How Elton John toured the USSR (PHOTOS)

Elton John in Peterhof.

Elton John in Peterhof.

Igor Sabadash/TASS
The British musician gave eight stunning concerts in Moscow and Leningrad and called his tour one of the most memorable and happiest in his life.
Leningrad. May 21, 1979. English singer Elton John at the Moscovsky railway station.

Elton John was one of the rare Western artists who performed in the USSR in those years. The then young 32-year-old musician came to Moscow and Leningrad as part of his 'A Single Man' world tour on May 21-30, 1979. He gave four concerts in each city, while the host nation organized a cultural program for the British singer.

‘Back in USSR’

Elton John signs autographs.

The arrival of the world star was a real sensation. His extravagant image was very different from what was on the Soviet stage. The organizer in the USSR was ‘Goskonzert’ (‘State Concert’) and the decision on his performances was made at a meeting of the Central Committee of the CPSU.

Elton John performing at the Oktyabrsky Grand Concert Hall in Leningrad.

And although Elton John's albums were not sold in the country - at least officially, huge lines lined up at the box office. For tickets that were managed to be bought second-hand, people paid up to 50 rubles - a third of the average salary at that time. There were rumors that most of the tickets went "to their own". However, the concert halls were full and they could accommodate several thousand spectators.

As the musician later recalled, before the first concertt he "was terrified". Everything was unfamiliar and exotic. "I felt nobody really knew me here and that it could all go terribly wrong... I think we all felt up to the last minute that someone somewhere would give us a 'No'... or a 'Nyet!', as they say!" 

The concerts lasted more than two hours. He added Russian classical music melodies to some songs, as well as the famous ‘Moscow Nights’.

Elton John and Ray Cooper perform at the Rossiya State Concert Hall in Moscow.

As an encore, he played medleys, including the famous song ‘Back in USSR’, which the Soviets forbade him to play. However, everything went well. After the concerts, young people chanted the artist's name in the street.

Cultural program

To move around Moscow and Leningrad, ‘Goskonzert’ provided the musician with a ‘Chaika’ car (only officials drove such cars). He was accompanied by translator Natalya Ionova. As she later recalled, the musician was without security, fans followed them on their heels and once even rocked the ‘Chaika’ so much that she became scared. She handed a concert ticket to one persistent fan from the car window and he was incredibly happy.

Elton John walked around Peterhof outside Leningrad and the Red Square in Moscow, where he took one of his famous photos of himself "squatting", as if doing a Cossack dance. He noted that he was "surprised at people's friendliness and the beauty of what they saw”. 

He also attended a soccer match in Moscow, where he sat in the regular stands, eating ice cream in a waffle cup in the heat like all Soviet spectators. He also attended a reception at the British Embassy and the ‘Swan Lake’ ballet at the Bolshoi Theater.

Elton John eats ice cream in the stands of CSKA stadium.

By the way, the fees for the performances were very modest - only $1,000 per concert. But, the musician himself said that he was simply interested in getting to know the Soviet Union, not in making money.

To Russia With Elton

Elton John was accompanied by his mother Sheila Eileen Dwight, percussionist and drummer Ray Cooper, a team of technicians and a film crew. The cameramen filmed his tour life almost around the clock and, as a result of this trip, the film ‘To Russia With Elton’ was released. 

Among others, there was such an interesting episode. Elton John walked into a restaurant where people were dancing and he was asked to play - and he did.

One Moscow concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 1 - for the first time between the USSR and the West. In this way, the countries were testing broadcasting on the eve of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

Elton John at the Rossiya State Concert Hall in Moscow.

"I can say it has been one of the best experiences of my life. It was one of the most memorable and happy tours I have been on. The last show was probably one of the best concerts I've ever given in my life," Elton John said later. Since then, he has visited Russia more than 30 times.

After his tour, record label ‘Melodia’ officially released the album ‘A Single Man’ in the Soviet Union.

Elton John during a press conference in Leningrad.

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