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Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Leigh

Elton John played Leigh Sports Village on Saturday 21st June. Yes, you read that right. Elton John. THE Elton John. In Leigh.

The weather gods are clearly fans of Rugby League and Elton John (who isn’t?). The weather was glorious and as we walked to the venue the non-ticket owning public were out in their gardens enjoying the weather and looking forward to the sound of Elton being the soundtrack of a Saturday night.

A wise man goes when he can so, as my concert going friends joined the queue for the bar, I joined the queue for the Gents. Next to me was a sunburnt twenty-something. He looked at me and proclaimed “I have never, like, seen so many people, like, not from Leigh in Leigh. It’s amazing.”

As we waited in our seats for the main event the exact opposite struck me. Not since my university days have I been to a gig where so many of the audience so clearly knew each other. Old friends waved at each other from all parts of the ground, beers raised in salutation, grinning faces beaming enjoyment at each other.

And then came Elton. Blue sparkling jacket and hair by Fabricant, he was roared onto the stage. His band were reminiscent of a house band on Letterman, I want you to imagine the Commitments grew old and probably had a few grandkids. But by the third number, Bennie and the Jets, the whole place was rocking.

I have a confession to make. I came to the gig out of curiosity and because a friend was involved through work. I was ready to proclaim that I did not think Elton could sing. I am now ready to proclaim I was wrong. The boy can sing, the boy can play. And the boy can entertain.

When he told the crowd that as a child he used to watch Rugby League from Leigh and listen to the commentary of Eddie Waring we were all prepared to suspend disbelief to be enchanted by the magic of the night. We could believe his boyhood dreams of playing a gig in Leigh. To seal our admiration he told us he would rather play here than that there fashionable Manchester.

The hits kept coming. This was the fortieth anniversary of Goodby Yellow Brick Road and Elton announced he had played all the tracks on the first side of the album (for the Twitter, download generation – you will just have to accept the romance of that pronouncement). Many had wondered whether the early rumours of Elton playing Leigh was in fact promotion for a tribute act. This was no tribute act but was a tribute to his canon of work stretching back through the years.

The evening reached its crescendo with Saturday Night, Are You Ready for Love and Crocodile Rock. The crowd provided the lyric change in the title of this blog and it seemed like every voice of every man, woman and child in Leigh joined in.

Forty years from now they will still be talking about the night Elton John said Goodbye to the East Lancs road. The beauty of this concert was not just Elton. It was the lovely combination of stadium gig under a summer sky but on a small scale. It was the coincidence of international superstar and community event. If Elton was the star, the people of Leigh and the Sports Village were an admirable supporting cast.

Perhaps this should be the blueprint for future Elton gigs? Maybe next year we can all join in with a rendition of I’m Still Standish? The one thing that is certain is that Leigh proved the movie line “build it and they will come” is not just a scriptwriter’s dream.