40 years back next month, Elton John and also percussionist beam Cooper took their four-month-long 'A solitary Man Tour' to the Union the Soviet Socialist Republics.

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Only two various other Western renowned acts had actually performed in the Communist nation before, Cliff Richard and Boney M, however as one newspaper writer said at the time, those prior musicians "came and performed. Elton came and also conquered."

By john F. Higgins

“When we initially thought of law a tourism we said, 'Let’s go to locations that us haven’t to be to before.' Places, because that example, that ns wasn’t very popular in, prefer Israel, Switzerland, France… I believed would certainly be absolutely out of the question, however it all went very, an extremely smoothly.”Elton John, 1979

At the moment of Elton’s ground-breaking visit from may 21-30, 1979, music pan behind the steel Curtain can only hear his recordings on high-priced cassettes bought on the black color market, few of which expense as lot as a third of the typical citizen’s monthly salary, or on Voice the America. No one of Elton’s documents were available for revenue in the Soviet Union, a reality that stunned the artist top top his arrival.

Fans hoping to see among his eight concerts (four in Leningrad, four in Moscow) first of all had to learn of them; the Russian media did not announce Elton’s visit in print and also by the moment state-sponsored radio had actually revealed the the concerts were officially walking on sale in April, many of the finest seats had currently been snapped up by high-ranking Communist party officials. What continued to be for the general population were sold through a complicated queuing mechanism at package office, leaving a an excellent many true fans disappointed, sometimes after days of waiting.


Ray and Elton sightseeing in Moscow.

In one excursion five months in the planning, Elton and his entourage (his mother, step-father, and also various journalists – Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn, who 1970 review assisted launch Elton’s career, amongst them) come in Moscow beforehand in the morning of may 20 whereby they to be greeted by a number of handlers and Russian translators, a grasp of excited pan bearing gifts, and one of the sexy summers in memory, through temperatures ranging above 90°F some days. (Air conditioning to be an unknown commodity in the Russian summer of 1979.) adhering to a push conference in the Amusement Palace and a brief stay in ~ the Metropole Hotel, they take it the 8½-hour “Red Arrow” train to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) to begin the tour proper.

While in Leningrad, Elton and also Ray were urged to carry out at L’Europe restaurant in ~ the Belmond cool Hotel Europe. Joined by Elton’s sound tech Clive Franks top top bass and Lem Lubin ~ above guitar, the duo sat in for the residence band and gave a rousing rendition of the Motown standard I Heard It through The Grapevine to a gathering crowd of curious onlookers.

To speak the 32-year-old absent star to be a tad nervous would be one understatement. Whilst gift taught a few Russian unit volume backstage come use throughout his concerts, Elton semi-jokingly inquired of the translator what was words for “help”?

“I was terrified prior to the an initial night. I felt nobody really knew me here and also that it could all go terribly wrong. … ns think we all felt approximately the critical minute that someone what would provide us a 'No'...or a 'Nyet!', together they say. 'Bennie and also the Nyets.'”Elton John, 1979

The next evening (the Soviet concert promoter originally wanted Elton to start his concerts at 2 pm, however Elton would have none the that), Elton and Ray opened at the 3,800-seat an excellent October room in Leningrad with a 27-song setlist; 30, if you count the consist of of Pinball Wizard, Get Back and also Back In The U.S.S.R., a track the Soviet politburo specifically forbade Elton to play, contained in the encore medleys.


Having discarded his trademark spectacles and also lavish costumes because that this tour, Elton had to depend purely top top the songs, his playing, and his showmanship to victory over the crowd. It take it some effort for him to overcome the audience’s stoic reception…at first. The the atmosphere of “cautious restraint” started to transition after a pair the young female pan came down front beforehand in the display with a gift of roses and pieces of paper for Elton come sign. “I felt an ext at home", said Elton afterwards.

As it had since the very first concert ~ above February fifth in Stockholm, Sweden, the show started with Elton solo in ~ the piano for the very first half, and also then ray slid right into position behind his percussion rack because that the remainder of the 2½ hour show.

“Everybody’s already had an hour and also fifteen or twenty minute of Elton and also his piano, and also Bernie’s lyrics, and the songs, i m sorry is wonderful. And there’s nearly the feeling that it’s either sort of time to walk home, having been really much fulfilled by the evening’s entertainment, or to switch over channels, virtually. So, ns come top top in a puff that smoke and also produce what is perhaps a tiny bit extra. It have to be entirely different.”

Ray Cooper, 1979


By the finish of the show, and also after some emphatic urging come clap throughout Bennie and The Jets and also other up-tempo songs, the crowd to be firmly in Elton and also Ray’s hands. The pair construed the "newness" that the relationship in between this particular audience and also the entertainers, neither side really certain of how the other could react, and also that included to the excited for all involved. It had been years because Elton had performed in prior of a crowd the was mainly unaware of his repertoire, and also he delighted in the an obstacle immensely. 

