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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
Reviews: Events:
Queen of the Vic
Elton John at Watford, 18/06/05
 
Well, it's too hot for football.

Which doesn't in itself excuse the undue attention being paid by a small but notable minority to the cricket on-screen in a sweaty, heaving Estcourt before the main event, but does perhaps answer the question that sometimes gets asked around this time of year when the previous season has just about been recovered from and the next one isn't quite on the horizon yet. I suppose it all has to stop for breath sometime.

It could be a matchday, most of the usual faces are here but there's been some dressing up going on. Fuzz takes centre stage, a gold-sequin cap crowned with star-lensed golden specs and a banner from which the title of this piece is stolen; Sarah has a golden tiara, and yellow plastic garlands are also in evidence. Only Tsega isn't wearing yellow - she's bullied into wrapping a garland around her wrist but refuses Paul's kind offer to nip home for a spare shirt, just as she'd turned down my similar entreaties earlier on.

Indeed, there's far more yellow in evidence than there is on a regular matchday. We get to the ground and my first thought is of disappointment that the Vicarage Road end is so sparsely populated. Until I remember that most of the seats opposite are red, and all I can see is a wall of yellow. We're stuck up in the top corner of the Rookery alongside the Rous, and desperately grateful for the shade. I'm desperately grateful, too, that my regular seat in the Rookery is directly above a stairwell permitting me limitless legroom, as being of considerable dimensions I'm not sure I'd survive a season sitting in a regular seat alongside a gentleman of even more considerable dimensions as I find myself now. It's going to be a hot, uncomfortable evening - Tsega offers to swap seats, but out of a sense of obligation, I can hear the reluctance in her voice. I turn her down, she'd have suffocated.

And all this, not to watch a game of football, but to catch a glimpse of Betty Boothroyd's first big signing, who's going to be giving us a display of his skills or somesuch. Not quite sure what a fifty-eight year old is going to bring to the team, but we've still got Alec in goal after all and this is a time where you have to take all surprises at Vicarage Road with a pinch of salt or you'd go mad. Anyway, I'm trying to keep an open mind.

The new signing's certainly brought the crowds in. Twenty-three thousand claims the official site, and you'd believe it - the crumbling East Stand is empty behind the stage, and there's a strip of unfilled seats out of eyeshot of the centrepiece at the east end of the Vic Road stand and presumably one mirroring it at the other end of the Rookery. Otherwise it's teeming, and the eight-thousand odd seats on the pitch and the labyrinth of walkways around them are an infinite distraction as we wait for things to happen. Little wonder reality TV is so popular. My brother is ensconsed in prime position in front of the stage; he later reports that, having donned his privately created "Nicky Wright's Bicycle" t-shirt (yellow, natch), he had his photo taken with the man himself, apparently as excited by the tribute as Will was to meet him. Heidar's there as well, patiently rebuffing drunken enquiry after drunken plea.

An animated woman appears first. She's all in white, so she must be the new guy's agent or something. Actually, we'd been pondering how many Lulu songs we could remember in the pub... consensus was that we were struggling once we got past "Shout!" and "Relight my Fire". As it turns out these two numbers conclude the forty-minute set; otherwise she wisely runs through a repertoire of cover versions, which include David Bowie's "The Man who sold the World" which is pretty good, although "Space Oddity" would have been funnier. She does okay, and "Shout!" certainly gets feet tapping but she knows that she's a sideshow and her attempts at crowd interaction ("Let me hear you say 'Yeah'!") fall a little flat in the sweltering sun, provoking a dusty grunt.

We don't have to wait long for the main man. As the hyperactive projection screen at the back of the stage kicks into action heralding his arrival, the first clarion calls of "Yooooorns" echo around the top of the Rookery. "I do hope they're not going to be doing that all evening!" sniffs a disapproving female voice somewhere behind us, presumably not a season ticket holder. All subsequent football chants are encouraged with exaggerated gusto.

And suddenly, there he is. Is it anticlimactic, or is he just very far away? After this build-up you're half expecting a spartan colossus to bestride the stage, this chap's carrying a few pounds for a professional footballer but he's otherwise a fairly regular sized guy in a black suit. He takes a seat at a piano - surely the FA are going to have something to say about that if he tries it during the League season, perhaps there's a new directive though - and the show begins.

