Saturday, July 14, 2012

Elton Danced to Good Morning to the Night

LIVE on stage in Ibiza and a dance crowd is being won over by Sir Elton John.

The superstar isn’t your usual billing for those who flock to the White Isle every summer.

But as he flashes the Captain Fantastic logo on the back of his sequined jacket, the audience lets out a scream and the legend dances, smiling like he too is having the best night of his life.

Absorbing every minute of his headlining Ibiza 123 Festival slot, it’s the first time Elton has performed on the island famous for its love of dance music.

And the only reason he agreed this year was to perform with Aussie electronic duo Pnau.

This is the band he not only mentors but who he has trusted to reinvent some of his classic tracks. The result is the remarkable and left-field Elton vs Pnau Good Morning To The Night.

Elton says: “I bow down to Pnau because I don’t know how to do it. It’s a different world to make this type of record.

“What they have done is something that sounds as if it was made today and some of the tracks on it were made 40 years ago and that is astonishing.

“There have been several attempts to remix my music before but I’ve never felt as excited about the finished product as I do about these tracks.”

Nick Littlemore and Peter Mayes were given the daunting task of reworking Elton’s songs from the period between 1970 and 1976 which many consider to be Elton’s golden era.
And far from being huge fans of Elton’s, singer Nick and guitarist Peter went in blind, knowing his big hits but unaware of a lot of Elton’s music from this period.

Nick says: “I only knew about ten of his biggest songs to be honest. I was aware of his music as my mum used to talk about Seventies artists before my dad threw her record collection out.

“We had to get to know his stuff which I think was the only way we could take this on.”

Sir Elton first heard of Pnau when he was touring Australia and came across their 2008 self-titled album while shopping in Sydney. He played it and proclaimed it “the greatest record he’d heard in ten years.”

He was hooked and, in true Elton style, hunted them down, called them in for a meeting the very next day and soon they were all friends.

“He was amazing,” says Nick in the lounge of his Ibizan hotel, hours before their gig.

“We sat down with him and he told us that if we really wanted a career we had to move to the UK as we couldn’t connect living so far away.”

Peter adds: “We threw caution to the wind and packed our bags. We needed that push over the edge.” Nick, who is also a member of Empire Of The Sun with Luke Steele, admits: “We were bewildered. This legend telling us we are brilliant and he wants us to reinvent his music.”

Now with the UK their home and Elton’s Rocket Music management company in charge of their careers, the pair began work on reinventing Elton.

Peter says: “We didn’t do anything for the first six months. We just put all his records on to our iPods and listened — constantly.”

Nick adds: “We started making notes and writing little narratives and I think it helped that we weren’t die-hard fans.

“We didn’t have a big concept or were aiming to re-hatch it. Not that we don’t have that attachment to Elton now. It was a huge process of discovery and we and Elton see this project as the creation of new music.”

Approaching the project, the first job was to strip away the piano, an instrument so central to Elton’s music.

Nick explains: “We knew we wanted to make a record that had very little piano on it because it takes up so much space.

“Elton has such an amazing voice and we really wanted to hear that more than it had ever been heard so all the keyboard sounds we’ve chosen are very soft.”

Peter adds: “It was about striking a balance between moving the songs 40 years into the future while retaining their magic.”

Nick laughs: “We didn’t want it to be entirely modern in some sense — we didn’t want to do a dubstep version of Elton!”

The pair — friends since they were ten — started with the track Sixty, which includes elements of Elton’s Sixty Years On and Indian Sunset.

“It was hugely daunting,” says Peter. “We started with that as you can hear Elton’s classical influence and he’s so much more than a pop artist. It’s quite intricate music.”

Next up was Sad, which features parts of Nice And Slow, Crazy Water. Curtains, Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word and Friends.

“That song took a long time,” explains Peter.

“We were very careful to manicure it a certain way and there’s so many little sounds you can’t even hear unless you hear it a million times. “ The results are more than impressive. Sad — which Nick tells us is Elton’s favourite track — is blissed-out gorgeousness.

Phoenix which includes a huge range of songs including Bennie And The Jets, Someone Saved My Life Tonight and Where To Now St Peter? is a future dance anthem.

And the standout Telegraph To The Afterlife is an atmospheric psychedelic Pink Floyd-esque number.

Nick says: “We were very respectful as we have a DIY punk sort of attitude. We make up the rules as we go along.

“And we weren’t worried about any backlash from our fans by being taken under Elton’s wing.

“We couldn’t beat ourselves up so we thought, ‘F*** it — let’s just do it.

“We were producing sh***y bands and making money just to pay our rent.

“Elton gave us the inspiration to leave, and to continue and push ourselves more than we already were. Though everyone back home thinks Elton’s bought us ten houses or something!”

And when it came to D-Day — when they played Elton the album for the first time — what was his reaction?

“He just started dancing,” laughs Nick.

“He didn’t tell us what to do or lead us in any direction, so when I played him Sad, the first song, he sat right up to the speakers, sang along with the song’s insane vocals and got up and danced.

“He is just excited by music and that’s why he’s such an inspiration.”

And it’s clear Elton is over the moon with the results.

He says: “It is a unique piece of art that has transformed old songs into new songs. These guys have done something incredible with my back catalogue.

“They have created a new genre of music. It is extraordinary how much work has gone into the album.”

- The Sun

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