Friday, February 19, 2016

Interview with Nigel and Davey

This summer Sir Elton John will be performing his first live concert with a full band in Lincolnshire for more than 40 years.

Here, Paul Whitelam talks to two of the superstar's original bandmates, who promise it will be a party to remember...

It's a Saturday night in Boston, Lincolnshire, in February 1973, and Elton John and his band bring the house down.

Admission to the gig at the Gliderdrome was just £1.50.

he Rocket Man singer, with his full band, is bringing his Wonderful Crazy Tour to the Lincolnshire Showground on June 10, when a 15,000 capacity temporary arena will be specially built for the event.

The cheapest tickets cost £40, a lot more than back in 1973.

But when it comes to Sir Elton's live shows, they still rock and roll all these years later.

And fans are in for a treat as Sir Elton rips through his back catalogue of hits as well as showcasing tracks from his 33rd studio album Wonderful Crazy Night, to be released on February 5.

Nigel Olsson, 66, was a member of Sir Elton John's original trio with bass player Dee Murray.

Born in Cheshire, Olsson performed his 2,000th live show with Sir Elton at the Ice Hall Palace in St Petersburg, Russia, in November 2014.

And speaking to the Echo over the phone from his hotel room at Caesars Palace, Mr Olsson said: "Hopefully, we will have people jumping about when we play the Lincolnshire Showground.

"The show will be at least two hours, maybe more, and we'll be playing most of the hits and sticking in three or four songs from the new album.

"It was a great feeling to be in the studio again and cut a record as we used to – with us all in the same studio at the same time."

Mr Olsson, who comes from a generation of musicians who cut their teeth travelling up and down the A1 in a Transit van to play small clubs, said: "These days we take our stage with us and if we do back-to-back shows, we have two sets of equipment – one crew goes ahead and sets up while the other packs up.

"I remember the Gliderdrome was a fantastic venue and there was a great atmosphere.

"It was one of THE gigs to play on the circuit and you knew you were in the business if you played there.

"If you look out into the audience and see the people smiling, then our job is done."

He said the most memorable show was probably the first show he did with Elton and bassist Dee Murray at the Roundhouse in London.

"Elton saw himself as a singer songwriter and I realised at that show that we had it right," he said.

"We then played the famous Troubadour in LA in August 1970 and that really put us on the map.

"We are so blessed to still be rocking out all these years later.

"I love playing the ballads like Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Someone Saved My Life Tonight because I'm a bit of a romantic and I can put my heart and soul into it and play to the lyrics."

And what of the most challenging numbers in the set?

"Crocodile Rock and Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," said Mr Olsson.

"If you do five or six fast songs at the end of a two-hour show it's very wearying, but it's brilliant to be playing all these songs."

Mr Olsson revealed that working with Sir Elton "is just so amazing".

He said: "He's a total genius.

"We are involved right from the conception of the song, you hear it being created, and we are all on the same wavelength and bounce off each other.

"The best songs are the ones we get down in one or two takes in the studio."

And outside of music, Mr Olsson praised Sir Elton's work in raising more than $200 million since 1992 to support HIV/AIDS prevention, education and support in 55 countries, through the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

"He's one of the kindest people I have ever met," said Mr Olsson.

"He's helped so many people and he's challenged the stereotypes."

Guitarist Davey Johnstone, 64, first toured with Sir Elton's band in 1972, having played on the album Madman Across the Water the year before.

The Scot, who told the Echo he had moved down to London on a whim to try to make his name, has also done in excess of 2,000 live shows with Sir Elton.

"In my mind, Elton is the number one rock 'n' roll piano player on the planet," he said over the phone from Caesars Palace.

"Being a piano player, he writes in keys that are not all that suitable for the guitar but the difficulty factor for me has made me a better guitarist.

"I always get a buzz from the opening of Saturday Night, but the catalogue is so vast I cannot say what my favourite is.

"But I always like to see how new material works live."

Talking about the new album, he says it works because it's a small band which means "less is more".

Mr Johnstone said: "Elton said he wanted the album to be optimistic and guitar heavy.

"He told me how he felt he was too old to write a pop song and I said: 'What are you talking about?'.

"So we went into the studio and it was like the old days.

"Some of the heavier bands like Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam like what we do. Eddie Vedder told me that he listened to us when he was at college.

"We do touring much harder than guys in bands in their 20s and 30s and I know Elton wants to spend more time with his kids but I don't think it will change.

"We are really looking forward to playing the showground and we want people to come along and feel good about the music.

"We want our music to communicate with our audience and it's a great feeling when you see people having the time of their lives.

"Too many bands, as they head towards the last segment of their careers, tend to be a bit laid back – but not us because we go on tour to create hell even now."

How Lincolnshire inspired a hit for Sir Elton

Sir Elton John has enjoyed a long-term writing partnership with Lincolnshire's 's very own Bernie Taupin, who was born on May 22, 1950, at Flatters Farmhouse, between Anwick and Sleaford.

The family moved to Owmby-by-Spital and Bernie attended Market Rasen Secondary Modern.

Sir Elton's hit Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting is said to be inspired by his friend's teenage years in Market Rasen.

Mr Taupin made a triumphant return when he married Maxine Frebelman at Holy Road RC Church, in Market Rasen, on April 27, 1971 – and the singer was his best man.

- Lincolnshire Echo

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