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This is the third article in a row on this blog written by Julie Webb and it is a pure co-incidence. It is just that I have found that those articles were the most interesting to share, and I never look at the writers name before choosing the article. So no – this is not some Julie Webb fetish.
I remember from my childhood that Elton John suddenly became involved in the beautiful game through Watford. It was a big thing at the time. Throughout the 70s there was only one TV channel in Norway, and every saturday at 4 o`clock local time there was a football match from England on TV. This explains why so many men of my generation became obsessed with English football. Even today, when travelling in England, I think of the cities in footballing terms; Nottingham will forever in my mind be Forest and Brian Clough, Liverpool are red and Kevin Keegan, Leeds are Peter Lorimer and so on.
My favourite team in English football today is Grimsby Town – they may not be at the top of the league, but it is a club you will love when you get to know them. Really wonderful place to visit too.
Enough of me writing about football – here is a gem from those golden days that were the 70s.
The Stack-Heeled Striker
Portrait of the Star as a football tycoon. Viewed from the terraces by Julie Webb.
It was a classically tense moment. Slowly and forcefully, Elton John, big-wig of Watford Football Club, walked towards his seat in the directors` box. People nudged, winked and pointed him out; he regally carried on walking.
Only one thing broke the silence: a loud voice bawled, “You great poof.”
Football is well removed from the rock business, and since EJ is considered somewhat “us in the music industry”, he stands out like a soccer ball amid cricket stumps in the world of sport. Yet it`s a well-publicised fact that he`s now a director of the underdogs of the Third Division, a team who at times seem as competent as Inspector Clouseau and as exciting as a rotting egg.
And he takes it very seriously. You could tell that by the way he was half-way dressed in the hornets` colours of black and yellow – wearing black satin top and black trousers.
He`s already bought a Watford scarf and waves it on the slightest indication that there are any football supporters around. And believe me, it`s a bizarre sight, seeing a grown man wave a black and yellow scarf out of the window of a Rolls Corniche.
On this jaunt with Elton, we were coach-spotting on the M1 – diligently searching out the Watford coach. When he thought he`d sighted them, he slowed down to a sedate 50 m.p.h. and moved into the middle lane – only to be disappointed with the discovery that it was the Coventry City conveyance. This brought the petulant remark: “Couldn`t have been Watford, they haven`t got a toilet in their coach.”
It was at the end of last year that Elton first approached Watford – after hearing that they could do with some moral, if not financial, support. Now, he`s put in money, and has shares in the club.
“When I went down initially,” says Elton, “they were cautious because they thought I might want to do it for publicity – that it might just be a diversion, and I`d inject some money and then lose interest.”
So how many shares does he hold?
Okay, well how much money has he sunk into the team?
“I don`t know that either. It was a five-figure fee, I know that.”
You`d think that money and shares would be enough – yet the man is so keen that he even phoned while he and the band were away in Japan and Australia, to keep in touch.
“I`ve also been to all the away games. In fact, I`ve only missed two games since I became involved. Anyone can join a club for six months and get fed up with it – but really you`ve got to be totally dedicated to it, and I am. It`s given me so much enjoyment. They say to me, `How can we ever thank you for all the publicity that you`ve got us,` but I honestly think they`ve done more for me than I could possibly have done for them.
“I`ve got pleasure from mixing with ordinary people again. You do lose the value of things when you are racing around all the time on tour. Your lifestyle changes. Your standard of living changes. And your appreciation of things lessens to a degree. You forget, for instance, how much joy you can give by giving an autograph to a person who is actually knocked out at getting it – or a record, and you think `Christ it`s only a bloody record.”
On May 5, Elton John will give his piece de resistance of involvement by playing at the Vicarage Road ground – capacity 36,000 – and donating all proceeds to the club.
“I promised I`d do this from the beginning, and I think that clinched the thing. I thought it would be nice to do it at the ground because it`ll draw more people to Watford. I mean, I could have done a week at the Hammersmith Odeon and given them the money from that – but it wouldn`t have been the same.”
Elton`s current paranoia concerns just how many people he`ll be able to pull in.
“I`m a bit paranoid about everything as far as concerts and records go. Like the record company phones me up from the States and says, `this record is going to be a million seller`, and I say `great` and jump around and think, `yeah, it`s going to be a million seller`, but I don`t really believe it till I`ve got the gold record stuck on my wall.
“So many times before I made it I was promised so many things that never happened, so I still have this built-in paranoia.”
It seems silly to think he won`t pack the place, since, as a direct result of the cancelling of the British tour, his gigs are rare events. Incidentally, he seems very apologetic about cancelling that British tour: “We`ve never really had a proper break since we hit the road, and it`s been very hard. We do two albums a year as well as tours and never get time off. None of us gets much of a personal life at all.
“We rushed off to America after the last British tour to record the new album – with the knowledge that we had to do it in ten days then fly to Japan.
“Then in New Zealand, when all the trouble started and my manager was sent to prison, we had time to talk and we all decided we were physically exhausted and the thought of going on another tour for the time being was just impossible.
“The band would have done the British tour and the European one, if we`d thought we could actually last out, but I don`t think we could have done. I think we`d have come home in the middle of the European tour and really buggered things up for the rest of the year.
