For One Night Only

If you were a music fan living in Guernsey in the 90s, the Fermain Tavern on a Saturday night was the best place to be. The entry price was only £5.00 and regulars were used to enjoying a night of live music with local and visiting bands. Never would that fiver have got you more value for money than if you happened to be there when music legend Elton John popped by for an impromptu gig.

Mark Guillou, a sound engineer and popular Guernsey personality, tells us how the experience felt for him and the other lucky music lovers who were there on the night. “It all started with a young man named Beechy Colclough who lived in Guernsey for a while and worked at St Pierre Park,” Mark explains. “Beechy was a keen musician and spent time with Alan Palzaird, who was part of a trendy local band called Skint.”

According to Mark, Beechy moved to the UK, where he met Elton and forged a strong friendship. Mark continues, “I remember Charlie Gardner (Skint Bassist) told me Elton simply asked Beechy, ‘What are you doing at the weekend?’ and he explained he was due to perform a gig in Guernsey. Elton simply said, ‘Need a pianist?’ and the plan was in action. It was that simple!”

“Charlie approached me to do all the PA for both the rehearsal night on Friday and the live gig on Saturday – of course, I agreed!” Mark continues. “Everyone was told to keep it quiet, but island life and the ‘Guernsey Grapevine’ meant the news spread like wildfire.”

“Elton said,‘Need a pianist?’ and the plan wasin action. It was that simple!”

The Fermain Tavern has only ever had capacity for around 200 people, so we were all very interested to see how that would work if Elton did come!” Mark explains. “To be honest, nobody really believed it would happen, myself included.”

When Elton John rocked up for a rehearsal, Mark and the team were shocked, surprised and blown away in equal measure. “I had a baby grand piano, nothing as grand as Elton would usually expect,” Mark explains, “and I will never forget the piano tuner walking away after tuning it, shaking his head and muttering, ‘I have done my best.’ It was all so surreal.”

It’s clear that Elton’s ability had a profound impact on Mark. He explains, “When Elton played, he made my system sound like a platinum version of itself. You could immediately hear that this man was a legend through and through who could play anywhere, anytime in any situation. That is what legends are made of”.

Mark was fortunate to spend quality time with Elton, requesting a performance of some of his favourite tracks, which he duly obliged. “Experiencing a live rendition of Elton’s iconic ‘Your Song’ and ‘Daniel’ was truly a pinch yourself moment I’ll never forget.”

One of Mark’s favourite anecdotes is from the Saturday night. “Elton casually asked if there was going to be any security, to which I replied, ‘Jon will be on the door selling tickets as usual’. Elton responded that his normal entourage was at least 50 security guards with a moat between him and the audience, so he was pretty surprised, to say the least – especially when over 500 people turned up on the night!”

Mark remembers that weekend as one of Guernsey’s best ever gigs, and he still has the baby piano that Elton played on all those years ago, bringing Fermain Tavern in the small island of Guernsey to a standstill.

Elton’s Piano

The piano Elton played on belonged to Ian Kewley, known as ‘The Reverend’, who was musical director, co-songwriter and keyboard player with Paul Young and popular band the Q Tips. One of the piano’s greatest claims to fame was playing with the band at Live Aid in 1985.

Ian and Paul set up a recording studio in Guernsey, where The Christians also recorded some of their tracks. Paul was a frequent visitor, but Ian made Guernsey his home with his wife for a few years and was often seen at the Fermain Tavern leading The House Band.

When Ian left to move to France, the piano stayed behind and had several foster parents before being taken into Mark’s care. Sadly, Ian died in 2020.

“I will never forget the piano tuner walking away after tuning it, shaking his head and muttering, ‘I have done my best.’ ”

Sleeve Notes

  • The evening was videoed and kept private by locals for many years. Decades later, it is now on Youtube for the public to enjoy.
  • Mark gave Elton a t-shirt – the last one from his old band – and he still wonders if Elton ever wore it.