Wednesday, 14 June 2017

On the Trail of Phil and Elt

Sometimes you put something in the diary so far ahead that when it finally comes to the time that The Thing is happening it feels like it's sneaked up on you unawares. And sometimes two of those Things come in very close proximity making you wonder why you agreed to do both of The Things in the first place. And so it was with Phil and Elt last week.

So, to be clear here, the aforementioned are Phil Collins and Elton John (Sir Elton John to give him his proper title, I guess). And you could have been forgiven for thinking that both these legends were septuagenarians at least but actually Phil is only 66 and I hope I'm a bit more mobile at that age than he is (the Intrepid Granny would beat him in a sprint any day of the week).

Months and months and months ago, my beloved discovered that Phil, who is his absolute favourite, was going to play the Royal Albert Hall. Demonstrating no restraint whatsoever (and no prior discussion with moi) he paid an exorbitant amount for two tickets - the sort of money that I usually say would involve the sale of one of our offspring. Meanwhile, number 2 had more sensibly got in the virtual queue online, as had I, though in my case without success, and purchased more tickets. So we finished up, many months ago with more tickets than we could possibly use to a gig where we would all be a year older.

Pause here for minor rant...we love going to live gigs but why do the ticket agencies feel entitled to our money for well over six months before we actually get to go? You wouldn't buy a pair of shoes and put them away for a year before you got to wear them or pay for a meal in a fab restaurant with no chance of eating it for months on end.

Anyway, the surplus tickets were disposed of in a not unadvantageous manner and the date for seeing Phil finally arrived last Thursday. My beloved was already down South working as usual so it remained for me to get the train down to London after being delivered to the station by number 3. Five minutes before the time to leave, the phone rang - and simultaneously received two texts - to say that Phil had fallen on his way to the loo the night before and banged and cut his head and the gig was cancelled. Whilst I have a certain sympathy for a man who doesn't try to dress the disaster as anything but "I had to go to the loo in the night and I fell over" - because who hasn't done or nearly done that? But with five minutes to departure and two train journeys and a hotel in London booked and paid for, it was just too irksome to cancel the lot and take the hit. (I used to feel like this about Wimbledon - if it rains, they refund your tickets but not the train, meals, hotel and other stuff which has cost three times as much as the tickets in the first place.)

So I went anyway. And I met my beloved and numbers 1 and 2 and their spouses and had a jolly nice time regardless. London was strangely quiet the day after the election, almost as if the very architecture of the city was holding its breath, waiting for the shake-down of deciding who, if anyone, was actually in charge. I spend so much time writing about travel as part of my job that I am often guilty of forgetting how beautiful our own capital is and my early morning walk reminded me of just that.

I arrived back on Friday afternoon with yes, 36 hours to restock the fridge (after all, number 3 "There's never anything to eat!" is currently in residence) and attend a jolly nice engagement party for Thomas and Julia who are getting married in New Zealand next year. A lovely afternoon party with perhaps (since I needed a sleep when I got home) one glass of wine too many.

Then having been briefed on the important cat-sitting job I have this week for Skip and Mrs Broccoli, it was off down the A1 to Peterborough to our evening with Sir Elt. I have to confess here that Sir Elt and I have spent time together on two earlier occasions, at both of which I can confidently say Sir Elt will have no memory of me (of course) but I do of him.

In June 1975 I went to the Wembley Pop Concert. It was epic. The line-up included Chaka Khan, Joe Walsh, the Eagles and the Beach Boys with the big headline act being Sir (then Mr) Elt. It was one of those balmy hot summer days of my teens, in London with my friends and no parental control whatsoever (and that's enough information!) when we packed into the old Wembley Stadium and listened to great band after great band. The Eagles who were my go-to choice of American Rock at the time - and now - played hit after hit, the soundtrack of the teenage me. Then the Beach Boys - an absolutely legend even then - rolled through their years of hits with everyone on their feet singing every word. Standing ovation, and then we waited for the headline act, Elt.

He could have sung anything from any of his albums to date. If he'd sung Yellow Brick Road from cover to cover or his early hits - anything, really anything that we'd heard before - we would have loved him. But with the supreme arrogance of youthful success, he elected to sing songs from his brand new and only just released Captain Fantastic album. If there were a handful of folks in the stadium who knew the words, they were keeping very quiet and the stadium emptied at speed. I don't know how many were left by the time he finished but he's probably on first name terms with all of them. He just plain got it wrong.

In 1999, we gave Elt another shot. Outside at Harewood House in torrential rain and he had just had a pacemaker fitted, we later discovered. He was under cover, we were under a tree. We waited in vain for him to play all the hits (I may be oversimplifying here but I think if you see a legend the hits are actually what you want to hear and don't even get me started on the Sting experience). He was late, short - not just in stature - and  although, yes, he played most of the hits towards the end, by that time we were soaked and fed up and we didn't make it to the end - again.

So when we set off to Peterborough FC on Sunday, I was not optimistic. Surrounded by folks telling me he was an absolute legend, I smiled optimistically and crossed my fingers behind my back. But to quote Dirty Dancing as we often do in this house: "When I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong!" Elt knocked it out the park! Unsurprisingly having hardly listened to an Elt track since the second Elt incident, I nevertheless knew the words to nearly every song, stood up on my plimsols and danced, clapped and whooped and when he sang his tribute to George Michael he nearly reduced me to tears.

So third time lucky, we finally see Sir Elt at his very best, voice every bit as good as in 1975 and his song choice way better. And now we need Phil to drink a bit less before bedtime and make it through the night without incident before we see him in November. Fingers crossed.

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