This week, BBC Radio 6 welcomed the writer of the biggest-selling single of all time for an autobiographical romp when it hosted Sir Elton John. The 67-year-old declares: “Music has been my companion since I was three years old”.
Kicking off with Sir Elton’s refreshing self-assessment as a ‘hoarder’ of records, he maintains that his taste stretches across a host of genres from trad-jazz, to metal, to Motown. Delving into his childhood admiration for Liberace and black female vocalists, especially Etta James, Elton comes across as a self-assured voice of humility and constraint, which stands in sharp contrast with the flamboyance that saturated his early career.
Elton’s interview with Radio 6 is coloured by an upcoming release: his 33rd studio album, entitled Wonderful Crazy Night. 6 Music’s Matt Everitt is an excellent host and interviewer, allowing Elton the limelight and eschewing the clichés of sentimentality or overpraise.
Both men engage in what comes across as an intelligent conversation, during which Elton expertly ranges across topics as diverse as the American gay rights movement, his restless appetite for new music, and how he staged Nina Simone’s final concert.
The sensitivity and eloquence that undergirds his attempt to work out why he likes the music he does is inspiring. This programme might be a conversation, but the conversation is not equally led. The discussion is directed, ultimately, by Elton John’s infectious wit and energy.
Elton John’s music is interwoven with discussion and, most fascinatingly, with the man’s musical influences. He laments his severe drug addiction and sights the funeral of Aids sufferer Ryan White in 1990 as the catalyst for his recovery.
He is currently playing live more frequently than ever before. Sir Elton declares himself to be “at the prime of [his] life with performing”, and the easy confidence of Elton John is once more tempered by his enthusiasm for other performers; he urges music lovers to go to festivals to see artists whom they otherwise would not have heard of and who have not had their big break.
This is BBC Radio at its best. The listener’s attention is sustained throughout the hour-long programme – no mean feat – and that is due in large part to the subject matter.
What emerges most from the programme is Elton’s dynamic enthusiasm for performance, for musicianship, for artistic excellence. The singer’s passion is infectious. Go and listen to it.
Image: David Shankbone