Friday, March 20, 2015

Davey & Nigel Chat About Working with Elton

WHEN pop royalty Elton John makes his eagerly anticipated visit to South Lakeland in June, he will be flanked by loyal bandmates Davey Johnstone on guitar and Nigel Olsson on drums.

The band are currently mid-tour in the USA, although as Davey explained, “We’re always mid-something – there’s always a new project going on.”

He cited this constant change as “the secret to long-lasting success,” and the reason he has stayed with Elton for more than 40 years.

“He never rests on his laurels,” said Davey, “he’s always looking for something new – he’s a good person, and a good mate after all this time.”

Davey met Elton for the first time as a 19-year-old session musician, when he played on his 1971 album ‘Madman across the Water’.

Pre-Elton, Davey recorded several albums with folk band Magna Carta, and he cites Pentangle and Joni Mitchell as big influences during this period.

“I played acoustic guitar, mandolin and sitar,” he explained, “no-one else played the sitar so I got a lot of gigs nobody else would have got.

“I started hearing the songs Elton was doing and thought ‘this guy is really good’, so I was thrilled when he asked me to join his band.”

He described being in the band as “totally magical from the beginning – we started having hits, selling out shows and we became underground stars.

“People tend to be distrustful when you start having success,” he said, “but this is why we are doing it – we want to reap the benefits of what we are doing.

“Elton still gets upset when people judge him the wrong way – he gets accused of being too safe, but what’s safe about playing live in front of 50,000 people?”

Davey takes an incredible amount of pride in the band’s performances, saying, “When people come to see us live, that’s exactly what they get, and as a result they keep coming back.

“We’re very fortunate to be doing this but we did work for it and we continue to work hard for it.”

On what Elton is like to work with, Davey said, “He’s so hyper when it comes to his work.

“We did a show in Hawaii and I took my family for a little break – he called me incessantly about the next record the whole time.”

Elton’s show at the Westmorland County Showground is part of his long-running mission to bring his concerts to places where most big acts never venture.

“It’s ridiculous sometimes, the amount of touring we do,” said Davey, “it’s more than guys in their 20s would do – but we’re quite willing to do it.”

Davey, who has lived in the States for almost 30 years, said, “Some people in Britain seemed to get annoyed when we got bigger in America, but we love playing in the UK.

“When we come we come to bring the music and connect with people.”

When asked to pick a highlight from their decades with the band, Davey and drummer Nigel Olsson both recall their 1974 performance to 70,000 at Madison Square Garden – where they were joined on stage by John Lennon.

“It was the thrill of a lifetime,” Nigel remembered, “John was so nervous he threw up before the show, but when he walked on stage the audience have him a 10-minute standing ovation – it was just amazing.

“We had become friends with John a while before then – he was such a great man.

“I think that if he was still alive some things wouldn’t be like they are now in the world.”

Originally from Wallasey, Cheshire, Nigel has also been playing with Elton since the heady days of the 70s, as well as composing and producing his own solo albums.

He also took ten years away from the band to pursue his other passion – racing cars.

“When I do get time off I’m working on a project with a company in Los Angeles designing the fast stuff for cars, like wings and engines.”

Davey also has to fit in his side projects ‘whenever I can’, and is currently working on a documentary with his eldest son.

Both musicians have lived in LA for decades, although Nigel said he, “has lived all over the States – Atlanta, Nashville, which is where I met my wife of 25 years.

“We actually renewed our vows last year when we were in London – she’s my rock, she keeps me on the straight and narrow.”

On what keeps him motivated after all these years, Nigel explained, “It’s the songs –these days we have young kids all the way up to grans and granddads coming to the shows.

“It’s quite amazing to me that we can still move people with our music – it’s been around for a long time and it looks like it’s going to stay for a while longer.

“With the world the way it is now, we want to make people happy – if that happens, our job is done.”

- Westmorland Gazette

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