Saturday, October 13, 2012

Elton John and Rod Stewart at Watford FC, 1974

May 1974. Elton John was already an international star and Rod was about to become one. Watford Football Club, my home team, were in need of funds and Elton, newly installed as a director of the club, decided to put on a benefit concert. Tickets were £1 and it was billed as Elton John and guests. 
Nazareth opened the concert. We were actually big fans of their album 'Loud 'N Proud' which had their version of Joni Mitchell's 'This Flight Tonight' as well as a  cover of the Little Feat song 'Teenage Nervous Breakdown'. 
We held back during Nazareth's set but then a couple of us moved right to the front for Elton's set. This was the classic EJ band, with Dee Murray, Nigel Ollson and Davey Johnstone, plus new member Ray Cooper on percussion. Watford are known as The Hornets and so Elton naturally arrived on stage in a hornet costume. You can see from the footage of the concert here that Elton's colourful outfit was a contrast with the long hair and denim of most of us in the crowd (I'm down there at front centre). There were a few glammed-up Rod-alikes and by the sound of the screaming, quite a few girls. It was a good-natured crowd - and I remember at least one streaker. Elton's set included recent classics like Candle In The Wind and Daniel. They debuted a new single, a cover version of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.  I'm not sure if we knew that Rod was going to appear, but his appearance certainly added an extra element of star quality. He appeared wearing a white silk suit and matching scarf and his trademark haircut - every inch the rock star. This was pre-Atlantic Crossing, the point at which he focussed on making it big in America, so he sang a mix of Elton material that he had covered on his early solo albums. 
Melody Maker's front page story about the Watford gig and rock's football fans
The second video clip shows Rod's entrance and the run-through of Country Comforts. It's just a shame the sound balance has his vocals way down. There are no official release clips from this concert, so this is all we have to go on. I remember the Elton John Band being really professional and excellent musicians. It was a treat to see them up-close. The photo here, taken from the front page of the following week's Melody Maker, is pretty much the view I had. 
The article in the MM - 'How rock gets its kicks' was about how people like Elton, Rod, Ian Hunter, Rick Wakeman, Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters were "confirmed soccer freaks". 
This was 10 years before Watford had their period of success in the old first division under the management of Graham Taylor. At this point, they had made it up from the third to the second division and were holding their own without ever really looking like being promoted to the first division. They had a brief glory period in the 1970-71 season, beating Liverpool 1-0 in the FA cup quarter finals before being trounced 5-1 by Chelsea in the semis. Chelsea went on to win the cup that year, beating Leeds Utd in a replay at Old Trafford. Having stood on terraces as a 12 year-old through my mid-teens, I drifted away and only rarely ventured back to Vicarage Road. I returned recently to watch them playing Spurs in a pre-season friendly. The ground is looking much better now, apart from the old players entrance stand, which was condemned and is yet to be rebuilt. 
Rod Stewart joins Elton John on stage at Watford Football Club, May 1974


  1. An excellent overview of the day back in 1974 ; I was there , sat on left of stage in front of speakers. great to see the footage to bring back the memories.

  2. I was also there that day with my dad, we were both stewards on the turnstiles and got to see the gig for free. The ticket you have is for the cheap seats (i.e on the pitch!), there were also the posh seats (in the then new stand) for £2. No booking fees! Just for interest the signature on the ticket is that of Ron Rollitt, a lovely man who was club secretary at the time.

  3. it all looks so old and shabby by today's standards. I went back to Vicarage Road recently to watch WFC for the first time in many years. The ground development is still not finished. In fact the old 'new' stand has been condemned and is awaiting a rebuild. But the Rookery end is a lot posher than it was in 74 and the Vicarage Rd end is now covered. The Hospital stand has posh bars (incl 'Elton's').