What: Elton John
Where: Hatfield House
When: 17th July 2011
Magic radio held their Summer live event at the majestic Hatfield House in Hertfordshire on Sunday. What should have been a wonderful hot summer day fell foul to the unpredictable UK weather. Unlike Glastonbury, the demographic of this audience weren't about to wallow in mud and begin a wet T-shirt competition.
The day didn't start well for many attending (including me) when it took two hours to get from the entrance to the house to the car parking area. This slow crawl through pretty grounds with views across the house lawns was somewhat ruined by a huge downpour and steamed up windows (no, not for that reason!). There were plenty of staff along the way, however at the crucial point of the car park it seemed to fall to one man to direct operations. This left many of the attendees fuming and no doubt tainted their attitude to the day.
Tickets for Elton John are never cheap however this event offered very good value in comparison. For £65 you not only got a two hour set from Sir Elton you also got The Lighthouse Family, Rumer, The Pierces and more. Certainly good acts in their own right. Not only that, there was also a separate "West End" Stage where we had the casts from We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia, The Jersey Boys and others to entertain you between the main stage acts.
As I reported on GTTF, the week before the gig you could even grab tickets for less than £30 through the buying consortium site Groupon which is frankly a steal for such a day.
The day was therefore set to be a great one, unfortunately the British weather had other ideas. It wasn't torrential rain, however the three or four downpours certainly put a damper on affairs and the overall mood of the audience was therefore subdued.
The West End stage captured the sweet spot for the audience and had them in rapture. When you have such a mixed crowd, a large dose of what they know will stand you in good stead. The music of Queen and Abba couldn't be bettered for its impact. On the other hand, until the appearance of Elton, the crowd on the main stage were in "clapping politely" mode. This wasn't a great surprise as most wouldn't really know acts like The Pierces and Rumer.
Their appreciation for The Lighthouse Family was more noticeable and with hits like Lifted and Ocean Drive to their name it was obvious why. Their laid-back songs are perfectly suited to the British summer and if the weather had been as expected they would have been a great choice. As it was, for me their music just made the weather more noticeable. It was half way through their set that I realised I hadn't eaten since breakfast so I went in search of something quick to fill the hole.
There were the usual collection of fast food outlets, however with queues (I later was told) running to two hours, I passed. If this is going to be an annual event the general organisation needs to vastly improve. Whoever thought it would be a good idea to put a fairground next to the main arena, with the music competing on volume with the main acts, needs taking to one-side and putting straight! I don't know who was to blame for the poor organisation of the event. Magic had their name attached and had their DJs such as Kim Wilde, Rick Astley and Neil Fox introducing the acts, however I suspect they may have outsourced the organisation. Judging by the number of complaints I received when people saw my press pass, they need to do far more, they have a large PR exercise to mend fences with this audience.
The mood of the crowd lifted as soon as Elton took to the stage. Dressed in one of his trademark decorated jackets, the knighted musician may not be as extravegent as he used to be and the glasses may not be as big, however his presence is undiminished. With a catalogue of songs and hits even bigger than his ego it must be difficult to put together a set list each night. However he gave the crowd a good selection.
Opening with Saturday Night's Alright and Levon the crowd were hooked from the start. Elton played hit after hit and only paused mid way through to play a couple of tracks from his most recent album with his idol Leon Russell.
Elton was joined by some of his long-term band members such as the forever happy Nigel Olsson on drums with his trade-mark white gloves and Davey Johstone on a beautifully decorated "Captain Fantastic" guitar. He had a couple of new members tonight in the shape of 24 year old Internet sensation 2Cellos. The Croatian cellists added an interesting depth to certain pieces as well as looking great with their minimalist electronic instruments and their youthful enthusiasm.
There was no extravagant stage-setting, just a fast moving electronic curtain at the back of the stage that emitted colours and pictures to enhance the mood of the songs.
Mind you, Elton's songs speak for themselves. His gorgeous melodies and Bernie Taupin's thoughtful and expressive lyrics paint many pictures. With songs ranging from the gentle I guess that's why they call it the blues and Tiny Dancer to the foot stomping The Bitch is Back and Crocodile Rock Elton had it all tonight.
I can't say it was the best Elton concert I have ever seen. However it was professional, if a little formulaic. One low point for me was the extended Rocket Man which seemed to go on forever and milked the song, which is so unnecessary as it speaks for itself. The highlight was Bennie and the Jets. From the opening piano chords the strident mood was maintained throughout. Even if the concert may have been going through the motions for Elton and his band I would pay good money to see this any day. The illusion of the gig with a back-drop of a beautiful stately home, was nothing like the reality. You couldn't see the House and you could have been in a wet field anywhere.
Further photographs from tonight can be found in the gallery.