There was a time when Elton John lived the rock’n’roll lifestyle, with a post-gig routine went long into the night, often involving a big bag of white powder at whichever plush hotel he was staying in. Not any more. Fittingly, one of his later costume changes saw him don a dressing-gown type garment. As soon as the show ended, he was whisked off in a garda-escorted convoy to Cork Airport, where a private jet awaited to take him back to England.
Conceivably, he might have been tucked up in his own bed before many of the attendees at the gig even made it home. Not that anyone minds. He was punctual with his start-time at 8pm, and 100% delivered on stage for over two hours.
Since Charlie Haughey sang along to the Wolfe Tones at the Siamsa Cois Laoí in the 1970s, there’s been a tradition of politicians attending concerts at Páirc Ui Chaoimh.
In fairness, Taoiseach Micheál Martin wouldn’t have needed to clock up many airmiles popping down from nearby Ballinlough, and he even had Fianna Fáil team-mate Michael McGrath seated nearby. Athlete couple Rob and Marian Heffernan were also enjoying the show, and presumably they’ll be spending even more time seated in stadiums in the near future, given that their 17-year-old son Cathal has just signed a deal with AC Milan.
Only one Cork person in the audience got a mention from Elton John, however. Graham Norton was in the seated area directly in front of the stage, and the singer dedicated 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me' to a man whose TV show he’s made several appearances on.
Fans for the gigs at Marlay Park in Dublin had been highlighting transport issues all week, and on Friday, it was the turn of disgruntled concert-goers in Cork. Some were left waiting at Lapp’s Quay for shuttles to the concert that had been promised in the official information from organisers. When it eventually became clear that these buses weren’t going to arrive, panicked punters had to hurriedly make their own way to the stadium. Afterwards, Bus Éireann said the information about the non-existent buses had been issued in error by a third party.
The bar service in the stadium was also a bone of contention. Some people complained of long queues (often going to be an issue in such large gatherings), while in the stands the bars closed for a short but crucial period from 7.30pm to 8pm.
Apologetic staff said this was at the insistence of Elton John – presumably wanting to ensure people were in their seats for the start of the concert. Not everyone shared his priorities. “I pay over €100 for a ticket and I can’t even get a drink,” said one exasperated punter. But yes, as soon as the concert began, the bars re-opened and seemed very accessible then.
Some artists end up doing more than one farewell tour (hello again Simply Red!), but there was a feeling in the Páirc on Friday night that we really were saying goodbye to Elton John. This was his fifth gig in Cork, and he recalled how he first played the nearby Marquee in July 2007. He paid a warm tribute to Leeside and Irish crowds, wishing us “health, happiness and prosperity”.
Clearly contemplating the end of the Yellow-brick Road, he added: "When the tour ends next year I will be 76 years of age and I really want to spend the rest of my life with my children [Zachary, 12, and nine-year-old Elijah] and my family.” It felt like a genuinely emotional moment.
While Elton John may be on a farewell tour, there’s little chance his music is in danger of fading away any time soon. From the moment he came on stage to his departure over two hours later, he belted out classic hits, interspersed with an occasional album track he obviously has a personal grá for.
When you hear them all together like this – and are able to name plenty more that didn’t make it to the live set – it’s obvious he's created one of the most incredible repertoires in popular music (Hat tip to his lyricist Bernie Taupin). Even musos who turned away from his 1980s’ schmaltz will have trouble denying the brilliance of tunes like Tiny Dancer and Rocket Man.
Elton John’s staying power is underlined by the fact that his very first hit from 1971 was able to provide one of the highlights of a concert in 2022. His breakthrough Your Song was one of a three-tune encore performed in Cork. “My gift is my song, and this one's for you,” he chimed before launching into that achingly-beautiful chorus. What a special gift indeed.