Elton John played for one of the smallest audiences of his career yesterday afternoon – 250 invited guests at the BBC's radio theatre in Broadcasting House – as a prelude to an American tour.
With a five-piece band accompanying him, including his original drummer Nigel Olsson, Elton John previewed his forthcoming album Songs From The West Coast for a future broadcast on Radio 2, but also played a selection of greatest hits including "Rocket Man" and "Someone Saved My Life Tonight".
The plush BBC seats and an audience not quite in the first flush, who didn't want to spend more time than strictly necessary standing or dancing, meant this was an unusually civilised way to watch a rock star perform. Elton John, who was in tremendously good voice, had dressed down for the occasion but warmed to it quickly and chatted with the audience, made up largely of members of his fan club and competition winners. By the end everyone was on their feet for two of his classic rockers, "I'm Still Standing" and "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting".
The album, to be released next month, was described by the singer as a "back to basics" work with the piano once more as a central feature. It is a collaboration with his long-time lyricist, Bernie Taupin. Melodic rock numbers such as "Original Sin" and "This Train Doesn't Stop Here Any More", sounded like vintage Elton John.
He was outspoken and passionate on matters of sexual politics. Introducing a poignant song from the new album about a dancer who died of Aids, "The Ballad of the Boy with the Red Shoes", he said: "It's a story of contempt for the Reagan administration and the Bush administration that did nothing about Aids."
The singer paid tribute to the BBC for "playing an important role" in his career and for helping the careers of young artists, particularly in the case of the John Peel Show on Radio 1, adding as he noted the odd disbelieving look in the audience: "Yes, I WAS on the John Peel Show once." He dedicated one song from the new album to Peel's producer John Walters, who died a few weeks ago. Elton John said Walters was "passionate about music and about what young artists could do". As he began to play, he added: "This probably wouldn't be his cup of tea."
The 90-minute concert was completed by a memorably wry reminiscence. Playing a number from his seventies album Madman Across the Water, he told the audience that a misprint meant that it was issued in Japan as Madam Across The Water.
The concert will be broadcast on Radio 2 on Saturday, 22 September at 6.30pmReuse content