Pop royalty’s Jubilee special at Harrogate

5/6/12  Elton John on stage   at the Great  Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate.
5/6/12 Elton John on stage at the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate.

REVIEW by Gig Scene Editor Graham Chalmers.

There were rumours back in the 90s that the Great Yorkshire Showground was being considered as the location for Leeds Festival. Ha! As if. . .

Those rumours turned out to be just that as, originally, Temple Newsam and, later, Bramham Park took on the role of hosting one of Britain’s biggest outdoor events.

Since then, music fans in Harrogate have feared the town may be too traditional to host massive pop and rock events.

Appearing in front of approximately 12,000 people on Jubilee Tuesday in an arena more used to cattle judging than rock n rollers, Elton John proved it isn’t.

“Hello Harrogate. . . I never thought I’d say those words,” says that familar cheeky face with the broad smile, after striding on stage before his support act 2Cellos have quite finished their energetic re-interpretations of classic rock tracks such as AC/DC’s Highway To Hell which I mostly enjoyed, though they were an acquired taste for some on the grass of the show ring where I was sitting.

And what an amazing show Sir Elton puts on, true pop royalty.

Less than 24 hours after performing for The Queen at the Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace, the ultimate showman shows no signs of fatigue in his long black coat with its personalised crest on the back inscribed in gold, the only sign of ostentation from a man who once defined what over the top meant.

Part outdoor Proms and part gigantic wedding party, the Pimms and Champagne flow – and so do the hits.

Two-and-a-half hour’s worth, from Rocket Man to Sad Songs to I’m Still Standing to Sacrifice plus some more obscure tracks from classic albums such as Yellow Brick Road and Madman Across the Water.

Despite a recent health scare which led to the cancellation of a few shows, there is no sign of problems with his voice, either.

A couple of points to note, which may or may not be of significance.

Firstly, Elton’s voice is slightly low in the mix, though it is competing with his veteran but accomplished set of musicans.

Secondly, quite a few of the tracks such as Benny & the Jets turn into extended jams well beyond the end point of the original recorded versions.

This may be because the silver-haired Davey Johnstone (lead guitar), Nigel Ollson (drums) and the rest of Elton’s impressive band, the first two from the classic line-up of Elton’s early 70s band, are such brilliant instrumentalists and are clearly having a ball at an age when many of us settle for a pipe and slippers

On the other hand, it could be a clever way of conserving Elton’s voice, a sensible course of action after his recent hospitalisation.

And he’s chosen his setlist with great care to include all the hits any fan could want plus plum album tracks not heard live for many years - Levon, Tiny Dancer, Grey Seal and, surprisingly, the opening, nine-minute-long ‘prog rock’ mini song suite from Yellow Brick Road - Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding - which, again, serves to give Elton a bit of a break - or not.

Despite the fun and japes, Elton is taking his music seriously and, to my great surprise, bearing in mind his advancing years, he is in truly remarkable form, perhaps the best he’s ever been since the days of drugs and feather boas, tantrums and tiaras.

Amid the party atmosphere of the crowd, there is clearly genuine affection and devotion towards the headliner, something which is returned by Sir Elton himself.

Whew. Never in my lengthy gig-going life have I seen a singer milking applause so much.

From the very first number, Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, Elton bows and salutes the crowd like it was his final ever show, grinning in his trademark glasses and resurrected moptop hair like a naughty schoolboy.

He drops the Just William act just once - to pay fulsome tribute to The Queen with a patriotic speech about how proud he is to be British.

When playing Candle in the Wind there is no mention of Diana, even though it was this very song he rewrote for the fallen Princess after her tragic death 15 years ago and delivered live in such awful circumstances at her funeral service on that emotional day at Westminster Abbey.

Perhaps it isn’t a case of this charismatic but troubled figure being written out of the history books, perhaps it‘s simply good manners on a day of celebrations nationally?

And what celebrations these are in a venue more used to agricultural events than pop concerts, though is has turned out to be a very good natural space for live music, well organised, too.

All things considered, the success of this show suggests more events of this nature should be considered in future.

Even the eventual onset of rain from the dark skies above these green fields doesn’t stop people dancing or waving their Union Jack flags as if this was Harrogate’s only proper Jubilee event, which, in a way, it is.