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Five things we learned as London welcomed Elton John home for show 223 on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour

EJ at BST
(Image credit: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

If his maths are correct, Elton John's fourth visit to the largest of London's four Royal Parks for the opening night of this year's British Summer Time series, is his 130th concert in the capital.

Here's what else we learned from 2 hours 30 minutes in his company on a joyous Friday night.

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Ignore the gaudy stage outfits, Sir Elton Hercules John is a man of taste

In the mini exhibition of stage outfits welcoming BST Hyde Park concert goers to what might possibly be the slowest fast food joint on the planet, the text alongside a pair of Sid Vicious' leather trousers helpfully informs Hard Rock Cafe patrons that the Sex Pistols played a style of music called - inverted commas - 'punk'.

To be fair, it's entirely possible that some of the older, more genteel patrons in attendance at the opening night of the 2022 American Express presents BST Hyde Park concert series, may not have invested an awful lot of time in rock 'n' roll subcultures since the singer/songwriter born Reginald Kenneth Dwight entered their consciousness in the early 1970s. 

The same, however, can not be said of tonight's headline attraction. Channelling a voracious appetite for new music into championing and supporting emerging artists from Greta Van Fleet to Dua Lipa, the 75-year-old singer/songwriter rarely lifts his finger off the pulse of modern music, as is evidenced by his bold, diverse choice of support acts today, who include quirky English art-pop duo Let's Eat Grandma, Los Angeles soul/jazz/gospel/R&B trio Gabriels (whose 2021 single, Love and Hate in a Different Time, John hailed as "one of the most seminal records I’ve heard in the past 10 years" and multi-faceted Japanese-born Londoner Rina Sawayama.

Taking to social media ahead of tonight's show, John wrote: "I can’t wait to take to the stage at BST Hyde Park later today and am delighted to have this talented bunch of artists join me on the bill. I hand-picked each and every one of them, have played most of them on my Rocket Hour radio show, and can’t wait to meet some of them for the first time before I go on. Please get there early if you can to listen and support them, you won’t regret it!"

Respect.

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Rina Sawayama slays

We're not going to get carried away and claim that one day Rina Sawayama will be able to headline nights like this, but what a fabulous breath of fresh air the Niigata-born singer/songwriter/model/actress is proving to be. Sadly, there's no place in her irresistible early evening set for her gloriously lairy, nu-metal influenced 2019 single STFU! but, a vision in a tiara-and faux-fur accessorised sparkly, shimmering catsuit chosen as a nod to the headliner's iconic fashion sense, the 31-year-old struts around the Great Oak Stage like there's 100,000 'pixels' - the nickname bestowed upon her fan army - screaming her name.

It's a shame that her passionate speeches advocating for LGBTQ+ freedoms ahead of introducing her current single This Hell and Sawayama album track Chosen Family, reworked as a duet with Elton John last year, are barely audible beyond the arena's golden circle due to her mic volume, but the sentiment and words - “Everyone deserves to be loved for who they are - and if anyone knows about the power of love in music, it’s Elton John" - are impactful, and a perfect way to conclude a dazzling, dance-friendly set before the main attraction.

RIna

(Image credit: The Outside Organisation)

Elton John is a true national treasure

As is traditional every time Glastonbury festival rolls around, there has been much patronising chattering in the media about music's capacity to unite and level up, to deliver serotonin hits irrespective of race, creed or class. In 2022, Glastonbury is hardly the egalitarian 'one love' hippy-fest of yore, and with its multi-strata ticketing levels, BST Hyde Park is a world removed from anyone's vision of a socialist utopia, but the breadth and depth of the audience gathered to greet the main man is striking, with 20-something long-hairs in Metallica and Tool T-shirts dancing happily along glitter-covered, hot pants-wearing LGBTQ+ teens, LED glasses and leopard print-sporting hen parties, three generation family groups and visibly-refresh 'silver foxes' waggling index fingers in the air as they dance/glide/stumble through the throng.

Britain's virulently-homophobic right wing press tried to crucify Elton John in the 1980s for daring to exist, so what a joy it is to see him embraced by all as his astonishing career winds to its conclusion.

EJ BST

(Image credit: Rory Barnes)

There's ain't no party like an EJ party

Let's run you through the closing segment of tonight's show. Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word into Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, touchingly dedicated to close friend George Michael, into an outrageously-stomping The Bitch Is Back into I'm Still Standing into Crocodile Rock into Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting. Anyone got a problem with this?

Okay, look, I'm Still Standing is pure '80s cheese, but when accompanied by visuals of the singer-songwriter through the decades, it's also surprisingly moving. And the range of the man's songwriting across a 23 track setlist is genuinely astonishing. Take a trip to the Portaloo during Candle In The Wind and return to Jumbotron visuals of a thunderstorm soundtrack by the dramatic opening of Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding and you could easily imagine you'd walked into a Muse gig. 

Oh, and we haven't mentioned Tiny Dancer, Your Song, Bennie and the Jets, Rocketman... I mean, really, where do you start? This is gold standard songwriting delivered by a man, and his fabulous suited band, exiting the game in peak condition. Sheer class.


EJ

(Image credit: The Outside Organisation)

We'll miss him when he's gone

Imagine the mocking laughter you'd have heard from your parents if, as a music-obsessed teenager in 1972, you'd dismissed their patronising assertions that these bloody rock stars prancing about on Top Of The Pops every Thursday would be all washed up in a year, insisting that you'd still be going to their gigs in 50 years time.

And yet, with Queen closing out their ten night residency at the O2 Arena this week, and The Rolling Stones booked in for their own BST shows on June 25 and July 3, and Elton John - sorry, Sir Elton John -  bringing the curtain down here with a magnificent, emotional Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, here we are. All three acts have seen their fortunes rise and fall, and their output mocked, reappraised and then canonised, but  reviled or revered, as viewed in the summer of 2022, their continued commitment to, and enthusiastic passion for, their art is undeniable.

Before departing to warm, well-merited applause, the man in the sparkly jacket promises he'll be back in 2023, for a final farewell to London Town at the O2 Arena. `There'll be worse places to be on those nights, and we'll miss him when he's gone.  He might just miss us too.

"Thank you for all the love, all the kindness, all the loyalty you've thrown my way for so many years, over 50 years, you've always been there for me," he says in parting. "And I will take in you in my heart and my soul, and when I stop next July, I'll have so many beautiful memories, and you'll be a part of all those memories."

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Paul Brannigan
Paul Brannigan

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.