Those not identifying themselves as Elton fans have complained that the Farewell Tour has been going on for years and when will it stop?
Those of us who are fans would love it if the Farewell Tour went on forever.
A few stops on the line left, but as we all know, Elton’s Rocket train is nearing the buffers. On 16 April he told the London crowd that it was his 291st concert of 333 that is the Farewell Yellow Brick Road World Tour. A tour that began on 8 September 2018 at PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA, and will bow out in Stockholm, Sweden on 8 July 2023.
Many of us who had decided to see Elton on his Farewell tour booked our tickets way back in 2019 for a show that was due in 2020.
While everyone is trying to put on a brave face, and make it sound less delayed, there is no hiding the fact. As my pal jazz pianist Jon Regan once penned for the title of one of his songs, Only My Credit Card Knows Where I’ve Been.
So the concert on 16 April 2023 at the O2 in Greenwich, London, which website AXS extolls was originally Tuesday 9 November 2021, was in fact advertised in the autumn of 2019 for a show that was expected around the time of my birthday in early December 2020.
The pandemic helped shunt that up by 28 months to April 2023.
So this gig was paid for shy of 4 years ago. But it was worth every penny that we paid.
The event was well-staged and arranged. Kudos where it is due. David Furnish, who was spotted in the crowd and brought their sons to the show, should be roundly proud of the creativity and feel-good that has been a hallmark of history’s biggest grossing tour.
A smooth entrance to the building once known as the Millennium Dome, myself and my wife had to first find the VIP goodies area.
Not cheap, but the Rocketman VIP Package was a nice collection of extras, including travel tag and passport holder, a tote bag and a lithograph that stuck out of the bag and actually looked like an item we didn’t really need. But remember I had parted with just over £800 back in 2019. So Hakuna Matata!
But it was well worth the spend for the seats which were in the eighth row from stage. Block A1 row H, seats 11 and 12.
A good vantage point from which to see Elton for most of the night except when his Yamaha piano went walkies – intentionally – during Funeral for a Friend and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the finale.
Before the show got under way, I ventured across the concourse of the venue to what, as Elton’s long-serving sound man Clive Franks once told me are the best seats in the house – tucked further back, where the sound is optimal and from where all the wizardry takes place. But fans were always going to be sucked into the front rows if only they could get to it.
And for a farewell gig like this, that urge was going to survive. The security was on hand to move back crowds as soon as they took their photos from the aisle.
Pre-show and after chatting with the sound crew I ventured to the stage where I was thrilled, totally knocked out, to meet some old friends I had missed for two whole decades. Mark Giles, who told me he’s been to 165 Elton gigs in 49 years was there with Jane Bradley, whom I remember as being on the mailing list for the Hercules fanzine in the 1990s, and who now answers as his other half! A nice bit of romance that flourished from all the rushing the front row as younger fans!
Also present was Tammy Smedley, former editor of Hercules fanzine in the late 1990s, with her husband Chris. They confessed to visiting the O2 centre for the first time. Tammy had started her fandom a tad before me, visiting the Hammersmith Odeon 1982 concert where Elton wore his Lord Choc Ice costume.
We posed for selfies like fans of 30 years ago. It was a party atmosphere and a long overdue catch up. I confess, having seen the BST Hyde Park gig last summer and knowing that the set list would be quite similar at the O2, meeting old pals was as much a highlight as the gig itself. You have my permission to turn crimson Tammy and Mark 😊
Mark held his front row seats and was rewarded at one point when Davey Johnstone orbited the side of the stage and threw him his guitar plectrum like a discarded banana skin!
During Crocodile Rock, which Elton dedicated to his fans, the film sequence included Mark and several (three I counted) appearances of record shop owner and Elton John Online facebook group organiser Paul Smith in a Stetson hat. It was super to see that Mark appears with Jane in the photo. But did anyone spot the last fan in the sequence? It was Ray Johnson, the infamous Elton look-a-like who we collared for the Hercules fan conventions more than 20 years ago when I was Hercules UK manager. I remember this cabbie-turned-celeb arriving in Kensington for our event at the Anna Hotel in his London taxi and shouting out to me “Oi, is this the Road to El Dorado?”. Must have been March 2000 when we did that event.
So this was not only a farewell to Elton. It was also a hello and goodbye to a way of life that 20 years ago was second nature to me with fans we all knew.
This was the 11th of 12 gigs, the next being 17 April, that Elton said he was performing at the O2 so no surprise that many other fans like David Wright, John Michie, Nigel Coleman, Tony Marshall, and Peter Stacey were probably not there that particular night.
There was also time to reflect on lost fans. I much miss fans like Alan McCormick, who was always at the UK fan conventions with his Wrap It Up Elton record stall. Alan is upstairs with some of the band members whom Elton also took a poignant moment to remember and to pay respects: Roger Pope, Dee Murray, Bob Birch and Guy Babylon.
I had the pleasure of meeting a couple who were sitting to my right and next to the aisle. They shared an amazing story. The lady told me that her uncle was Philip Spalding. Phil was a session bass player who had worked with Mike Oldfield, Mick Jagger, Seal, OMD, Randy Crawford, Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, and Elton John.
