot at one show in Italy he did that air conditioning a fan and cold drinks were not enough. Elton said to Dennis McManus (his stage manager) 'Dennis it's too f....g hot out there, do something' to which Dennis replied 'Elton unless I sit under the piano with ice cubes in my mouth and blow, there is nothing more I can do' Elton laughed and got on with the rest of the show.

Michael told us about the huge amounts of power that the show uses and how Davey and Nigel are rockstars. Then as a special surprise John Mahon came onstage to do a soundcheck and we got to have a picture taken with him. He is such a genuine, friendly person. He also works incredibly hard to get the sound just right at every concert.

Elton often sings so loud that his monitors (the speakers on either side of his stool) actually pop - meaning the speaker has been damaged by the volume and Elton therefore can't hear properly, so he points at them and crew change it over. It's not uncommon for him to go through 2 or 3 changes per show.

We then met Rick Salazar (Davey & Bob's guitar tech). Rick showed us the amazing Captain Fantastic guitar that was specially made for the 40th anniversary concert. He was very kind and gave us all a guitar pick. We then walked past the dressing rooms and the offices and saw all the flight cases labelled "EJ dressing room". Unfortunately, Elton couldn't meet us today but he asked Keith to give us a special autographed gift.

And that concluded our special look behind the scenes at Elton John's concert tour.

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