He crashes through "Pinball Wizard", then lollops into "Bennie and the Jets", which seems to unnecessarily deflate the early head of steam. A deceptive change of pace there, promising...

The chat with the crowd isn't long in coming, and he's really much better at this stuff than his agent. We get all the usual new-signing guff about this being a really special club, and he's really glad to be here... but actually, you suspect that he means it. As if unable to resist, he allows himself a mischievous if slightly awkward "Yooorns" into the microphone, with predictable consequences, before launching into a magnificent rendition of "Rocket Man" which rolls and swells and survives several ovations before kicking into another reprise, the highlight of the set.

"We've raised 1.3m for the club this evening," he announces... which will more than sort his signing-on fee one would have thought, "And I want it all to go on new players!". Ha. That'll put the cat amongst the pigeons, so much for "Buying back the Vic". (Actually, some accounts report that he only said a fifth of the money goes on transfers. I dunno, I get a specific if inaccurate recollection of events in my head and it tends to stick - hell, I'm still convinced that it was Johnno that won the ball in midfield prior to Allan Smart's goal at Wembley at 1999, what do I know?)

New single "Electricity" is dedicated to Nigel and Heidi Gibbs, celebrating their wedding anniversary. We're then told that "Sorry seems to be the Hardest Word" was the last song that the late, great Ray Charles ever recorded, in duet with the new man, and it seems all the more sorrowful for the revelation.

The sun has disappeared behind the Rous Stand, a quite blistering light show now has a point to it and one can only assume that life on the pitch is a whole lot more bearable. A couple of other new songs are aired and I stretch my legs with a bit of a yawn. Annoyingly, as the sun has disappeared so too have the army of drinks vendors in the Rookery concourse who would be so very welcome on a regular matchday - instead there's the normal scrum at the central refreshment counter which I can't really be bothered with, so I return to my cramped viewpoint.

The new boy's still going strong, at least half of the current squad don't have this kind of stamina. "Sad Songs" is given an airing, the first in a while we're told - as any Watford fan worth their salt and older than about twenty five will know, the video was played on Cup Final Grandstand in 1984.

Things then get a bit confusing - the new boy advises us that he'll be back in two years to play again for his sixtieth birthday party. Surely we're going to need him up front next season, never mind two years' time. He's certainly a fine finisher... an anthemic "Don't Let the Sun go Down on Me" has the entire crowd on their feet for the first time (it's been a source of mild amusement that the central tranche of the Rookery have been standing much more frequently than those on the wings, much like match day, but I really need to stretch my legs by this point or else my right limb will cease functioning).

With the crowd up in appreciation, a ferocious "I'm Still Standing" makes sure they stay there. He's been jumping out from behind his piano at various stages to salute different corners of the stadium; now he approaches the Vicarage Road end where a multicoloured wig has been lobbed onto the stage. It's not altogether clear whether this was scripted or not but it goes down well regardless, and stays in place during "The Bitch is Back" and "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" before he exits stage for the first time.

Returning for his first encore, he takes a seat and the big screen pictures home in on his fingers dancing across the piano keys, an eddying unidentifiable sequence of chords. He's pulled this trick a few times, disguising intros to popular numbers, but this one's new to his repertoire. "Dum, dum, dummmm, de dum dum dum dum....". A bashful grin is the only acknowledgement he gives the intro most familiar to the stadium, it's an almost tearful moment. Then the enjoyably silly "Crocodile Rock" kicks in and the moment passes as the crowd are allowed to do the "Nananananaaaaaaaa" bits.

He disappears again, but is obviously coming back... the lights stay down, the spots are off on the stage but the big screen now zooms gradually in on the club crest, then backs out and starts again. The football chants have come and gone quite gently between songs throughout the evening, but now with everyone on their feet a fiece, defiant, deafening "Yellow Army" roars around the stadium, punching fists as far as you can see in the dark, hairs on the back of your neck on end. I can only assume that our friends behind us have left already.

"Your Song" is the second encore, enchanting and beautiful, and that's it. No "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road", because, I guess, it isn't goodbye. Elton John has, for the who-knows how-manyth time, made a vital financial contribution to the club (however it's spent), but just as significantly he's reignited a common purpose, some sense of shared direction and belonging.

How long that lasts remains to be seen. This evening, though, the new boy played a blinder.

Matt Rowson