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26 Nov 2011

Some Other World, Featuring li'l'Elton

Some other's world is magical. Wayne Martin has been creating a wide range of puppets for his spectacles. So we have fairies, frogs, dogs, clowns, witches, traditional and seasonal stories... everything in its splendor. All available for seasonal promotions, festivals, schools, theatres, parties, etc. We will try to present here some of the characters, not all of them, because there are so many, but a brief selection. Also we could have a taste of "I Want Love", Wayne's twenty-four inch tall hand puppet, an extraordinary piece courtesy of Wayne and Marilyn Martin. So, this is Wayne's world, the magic world.

Frosty, Rudolph, Elmer Elf, Suzy Snowflake, Peter and Penelope Penguin, dancing candy canes and Martin's trademark juggling Christmas Tree who breathlessly lights up and illuminates the way for the jolly old elf himself, are the perfect choice for the Christmas holidays.

“Halloween Hijinks" is a fun and frightful puppet show with lot of surprises, and appearances by Frank & Drac, Boo-Boo the breakaway ghost, Punky Punkin, Felina Witch, with a compliment of scarecrows, skeletons, and monsters, all performing unique tricks for the screaming audiences.

The Easter Bunny himself is joined by a trumpet jazz playing bullfrog, a classical singing "Diva Chicken", Eggbert Easter Egg, The Little Bald Bunny, break dancing flowers and many others are all on parade in this fast paced, family oriented, musical spectacular.

The classic Brothers Grimm fairytale is magically presented utilizing gorgeous hand, rod, string and shadow puppetry in this colorful musical production. Hansel, Gretel and of course the wicked old witch are all "on hand" along with a few surprise guests.

A vibrant collection of characters include Derf the homeless street man, Ross the balloon blowing Pierrot, "Grand Turk" magician and the caricature of Frank Sinatra all complete with a cast of over thirty beautifully crafted and costumed 'large-scale' hand puppets and marionettes, vignettes of human emotions and fantasy, are set against a backdrop of dramatic lighting and theatrical effects with no age or language barrier: "I like to use music so, there is no language barriers" he likes to explain.

And don't forget Li'l'Elton. And ideal entertainment for both adults and children, and of course counting eltonites. Elton's music is universal, we know, and believe me when I say it's so fun to see Elton's alter ego, it's so magical. Wayne develops a great show with Elton, the piano is not missing, not even the tantrums, and li'l' Elton also sings, so we could ask no more.

video

More info, http://www.waynemartinpuppets.com/shows.htm
pictures and video courtesy of Wayne and Marylin Martin

25 Nov 2011

Wayne Martin: An Exceptional Mastery Of Puppetry Skills (Part One)

Today it’s a very exciting day. I am sure that, when you were a child, you had a lot of dreams to fulfill. Almost me: I had mine. But it’s hard to follow your dreams, and not much people could say they reached their child purposes. But the man over here did. He has an amazing life, a kind of tale story. A tale with princess, frogs, witches, dragons... and Elton! He created his own Elton. All of them are part of his magic world. His professionalism and affable personality have made him a joy to watch. He recreates a spectacular and colourful performance, outstanding for all ages. Eltonites, welcome to the weekend of the illusion, the weekend of fantasy, the weekend of dreams!!! Everybody, please, get up, stand up to receive the magnificient and incredible: Wayne Martin!!!!!!!

Hi Wayne. I would like to thank you effusively for your acceptation to be here. It’s really an honour. We were talking about childhood, so the question is easy: Which are your most beautiful memories of your childhood, Wayne? And how it was growing up in Cincinatti?

My favorite childhood memory is Christmas Eve when I was 4 years old and my mother and grandmother made me a hand puppet witch as a gift from Santa! The puppet was based on a television puppet character named Hattie the Witch, who was created and performed by legendary Cincinnati, Ohio puppeteer Larry Smith (Who would become my mentor just a short time later). Thankfully the moment was all caught on film by my father that Christmas; me walking into our living room and finding her there. I was so excited to have my own Hattie puppet that I refused to remove her from my hand. Apart from eating and bathing I would keep her on my hand all the time, even sleeping with her still on my hand. Within several weeks my index finger became infected from being inside her rubber head and not getting any air. I had to be taken to the doctor several times to have the finger lanced and to receive antibiotics and as soon as it healed I put her right back on.

Hahahaha It’s nice!!! Well so it seems this was the way you get into Puppeteering, isn’t it? Were you already inspired by puppet shows or ventriloquism?

I saw Hattie the Witch on television when I was three years old and was fascinated not only by Hattie but also the many other puppet characters that Larry created. He had an early morning show televised at 8am weekdays and then he would also appear at 9am daily on the famous "Uncle Al Show" (which would go one to become the longest running children's series in the world, before Al's retirement in the mid 1980's) and a third daily program televised at 5pm. This was the late 1950's and early 1960's and the heyday of live TV! These programs were all produced out of Cincinnati, Ohio and at various times ran on the networks across the U.S.A. So I would sit in front of the TV just waiting for Larry's shows, watching the other programs in-between his and acting them all out using my puppets.