After the concert, the younger members that the audience continued to take it the party external as they gathered en masse in front of the venue, repeatedly chanting Elton's name till he and Ray appeared in the dressing room window. Also the neighborhood police, there to keep the crowd at bay, turned around and watched the global superstar thrill the throng with waves and some tossed flowers.

Apparently, the Communist authorities viewed the situation, as Times that London reporter Michael Binyon put it in ~ the time, “Like a kind of slim weakening, a kind of concession come Western society – western pop/rock tastes, which quiet isn’t completely accepted ”, and also asked that the display be toned down a bit. Elton and also Ray respectfully continued to offer the audiences what lock wanted, even if it no what lock expected. The pianist also mixed some timeless music segment by Russian composers right into Bennie and also The Jets in a sort of auditory effort at Glasnost.


A work or two after taking the midnight train from Leningrad ago to Moscow, and also checking ago in come the Metropole Hotel, Elton to win a Cossack run pose for photographers in former of the Kremlin and also remarked just how he and also his party had actually been, “surprised in ~ people’s friendliness and also the beauty, beauty of what we’ve seen.” The group additionally attended a football enhance on might 26 (Moscow Dynamo over the Red army side, 2-1), a reception in ~ the brother embassy, and also a performance of Swan Lake by the Bolshoi Ballet.

In your spare time, Elton and also Ray sat for a selection of on-camera interviews for cock Clements and also Ian La Frenais for the succeeding To Russia through Elton documentary. Elton additionally appeared top top Moscow television for one interview with journalist Tatiana Korshilovoy and also political commentator Anatoly Ovsyannikov, law his level ideal to gracefully control the translation delay and several of the questions themselves. In ~ the end, he noted them v a performance of Candle In The Wind and I require You To turn To, the last song notably not had on the existing tour's setlist.

Even when commenting on just how the Russian funding was much an ext beautiful than other Communist bloc urban he had actually been to, Elton and his group privately i found it a adjust since coming to Moscow. They could tell they to be being covertly monitored by the KGB and many that the British and also American journalists felt uneasy in the shadow of Red Square. And the concert audiences seemed a bit an ext reserved – together if the currently skewed ratio of Soviet party members-to-young fans had actually become much more exaggerated due to the fact that leaving the reasonably more liberal Leningrad.

On might 28th, Elton and also Ray offered their second concert in ~ Rossiya room in Moscow, component of a substantial hotel complicated consisting the 6,000 guest rooms. The show was aired, no without some technical obstacles in the set-up, in stereotype on BBC Radio. Both countries were keen come test the end the transfer lines as they readied because that the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. Fans in the UK were able to reap the goings on starting at 5:30 pm Monday night native the lull of their own homes, listening to Radio 1 announcer Andy Peebles introduce the festivities by commenting on exactly how the to meet reminded him, rather surprisingly, of London’s royal Festival Hall.

The Moscow concert went from stamin to strength and as Elton all set to leave Moscow because that London, that spoke with some fans around their music tastes and made a current of a video clip cassette of one of his favourite bands at the time, the Sex Pistols. He continued to receive gifts as the moved around in public, appreciating that also the smallest of them set their giver ago a an excellent amount because of the neighborhood economy. V every passing day, Elton’s evaluation of the young world who came as much as him ~ above the street grew and he left the nation with a Russian spring in his step.

“I’m constantly making scan statements, however I deserve to say that has been among the finest experiences of mine life. The was among the most memorable and happy tourism I have actually been on. The last display was more than likely one the the best concerts I’ve ever before given in my life.”Elton John, 1979

It would take Elton one more 16 year to do his return, four years ~ the autumn of the Soviet Union. As of this article, Elton has actually performed in Russia 34 times. Over there he has actually made publicly statements about the duty he feels in appearing in countries whose federal governments may hold opinions the he does not agree with.

As he said in December 2013: “I love this country. I want to present them and also the human being that i care, and that i don’t believe in isolating people. Music is a very powerful thing. The brings world together, irrespective of your age, your race, your sexuality or their religion. It does no discriminate.”

For record Store day 2019, the present in Moscow on might 28, 1979, will certainly be released for the very first ever time top top vinyl, obtainable as a limited-edition 2LP solely at independent record stores.

The vinyl is easily accessible in very limited quantities, therefore visit your local record store on record Store Day, April 13, to obtain your copy.

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★ Daniel★ Skyline Pigeon★ take it Me come The Pilot★ Rocket Man

★ Don't let The sunlight Go under On Me★ good-bye Yellow Brick Road★ Candle In The Wind★ ns Heard It through The Grapevine

★ Funeral because that A Friend/Tonight★ much better Off Dead★ Bennie and The Jets

★ Sorry seems To it is in The Hardest Word★ stunner Water★ Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)/Pinball Wizard★ Crocodile Rock/Get Back/Back In The U.S.S.R.