Elton could have played here before

ELTON JOHN’S gig at the Welcome to Yorkshire Scarborough Open Air Theatre might well have been a return visit on a par with Mott the Hoople front man Ian Hunter’s fantastic performance at The Spa Ocean room, had my dear friends at The Penthouse not made one of their few but spectacular errors of judgement.

It’s almost an urban myth, the place having been closed now for 28 years and old hippies’ memories being famously crumbly. “Fred who? - that’s a daft name,” was a former manager’s reaction to being offered Led Zeppelin. “The Eagles? Country music? This is a rock club.” (Same person). Bob Marley and the Wailers were passed up for fear that reggae, being the music of choice of skinheads, might bring an unwelcome element of unruliness to the venue renowned for its (largely) trouble-free environment. 10CC sent their minions to check out the St Nicholas Street club out for capacity but despite frantic efforts to increase the size of the stage, it was still too small for their egos.

Leo Sayer, diminutive resident of Australia these days but a massive selling artist back in the 1970s and 80s, had to be relocated to The Spa, where he performed to a good-sized audience; it’s the only time anyone asked me for an autograph (and why would they, eh?) — “... because you walked on the same stage as Leo.” Hmm.

Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, billed without their leader’s name because that’s how they were at the time, had to be moved to Hull, so great was the demand for tickets.

Where was I? That pianist. Sir Elton. Him. Rejected because ... because The Penthouse was a rock venue and unfavourable comparisons had, shall we say, been drawn with the musical talents of Liberace – Lee, to them’s as knew him well . That famously excessive entertainer passed away in 1987 and his record sales died with him. Elton John’s grew and grew, of course. Are we all sorry he didn’t get to play? Sure, but look, here he comes and I guess he’s forgiven whoever it was who turned him down; doesn’t seem to have damaged his career much and his appearance at the Open Air Theatre is a great bonus for Scarborough.

One last reminiscence. A few years ago, I was asked to write liner notes for the CD re-issue of Colin Scot’s first album, which contained a host of guest appearances including Phil Collins, Robert Fripp, Peters Hammill and Gabriel, members of Rare Bird, Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson. And Davey Johnstone, one half of legendary folk duo Murph and Shaggis (and clearly not bearded Noel Murphy) on guitar. Rick declined politely the chance to talk about the album, pointing out that record companies often capitalised on deceased artists’ re-releases, making little effort to trace any living beneficiaries. I had tried myself to find Lesley, Scot’s partner, but to no avail. But Davey Johnstone invited me to call him under his assumed name at his Las Vegas hotel, where he was backing the man he’s played guitar for for decades – Elton John. Like all genuinely talented people, he was generous in his praise of Colin Scot’s awesome talent, saddened by his inability to battle the alcohol that contributed to his death and he remembered Scarborough and The Penthouse well. So at least someone on stage on June 5th will have been here before, despite the lack of Elton, 42 years ago.

Mat Watkinson

Stepney Road