This was before receiving my Hattie and my puppets consisted of suckers that I had received "Trick-or-Treating" on Halloween the year before. People would cover suckers with white paper napkins and draw ghost faces on them and hand them out as treats. Instead of eating mine, I used them as "rod puppets" (i.e., Puppets on sticks) to act out all of the TV shows I'd watch. I also made some puppets of my own out of paper bags, socks and anything I could find around the house.

I also began to discover other puppets on television such as "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" created by puppeteer Burr Tillstrom, Bil Baird ("Snarky Parker Show" as well as "Charlemagne Lion" who co-hosted "The Today Show" for a while and who later created the famous puppet scene "The Lonely Goatherd" in the motion picture "The Sound of Music") the Paul Ashley Puppets and Jim Henson's Muppets "Rowf the Dog" on "The Jimmy Dean Show." All but Paul Ashley, who I never met, would become good friends of mine. Twenty some odd years later I would even work with Jim Henson on his "Muppets Take Manhattan" movie.

“(...) Being picked on, harassed, beat up and ostracized by classmates and my peer groups at various times for being “sissy” and “playing with dolls””. You said in an interview with Paul Eide. It’s terrible to see how some kids could be so unjustice. I guess that your parents and grandmother support meant everything for you. I admire the way you followed your dream with faith. No one could say that, maybe other could have turned it down.

Many children go through a "puppet stage" in their youth, but very few follow through with it. Peer pressure is terrible and whenever a child is interested in something that is outside of what is considered "the norm" it is very difficult. Gifted children interested in any of the arts (dance, theatre, music, etc.) are all faced with a very difficult road during their school career and only those that are truly passionate about their calling follow it through. I've known a couple of very talented individuals who possibly could have gone on and had successful careers as puppeteers, but they just couldn't handle the pressures and chose "to be like everyone else."

That’s a pity, really.

In the late 1970's I was hired by a man living in a very small midwest town to open for the Henry Mancini Orchestra whom he had also contracted to play. I didn't understand why he had hired me, let alone Henry Mancini to play this little town. Turns out he had spent twenty years of his life as a trumpet player touring the world with several of the leading great jazz bands of the era. He quit music at the urging of his friends and family to get married and raise a family. He went on to work for a large corporation and became a multi-millionaire. He told me this story after my performance and admitted that he viewed it as the biggest mistake of his life. He loved his family and the life they created, made more money and had more security than would ever have been possible as a musician but said he missed performing terribly and if he had it to do over, he'd never have quit. Hiring entertainers and paying for it out of his own pocket once a year, was the only way he could still be a part of the arts in this little town where culture was nonexistent and where he felt frustrated and unfulfilled. I have often thought of him during tough times and it's been all I needed to continue on.

I was also fortunate that my parents were always supportive of me. My parents worried about me being able to make a living and didn't understand show business at all, but they recognized my talent and saw my passion and thankfully they always encouraged me.

Did you have any special training or classes for this art?

I majored in art at college but I never had any formal training as a puppeteer, per se. My training came from watching puppets on TV and seeing as many live puppet performances as possible.

It was a few months after receiving my Hattie puppet that my dad took me to see Larry Smith perform live in person at a local department store. To see his TV puppets up close and in color for the first time (Remember, televisions were black and white at this time) just blew me away! I was very shy and only four, but I walked right up to Larry and introduced myself after his performance that afternoon, showing him my Hattie puppet and asked him dozens of questions. My father was in shock (as was Larry) but both saw my passion and when I was ten years old, Larry began recommending me for all of the smaller shows, that he didn't have time to do. I had gone professional when I was eight, but with Larry's recommendations, my career really took off. It became so big and so fast that in 1970 when President Richard Nixon's wife Pat came to Cincinnati on official business, I was the one hired as her entertainment. I was a few months shy of my 12th birthday and there I was on the front page of the mornings newspaper pictured alongside the presidents wife!

I'm also gifted with a photographic memory and I could see a puppet show live and take one look at the puppets up close back stage and be able to go home and figure out the stringing and animation on my own. I would also watch Larry build some of his puppets as well as the Muppets and others through the years. The person who taught me the most though was Judy Heiken of the "Heiken Puppets." Judy and her husband are now retired but I've known them since the mid 1970's. Judy is a wonderful puppet builder and sculptor and worked in many different mediums during her career. Watching her create was my true college. She has also made numerous molds for me over the years and continues to do so when I need her help, even in her retirement.

Fantastic! How do you make a puppet? Could you speak a little bit about the process of creating a puppet? And do you remember the first puppet you created?

I don't remember specifically the very first puppet I made. It would have been a paper bag or a sock. For the first several years I would come up with the ideas and my mother and grandmother would make them for me. After a few years though it started to become too involved and time consuming for them so somewhere around the age of ten or eleven my grandmother taught me how to use the sewing machine and I was off on my own.