Phil worked on Elton’s 1993 album release Duets as well as on The Lion King the following year.
Sadly, Phil died on 5 February this year, so I want to dedicate this concert review to his memory.
I’m Still Standing
Elton knows he has a lot of people to thank for his career.
So the visual sequence for I’m Still Standing was a brilliant memory lane. Hope it features on YouTube some day. There were also a few nuggets I would not have remembered, and a few that I never even saw. Well done for that compilation.
Word was that Elton and the band were truly enjoying the gigs. The North America leg was marred with some hasty exits from the stage by band members keen to get back home. But there was a better mood in London. Maybe it actually helps that a dozen gigs were running at one venue? And not to mention an added one at the O2 on 30 May.
The weather was superb too. It was more like summer than spring. Not breezy either. The warmest night of the year so far and actually warmer than 17 April turned out.
Towards the end of the Sunday night it was lovely to see small “yellow brick” shaped confetti hurled in abundance down on the front rows. And much easier to sweep off the keyboard than at the infamous 1973 Christmas Hammersmith Odeon gig, where polystyrene pieces resembling snow flakes actually jammed Elton’s piano keys! Mind you, about five of those confetti strips managed somehow to deposit themselves inside my house more than an hour after we left the O2!
Heading to the 16 April London O2 #eltonjohn concert where @lulushouts was among the audience, how many of you spotted this impressive board? Denver to LA suggests it was a real fan! @allontheboard Well done! pic.twitter.com/Yd31q2E3bo
— eltonjohn.world (@EltonjohnWorld) May 28, 2023
Set list from 16 April 2023:
- Good Morning to the Night
- Bennie And The Jets
- Philadelphia Freedom
- I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
- Border Song
- Tiny Dancer
- Have Mercy on the Criminal
- Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)
- Take Me to the Pilot
- Someone Saved My Life Tonight
- Candle in the Wind
- Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
- Burn Down the Mission
- Sad Songs (Say So Much)
- Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
- Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
- The Bitch Is Back
- I’m Still Standing
- Crocodile Rock
- Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting
- Cold Heart
- Your Song
- Farewell Yellow Brick Road
Elton also shouted out a lot of names between songs. As well as paying tribute to Aretha Franklin before playing Border Song, Elton also remarked on a difficult few years for ITV’s Kate Garraway and her husband. He paid tribute to Kate Garraway’s husband Derek and dedicated huge hit to him as couple enjoy rare night out. Derek has suffered the worst effects of Long Covid. Elton remarked “They’re inspiring. They’ve never given up and I’m so thrilled they’re here, I can’t believe they are here.”
Elton later also remarked that Scottish siren Lulu was in the crowd, as was Bernie Taupin for reportedly his very last gig. Bernie as many of you will know, did not attend all the gigs in Elton’s career but would pop in from time to time to see how it was all going. It must indeed have been an emotional night for him, as well as for Elton.
Funnily enough, it was nice to bump into Lulu on Easter Sunday in South west London when I was out walking my Scotties. We sat on the park bench for a good ten minutes or more and she told me how she used to have Westies all her life and recently acquired a lovely cockapoo. She also told me that she was going to the Sunday gig. And I told her a story from 2001 when we were neighbours in Little Venice. I had been hoping to tell her my little story all this time. I cannot repeat it here. Lulu, over to you, love.
I could see the After Party area when collecting the VIP packages, and I am sure it was quite a ball for those invited.
But the entire evening was one huge party.
Sleeping with the Past
Elton was tearful but he was also enjoying it. And he must know how much he will miss the fix that artists all get from performing live in front of a loving audience.
He spoke of the generosity and warmth of his fans and said “of course I will remember you, how could I not?”
As the chair hoisted Elton up above the stage to depart for the last time, the fans were cheering but also many were muted. They knew this was like the hangover that follows a good party.
Thousands of fans shuffled to North Greenwich tube station, very slowly and no one much minded, nor noticed, a pretty good busker with guitar singing Your Song and later Rocket Man.
Fans were now focused on the reality that for most of them this was it. Finito. Done. Gone.
It therefore sounds a tad hollow to read the advert on eltonjohn.com for Rocket Club membership. “Become a Rocket Club member and exclusive news will make its way directly to your inbox. Be the first to know where Elton will perform next and get your hands on pre-sale tickets.”
We can only hope that a residency will beckon or that Elton’s charity fundraiser concerts will continue to be listed on eltonjohn.com.
In any case, all those present at the O2 were hoping that Elton will be back, with a new album, a new collaboration, and guest appearances at gigs. Whatever the future will bring, we are all Sleeping With the Past.
Thank you Elton and Bernie, Gary and Sir Tim, Lesley, as well as numerous other writers in Elton’s songs. Thank you to all the band members who were on stage and the many who were not. Thank you to the sound engineers who didn’t get projected on the screens, like Gus, Schweppes, and Clive, and the numerous artists, illustrators and managers that Elton has had over his more than half a century of showing us what music can be. And our thanks to a media colleague of mine. Tony Blackburn the DJ who played Your Song and plugged it until the world sat up and listened. The rest, as they say, is history.
Enjoy the gallery from this special night: