You don’t spin a successful career spanning four decades just by wearing comedy spectacles and high-heeled boots …. Elton John has been at the top of his game for the whole period – as a writer, singer and entertainer. He may just be a piano player from Pinner, but he is very possibly one of the best showmen that there has ever been.
Elton has been heavily involved in the fight against AIDS since the late 1980s. Since 1992, when he established the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the foundation has raised over $200 million. And in 2010, Elton joined Cyndi Lauper in the launch of her ‘Give a Damn’ campaign to bring a wider awareness of discrimination of the LGBT community as part of her ‘True Colors’ Fund. But less is known of Elton John’s charitable contributions to young musicians and emerging music – but he is an equally generous contributor to young music and the arts and especially to the Royal Academy of Music – in London’s Marylebone, which he attended as a scholar when he was barely 11 years of age. Elton regularly puts on charity concerts for deserving causes, and last year he raised money for a music organ for the Royal Academy of Music. In Jan 2011 he put on another show at the Royal Opera House to raise funds for the organ for the Academy – well it is a ‘really big organ’ he told the audience. (2,921 pipes)
Elton is essentially a ‘one man’ show (though his Royal Academy of Music charity concert featured the much admired percussionist Ray Cooper.) The honky piano and the gospel-chords are played with astonishing power and overwhelming clarity. From standards like ‘Rocket Man’ to ‘Philadelphia Freedom’ we also had some wonderful lesser known (but no less loved) numbers like ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ and also some very contemporary songs from ‘The Union’ album, his collaborative work with Leon Russell.
A perfectly punctuated ‘Levon’ [Madman Across the Water] allowed Elton to thank his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin (of 44 years) for his friendship and skills. Then we shimmied over some lighter numbers to reach “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” from the amazing ‘Blue Moves’ album of 1976.
Probably the most enjoyable song of the night and an all-round winner with the rather posh crowd at this premier venue was the g-g-great song “Bennie and the Jets”. Gigantic slabs of chord were churned out by Elton’s pudgy fingers and the whole sound was punctured, perforated and powdered by the aerobic air-doodling and artistic percussion from Ray. Naturally, we also enjoyed “Candle in the Wind” and the now ever-present “Your Song”- which sounds so fresh yet it harkens back to 1970.
Ray first started working with Elton in 1971 on ‘Madman Across the Water’ and joined the ‘Elton John Band’ later that year. Ray has continued to perform and record with Elton sporadically since then. This ‘piano and percussion’ concert was perfected by the duo in 1994 and they have now played more than 50 distinct performances together.
Elton’s tunes are all accompanied with surprising speed and exhilarating virtuosity, by cascades of sumptuous notes. And I don’t mean tinkly plinkety-plonky notes either. Elton’s notes are big fat man-sized slugs of sound. Generous slabs of noise. The musical equivalent of a homemade sausage sarnies – made with thick wedges of crusty bread. Big coils of rope to hang a hearty song onto.
And what also surprises you is the amazing clarity of his baritone vocals- especially the seat-shaking low notes. And when these brooding sounds are accompanied by darker, more soulful piano pieces, the effect is very mystical.
Elton John is proud to be able to support the Royal Academy of Music and, just like his musical forefathers Sir Henry Wood and Sir John Barbirolli, he also hopes to create new audiences and gain recognition for this amazing musical institution.
To find out more about the Elton John AIDS foundation click here: www.ejaf.com
The Royal Academy of Music is internationally recognised as representing the highest values of music and musical society.
Click here to donate: www.ram.ac.uk/giving