31st January 2003
Abbey Road Studios, London
January marks 20 years since the recording industry’s huge send-off for much-missed and respected producer, Gus Dudgeon, and his wife Sheila.
It was 20 years ago this month that admirers and record industry figures attended a special memorial gala in Gus’s honour held at the landmark Abbey Road Studios where the Beatles recorded in London.
Among those present were Elton lyricist as well a singer and songwriter, Gary Osborne, Laura Croker from Elton John AIDS Foundation, and a performance was delivered by Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggeri.
Recently-founded eltonjohn.world was invited to speak at the event, on behalf of Elton fans. Website founder George Matlock went on stage for a nine-minute tribute and received a nearly 2-minute ovation afterwards. He also befriended Gary O that night, as the lyricist came over to thank George for the speech.
In January 2023 podcast, we touch upon that very special night. Be sure to check out our podcast, released at 1800 GMT on Saturday 28 January 2023.
As a mark of respect and to mark the special tribute night, George Matlock has given this website permission to reproduce his speech. We duly do so below.
GUS AND SHEILA: THE FANS’ APPRECIATION
By George Matlock, editor, eltonjohn.world
I would like to preface with a thank you to Chris Hook for generously allowing me, on behalf of the fans of Elton John’s music, to speak on this special evening.
2002 was a difficult year for Elton John’s fans. As well as the loss of Gus and Sheila Dudgeon, the year began with the tragic loss of a personal friend of mine and of the fans, Stewart A Brown, the lead singer and schoolmate of Elton’s in the band Bluesology. The year also ended with the loss of performer Lonnie Donegan, exactly a year after he appeared at a Weston-Super-Mare gig with Kiki Dee where I had hoped, but failed, to visit to interview him.
The recording industry can easily name outstanding producers. These are the decibel readers who handle fidgety bits and are just a phone call away for the artists’ managers.
But what about the record-buying public? Producers are not the glamorous ones, and the media won’t give them too many column inches.
So, perhaps to your surprise, discover that the mention of the name Gus Dudgeon results in all Elton John fans raising hands in acknowledgement and praise. For such was his reach.
Indeed, when my website received news of the tragic deaths of Gus and Sheila, we were dumbfounded at how national press focussed on the glamorous car involved and recorded only that two travellers were casualties. It was 24 hours before the media realised who was involved. But before then, the fans were talking about nothing else in web chat sites, and eltonjohnworld.com received an outpouring of fan condolences, followed soon by many from celebrities too. We thank everyone for their contributions.
I counted Gus and Sheila among my personal friends, whose company I had a short but intensive few years in which to discover.
But I cannot deny most fans who ever had the chance to meet Gus also treated him as a pal.
The powerful chemistry of Gus and his beloved Sheila was always guaranteed to lead to engaging discussion at any function they attended.
I remember at Long John Baldry’s Teddington church gig last year, Gus had just given an exhaustive interview to fans and did not relish another one so soon again with us. But Sheila came over and remarked: (and I quote) “Don’t be silly, you know you enjoy it. I am sure they will find a new way to ask the same questions and then it won’t be so painful.” I was not sure whether that was to soothe Gus or scare me. So I gulped anyway!
On June 1 last year, Gus and Sheila attended a function organised by our website in London. The Gus magic was very much in evidence.
Gus was outspoken and irrepressible that night, so what was new? He engaged in a raging debate with the fans and our other guests, former Elton drummers Roger Pope and Charlie Morgan.
That evening, Gus wanted to make the point that, despite his success with a myriad of top artists, he was not one just to please the artist, nor would he just record a track he felt no passion for.
He expressed to the fans the case of Kylie Minogue’s monster hit, Can’t Get You Out of My Head.
He said: “If someone came to me and said, you can have all the money you want and record this song with any artist, I would still have said go away, take it away.”
Gus was quick to shoot from the hip. The hip indeed, when, after Long John Baldry’s performance with Paul Jones and The Manfreds last summer at London’s Palladium he remarked to me: “What do you call that then?” pointing to an unfortunately undone button on my shirt just above the waistline… Forgive me, while I quickly inspect this time!
Even if Gus came from a sound engineering background, he quickly assumed the life of the rock and roll world, and loved to recount to the fans all the intricate stories. That made him – just like many of the songs he helped craft – an instant hit with the fans! Just as he fussed over my shirt button, so he also paid attention to detail in the stories he would tell of recording sessions with Elton. Fear not Elton, the secrets are safe with me. But I’ll swap them for a couple of front seats at your shows if you like!
I first met Gus in November 2000, after several phone calls, at John Jorgenson’s stint at London’s The Borderline. Gus was blending in with the crowd at John’s show, hopping about with a beer bottle in his hand and generally rioting. Because he looked rather different to the youthful photos on album sleeves, I wondered who on earth this music fan was! I muttered something like: “Isn’t that fella a bit too old to behave like that?”
I was fortunate enough to meet Gus several times in June and July last year, to the point that we were accusing each other of stalking! But Gus was also living the life of a fan. He followed Long John Baldry’s tour around southern England. And he was also well briefed on rivalry within the fan fraternity. “You fans are always fighting among yourselves!” he perceptively once said to me. Alas, he was quite right.
I was privileged to attend the funeral service in Surrey on August 1. It was a moving experience, and Paul Gambaccini’s remark that Gus was the greatest producer in the intervening years between George Martin and Stock, Aitken, Waterman, resonated with me and many present that day.
For many fans, this was akin to a state funeral. Gus was part of the Elton John tapestry, pervasive within the music and present in name on more than a dozen of Elton’s album sleeves. But Gus was also back to help re-master the Elton collection of albums a few years ago, and had appeared in a recent documentary Classic Albums, about the making of the Elton John album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. He was undergoing a renaissance and the fans took note with great anticipation.
We covered the funeral service for eltonjohnworld.com, a new fansite launched last March. I admit it was not easy to know how best to report the service.
Fans wanted to know what happened, but we also needed to protect those mourning. It was not easy to strike a balance when our enthusiasm to do good was tested in unconventional surroundings.
But perhaps we should ask what Gus and Sheila would have wanted. I suspect they would have been touched by all the love, care and attention that fans the world over showed. Gus and Sheila also loved life, and they knew how to enjoy it to the full. Perhaps it was their ease with themselves and with life in general, that made them so approachable and happy to attend fan events. They were never insecure, nor shy to meet fans. That is why they are so very much missed by even those fans who never actually met them.
I recall Gus telling me and another fan over hilarious banter, oh and yes, dinner at the Bombay Brasserie in London, how much he wished he could work with Elton again. As we all know, Elton chooses people for the tasks at hand. And we understand that before he died, Gus learned he was summoned to produce the Royal Opera House show benefiting the Royal Academy of Music last month.
That is why the fans recognise Gus’ never-ending influence over Elton’s music and hope that his legacy will be the Gus Dudgeon Foundation for Recording Arts. We hope to learn more about this project in the months ahead and help promote it on the world wide web.
On behalf of the fans of many artists touched by his work, thank you to Gus for your immortal work and thank you Sheila for keeping Gus’ spirit fresh, creative and youthful. God Bless.