“I`m very close to the rest of the band and they more or less said, `we can`t do it any more` and `can we relax for a bit?` and I think we all deserve a break. But we`re not going to become hermits – it`s just so that everyone can sit down and plan things a bit better.”
There is, says Elton, no danger whatsoever of them becoming just a studio band. He looks positively horror-struck at the mere suggestion.
“No, I really love playing, especially now because the band are getting better all the time. I`ve got somebody else in now – Ray Cooper – and we came off the road playing really well. Ray`s only playing percussion and vibes on the new album, but on stage he`s going to play electronic keyboards, vibes, clarinet and all sorts of things. In fairness to him, we had to come off the road to rehearse.”
The new album, scheduled for release end of June, and being previewed at the Watford gig, at the moment rejoices in the title “Old Pink Eyes Is Back”, and was recorded in the States.
“We did it at this ranch we heard about during the last American tour, and flew there in a helicopter to have a look. We were so knocked out that we booked it immediately. It`s about an hour from the nearest large town and very high up, completely isolated.
“It took seven days to do the tracks and voices. We had a lot of problems at the beginning – and I got depressed and did a moody for a day-and-a-half. Also, we had trouble adjusting to the American system of monitoring, so we lost three days. We literally did 14 backing tracks in three days, then did overdubs, and on the way to Japan we stayed at LA for two days and put some backing vocals on a couple of tracks.”
Highlights of the album are, according to Elton, “A rock`n`roll song called `The Bitch Is Back`, which will probably be a single, and a track we`ve already played on stage, entitled `Don`t Let The Sun Go Down`.”
This latter number he is particularly delighted with – and justifiably, since he managed the coup of getting The Beach Boys to do backing vocals.
“That came about because I know Bruce Johnston quite well – he goes out with the girl who runs Rocket in the States. In fact, at one time he was going to record for Rocket, but he`s so lazy he hasn`t done anything. Anyway, he arranged it all. Tower Of Power are also on the album and they really were fine, added a lot of balls.”
This will be the first elpee on which Elton and Bernie Taupin actually `own` their own songs. He explains:
“Songwriting really isn`t as lucrative as everyone thinks, especially when you don`t own your own songs. If you go to a publisher you have to give out – and I`m not having a go at Dick James, it happens with any publisher. It`s a 50-50 partnership, a stock publishing thing – it means he gets 50 and Bernie and I get 25 each. With songwriting you don`t get much per track. It`s much more lucrative recording. Probably Bernie has earned less out of it than anybody else.”
One project Elton is currently toying with is a song for – would you believe – the Watford football team.
“We`re thinking of writing a song about Watford, but it would have to be done in a special sort of way. I don`t want one of those awful footbally things. Just a track, not by me, by the Watford football team. I`d rather write a really commercial song and put the Watford song on the B side so that they`d earn a lot of money via the A side. I don`t want it to be one of those terrible naff football records.”
Other than being referred to loudly as “a great poof”, the most traumatic experience Elton has come across recently must have been the incident in New Zealand, where his manager John Reid was jailed for three weeks. So what really happened?
“It was at a Press reception in Auckland, held by Festival Records. And the incident occured because the reception was badly run. We ran out of booze and food after ten minutes and we just got into an argument over the fact – and the lady who was assaulted in the first place happened to be the girlfriend of the man who was running the reception.
“I didn`t see the incident and thought no more about it, then later we went to a reception for David Cassidy. Someone came up to a friend of mine and said to her, `are you connected with the Elton John group`, and she said `not really, why?`, and they said, `because of that incident this afternoon they`re all marked men!`
“And as we were going out the door, I heard that one of the roadies had been threatened with being beaten up.
“We asked who was doing the threatening, and apparently it was this little reporter who worked for a paper. I went up to him, seized him by the collar and muttered things like `you no good son of an Irish leprachaun – who do you think you`re doing`, and was just about to clock him round the face (me of all people) when my manager stepped in and hit him for me.
“So we left the club post haste, and were all physically threatened that anyone to do with the Elton John party had better watch it. Then when we got back to the hotel we got a phone call saying `there`s a car load of people on the look-out, so just stay inside your hotel`.
“The next day the police came down and we thought it would all be cleared up. They said they were just going to give me a warning and that would be that. And John Reid paid this girl a certain amount of money because she had a black eye, and that was it – but it all got out of hand.
“I was arrested the next morning for assault – even though it was a first offence – for hitting a guy and a girl we`d already paid damages to – and we`d been provoked in the first place.
“The magistrates just didn`t believe any of us had been provoked. The trial was over in 20 minutes without any of us having witnesses. It was just a joke, a farce.”
Despite all this, he says there`ll be no ban on New Zealand from his side. Still, Kiwi land was easily pushed to the back of his thoughts while Watford were on the field – even if they did only manage a goalless draw.
This number of the NME also contains articles/interviews with these people: Graham Nash, Ian Maclagan (Faces), Bob Dylan, Hot Chocolate, Amanda Lear, Bill Wyman, Eddie Cochran, Mick Ronson, Sandy Denny, Roxy Music, Allen Toussaint, Lindisfarne, Alvin Lee.
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