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The sun is setting on Elton John's UK touring career with his record-breaking Glastonbury set

The sun is setting on Elton John's UK touring career with his record-breaking Glastonbury set

  • Written by Mark Savage
  • BBC music correspondent

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Watch: Elton John, Lil Nas

The sun rose on one of the greatest careers in British music history, as Elton John played the final British show of his farewell tour at Glastonbury.

The 76-year-old legend treated his fans to a masterclass in singing and theatre, Delivering a two-hour set in which every song was a hit.

It was watched by a large crowd estimated at more than 120,000 people.

Meanwhile, a record 7.3 million people tuned in to watch live on BBC One, according to overnight ratings.

The BBC said this was the largest ever audience for a Glastonbury set. By comparison, last year Diana Ross was the most watched star with 3.1 million, and Paul McCartney's main concert was watched by 2.7 million.

“I'm so happy to be here. I'll never forget this,” Elton told everyone who watched.

The singer took to the stage shortly after 21:00 GMT with Pinball Wizard – as promised, a song he hasn't played in over a decade – and followed it up with a raucous romp through The Bitch Is Back.

He stopped to catch his breath, drank into the crowd and extended his arms in gratitude. “I never thought I would be playing for Glastonbury, and here I am,” he said.

“It is a very special and emotional night for me because it may be my last show in England, in Great Britain.”

“I better play well and entertain you because you're standing there for a long time,” he added.

In the audience next to me, a fan shouted encouragement: “Keep going, old sausage.”

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Many in the audience came dressed in replicas of Rocket Man's most iconic outfits

The show came at the end of Elton's Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour – now officially the highest-grossing tour of all time, with box office receipts of $887m (£697m).

After the Glastonbury concert, there are only seven dates remaining, with the final show in Stockholm on 8 July.

It brings an end to a touring career that saw Elton transform from a cocky young troubadour in Los Angeles to a beloved star of the rock establishment.

Over the years, he has gained a reputation for excessive glamour—feather boas, high-heeled shoes, elaborate headdresses, and pianos that catch fire.

“I don't move around the stage,” he said. “I have to attract attention somehow!”

But by Elton's standards, Glastonbury was a low-key show that focused solely on his love of music.

He remained in the same shiny gold suit all evening, giving off the air of a man who is at his happiest when he's sitting behind the piano, shredding.

There were some beautiful, extended flourishes in “Your Song” and I wonder why they call it “blues.” On “Still Standing,” he hit the keys so hard they threatened to fall off.

However, it must be said that his voice is not what it used to be. His clipped vowels and marmalade style have a whiff of a Vegas lounge singer – but here at Worthy Farm, his singing was strangely effective, cutting through the air with a clarity that other headliners this weekend have failed to match.

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The star, who suffered a hip injury last year, sat behind the piano for most of the show

Leading up to the show, rumors of special guests circulated throughout the weekend. Britney Spears was supposedly spotted at Bristol Airport. The security guard swore they saw Dua Lipa. Harry Styles was supposed to be here, but he wasn't, and then he came back again.

However, in the end, Elton went against the grain, championing a new generation of musicians rather than pop stars who could easily headline the Glastonbury Festival themselves.

Jacob Lusk of the American soul band invited Gabriels to sing Are You Ready for Love; While pop music newcomer Rina Sawayama took Kiki Dee's place on the song “Don't Break My Heart.”

Nashville's Steven Sanchez even sang a song of his own, 'Til I Found You.

“I heard it last year on the radio, and I couldn’t believe a 19 or 20-year-old could write a song like that,” Elton enthused.

Image source, Getty Images

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British-Japanese star Rina Sawayama has supported Elton John on his radio show

The one exception was Brandon Flowers of The Killers, who took to the stage in a hot pink suit for a handsome duet of Tiny Dancer.

Their performance proved so moving that television cameras caught a performance from the audience.

Overall, however, the lack of star power caused a wave of disappointment. “who's that?” One fan grumbled as Sawayama took the stage.

But there was something admirable about that, too. Elton stayed true to who he was, a music geek, and his hunger for rock and pop music fueled and sustained his career.

Image source, Getty Images

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Elton said he first met Brandon Flowers when the singer came to his hotel room in Vegas to play him The Killers' debut album, Hot Fuss.

After two hours, the group reached an emotional climax.

Elton dedicated the song “Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me” to George Michael, “one of Britain's finest singer-songwriters”. [and] Artists.

He added: “He was my friend and inspiration, and today was his sixtieth birthday. I want to dedicate this song to his memory, and all the music he left us, which was so wonderful.”

He then brought the curtain down on his UK touring career with an extended, elegiac version of Rocket Man, with fireworks echoing throughout the set.

As he took a final bow with his band, the closing words, “I think it's going to be a very long time,” took on a new poignancy.

“It's been an amazing trip, and I've had the best and best time,” the star said with a lump in his throat.

If this was truly his last ever show in the UK, it was the perfect way to bow out.

Make the list

  • Pinball wizard
  • The bitch is back
  • Penny and planes
  • Daniel
  • Goodbye, yellow paved road
  • I think that's why it's called the blues
  • Philadelphia Liberty
  • Are you ready for love? (With Jacob Lusk and the London Community Gospel Choir)
  • Sad songs say a lot
  • Someone saved my life tonight
  • Until I Found You (with Steven Sanchez)
  • Your song
  • Candle in the wind
  • Little Dancer (With Brandon Flowers)
  • Don't Break My Heart (with Rina Sayoyama)
  • Crocodile rock
  • Saturday night is good for fighting
  • I'm still standing
  • cold heart
  • Don't let the sun go down on me
  • Rocket man

The star's set was watched by so many fans that Glastonbury issued a “stand-up only” rule, asking people to fold up their chairs and pack picnic blankets.

The ceremony was also attended by Paul McCartney, actors Matt Smith and Kate Hudson, Jamie Oliver, Taron Egerton, who played Elton in the famous biopic Rocketman, as well as the film's director Dexter Fletcher.

“It was unbelievable,” Fletcher told the BBC after the show.

“You can't really describe how emotional he was, how engaged, how connected he was with the audience. That's what it was all about.”

The show brought the 2023 Glastonbury Festival to a close, following high-profile sets from Arctic Monkeys, Guns N' Roses, Lana Del Rey, WizKid, Lizzo, Blondie and Cat Stephens.

Organizer Emily Eavis has confirmed that the event will return next year, with two of the main female participants already booked.

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