Meeting the ‘Elton John-Band’
By Melanie Hentschel
For the long Ascension-weekend in Germany I travelled to Cologne to see Elton’s last ever shows in Germany. I knew it would be a very emotional experience, so I was both looking forward to the concerts and dreading the final goodbye. I knew I would see Nadine and Ralf again, friends that I’ve met at the concerts in Hamburg, and I was looking forward to that. For the show on Thursday, we only met briefly before and after the show, but we would spend most of Friday together. We met in the early afternoon at the Hyatt Hotel where Elton and the band were staying, hoping to see some of the members of the Elton John-Band. And sure enough, we were lucky, and I never expected what was about to happen.
When I arrived at the Hyatt, Ralf and Nadine had already seen Matt Bissonette when he was leaving the hotel. My heart sank a little when I heard that, and I thought that I had missed my one chance of seeing someone from Elton’s band. But we didn’t have to wait long for another encounter because about half an hour later Davey Johnstone appeared behind us and seemed quite happy to be greeted by us. We asked him if he could sign some of the stuff we had brought with us. Because I never expected to actually meet some of the band members, I had come quite unprepared from home. While Ralf and Nadine had brought LPs and pictures to get them signed, I only had the banner with me that I had made for Elton to see in Hamburg (which he did). But in hindsight it was the perfect thing to get signed. Davey signed it with a dedication for which he asked me how to spell ‘Melly’ – and then said that it was a beautiful name. I was already over the moon! He asked me if I would bring the banner with me to the show that night and I said I would sure do that! We talked a little short while with him, especially about his latest solo-album, ‘Deeper Than My Roots’. (If you haven’t checked it out yet, you really should change that – it’s great!) He loved that we liked it so much. I told him I also loved the reels he always shares on Instagram and especially the last one where he played a Robert Burns-song. I told him I had lived in Scotland and that Edinburgh was my favourite city, but he said he preferred California. After that we let him go and continued to wait for some of the other band members.
By now a member of the hotel staff asked us to wait on the other side of the road as it was quite busy in front of the hotel. So we moved to the other side and shortly after we were lucky again when John Mahon came to the hotel from the same direction as Davey before him. It looked like he had been jogging and he seemed a little tense at first when we approached him. But he immediately said yes when we asked him if he could sign our stuff and take a few pictures with him. I was the first for the photo and he took off his cap and ruffled his hair, saying ‘I’m awake now’. We didn’t talk much with him, and he seemed a little introvert, but he was really nice and smiled at us a lot. I think despite his demeanour on stage he is a rather shy guy.
It took a little while and some persistence in the burning sun, but finally we were rewarded when Ray appeared from inside the hotel. He was waiting for the shuttle to take him away, but he didn’t seem in a hurry. He had donned a hat and a scarf and looked every inch the perfect English gentleman. He seemed quite happy to see us. He had met Ralf and Nadine the day before and was happy to sign Ralf’s vinyl edition of ‘Live From Moscow’. He said it was a great concert even though the recording was of poor quality. When he signed my banner, he wrote a dedication in German for me. I asked him if he spoke German (with him living in Munich) and he replied with ‘Ein bisschen’ (‘a little bit’ in German). He talked a lot about how emotional this tour was for everyone and even more so now that the end was near. I asked him if he was looking forward to Glastonbury which he denied. He said he didn’t like events like that because they tend to be quite static compared to a normal concert and too big for his taste. We continued to chat a bit with him until his shuttle arrived to take him away. He’s so sweet and very laid back, the complete opposite to what he’s like on stage!
By now I couldn’t believe that we had already met three members of the Elton John-Band – and then I spotted Kim Bullard coming towards the hotel with his wife, Cece. Apparently, they had been out for a stroll along the river, but they weren’t in the least bothered to talk to us. In fact, we spent the longest time with those two. Kim was the only one to see that I had all the band member’s names on my shirt and loved it so much that he asked his wife to take a picture of him and me! I told him that for me it was no question that all the names belonged on my shirt because as the ‘Elton John-Band’ they are all important to me. My friends said the same. They have done lots of shows and often in front row and Kim said he knew we were there for the band as well as Elton, because he’d seen them standing in front of the band, cheering for them too.
Nadine asked Cece if she had enjoyed Germany and she said yes. It was great to be there but also very emotional for everyone, especially because it would be the last concert that day. She said that Elton was especially emotional too and that he was crying a lot. We all felt it too in Cologne, he was very emotional during the last two shows and had a few tears in his eyes. When Kim signed my banner, he did it underneath the keyboard I had painted on it. I said that was appropriate because he was the ‘keyboard wizard’. He laughed and said that’s a silly name Elton gave him and that he would only be famous for a few more weeks (aka the remainder of the tour). I told him that I was following him on Instagram so to me he would always be famous. He replied that a friend had told him that he was boring because he rarely posts. But he is so observant! Not only did he spot his name on my shirt, he also was the only one to notice my fingernails (with the Elton-E and Elton’s face on them). He also loved my jacket and took a picture of the back. He said it showed my dedication as well as the banner and that I was very talented (I’m not). He even recognised me during the concert when I had managed to get a place at the front of the stage. He looked at me, then he smiled and pointed at me, obviously happy to see me again!
Next up we saw Matt coming back to the hotel. He was talking to two crew men when I approached him and was joking around with them. He was very cheeky, trying to get one of them on the pictures with me. I asked him if he had been out for a run because he was in a track suit (and I almost didn’t recognise him, he looks so different on stage!). He said he was just on his way. The night before he had had a lot of fun chasing his band mates around the stage with the leave blower that the crew uses to clean the stage from all the confetti falling on it for ‘Saturday Night’s’. He is such a funny guy but also very sweet and he took pictures with all of us, making funny faces on some and signed our stuff.
We waited the longest for Nigel Olssen. He came out shortly before 6pm when his shuttle arrived. When we approached him, he said he only had about three minutes for us, but he shook my friends’ hands and mine and signed our stuff. He told me I’m not allowed to wash my banner, his mum had told him that the pen would fade out then. Then we took pictures with him. He was quite cheeky, making funny faces for some of the pictures but by now a lot more people had gathered. They besieged him, asking for pictures and holding things up to be signed. One woman let him sign a 50€-note and when he had done that, he pretended to put it in his pocket. Some other women let him sign their shirts. But after a few minutes it was obviously too much for him, so he asked the hotel’s security guy to keep the people at bay. All he really wanted was a quiet smoke, but it wasn’t possible with the crowd around. So, he just entered the shuttle and shut the doors. They waited for Kim and his wife and when they arrived, they drove off.
So, we met all six band members and couldn’t believe our luck! I will never forget that special afternoon as well as the emotional concert that night. It was my last show and I fought hard to get to the front of the stage. Elton saw my banner again when he was just a meter away from me and smiled at me, mouthing ‘thank you’. I started to cry at ‘Your Song’ though when emotions completely overwhelmed me and just couldn’t stop. Elton saw me crying when he ‘drove’ by during ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and smiled at me again as if to say ‘don’t cry, darling’. But I still couldn’t stop. Still, it was one of the best days of my life and I have to thank Ralf and Nadine again for taking me with them.