I work with hand puppets, rod puppets and marionettes as well as humanettes (Large costume/body puppets) and most all are made out of Celastic.

It's a long process and each puppet takes anywhere from seven days up to a couple months to complete. I start with either a photograph or sketch a life-size drawing of the puppet I wish to create. From that I build a form using chicken wire, styrofoam, foam rubber or more times than not, sculpt it in clay. I then make a 2 or 3 piece plaster mold of this structure. When the plaster dries I take the pieces off the structure. The mold is then soaked in water over night. The following day the mold is lined with a release agent and it's ready for the Celastic.

Celastic is a discontinued heavy-felt like material that when soaked in Acetone becomes pliable and hardens into a very rigid plastic. Celastic and Acetone are both toxic and the German manufacturer that made Celastic discontinued its production in the mid 1980's. My American supplier let me know in advance and I bought all that he had and have managed to buy out the supplies of two other retiring puppeteers over the years. There are many new products on the market that younger puppeteers now use out of necessity, but none are as durable nor meet my needs as does Celastic. I've said time and again that whenever my supply runs out, I'm done building. And I'm serious.

I tear the sheets of Celastic into squares, dip them into the Acetone and then place them into the molds. Celastic dries within an hour or two and I remove the now hardened plastic pieces from the mold and place them together using additional Celastic squares. When these dry the head is ready to be animated (Eyes, eyebrows, mouth etc., made to move) Using a razor blade these are cut out and then put back in place with typewriter springs. (Animation is tedious, time consuming and hardest part to do correctly of the entire process) I then cover the entire head with wood putty and allow it to dry overnight. The following day this is sanded down to the desired smoothness required for the particular character and it is then ready for painting and wigging.

This entire process is repeated for making hands, feet and body and is then costumed.

Right! When you finally learned how the puppets actually worked, was there anything that most surprised you?

Just how time consuming and expensive it was.

Hahahaha sure, understandable! You worked as principal manipulator for Heiken Puppets and in feature films with Jim Henson's Muppets, for example. Over your time spent working with Henson, what are one or two of your more memorable moments?

I first met Jim Henson at a Puppeteers of America convention when I was around twelve years old. Like I had done with my mentor Larry Smith years before, I walked right up to Jim and introduced myself. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met and a true genius. He was also terribly shy and speaking with him one-on-one could sometimes be difficult due to this shyness. But he was always very kind to me and told me to call him if I needed anything and to keep him posted on my career. Now he was probably just being nice to this precocious 12 year old kid when he said to "call him" but I took him literally and did call him a number of times. He would always get on the phone and answer all of my questions and he even wrote me a lovely letter once in those early years thanking me for some remarks I had made regarding one of the early Muppets TV specials.

In 1982 I produced "The Magical Christmas Of Michael J. Peabody" my Emmy Award Nominated holiday television special that was syndicated around the U.S. in 1982 and again in 1983. Henson saw it and asked me to come to New York to work on a project. That project turned out to be "The Muppets Take Manhattan." This was at the height of Muppetmania and was great for my career. As it was one of the very few Muppet projects actually produced in America during those years, (Most were being produced in Canada and the UK) I did not have an opportunity to work with him again until 1990 when his company asked me to assist on a new TV series "The Little Mermaid." They had already shot a pilot episode based on the characters from the Disney movie and Disney had ordered an entire seasons worth of episodes. Two days later Jim died suddenly and that was one of the many projects that were dropped.

What kind of skills do you need to succeed? And what do you find most rewarding about your work?

Puppetry is the one art form that truly incorporates all of the other arts.

Language Arts
Storytelling
Visual Arts - (Puppet design and construction; Sculpting, painting, etc.)
Dance
Drama Theatre
Science – (Gravity, tension and balance are all key rolls in how puppets are used by the puppeteer)

It's also most importantly a business. Someone once said "Show business" is 10% show and 90% business. And if you expect to make a full-time living at it, you better be able to approach it as such. I have never had any other job apart from being a puppeteer. I formed my company in 1966 at the age of eight and went professional. By my mid teens I was working full-time and thanks to my dad who always made a point of reminding me that I had to make money at it if I was serious about this as a career, I always approached it as such.

What I have found most rewarding is the feedback I receive from performing to a live audience. I also love the lifestyle its allowed me and the people that its allowed me to meet, (Including Elton John) and to work with and become friends with. Its opened many, many doors for me and given me a lifetime of experiences and travels that I never would have had without.

“Each program features a cast of beautifully crafted and costumed hand puppets and marionettes”. Your shows are not only for kids but for all ages. Also you toured US, Canada, Europe and Australia. What type of shows are you programming? And what’s the difference between a show with puppet, or a marionette or hand puppets? Do you create your own stories?

My touring act is a one-man musical variety presentation that incorporates hand puppets, rod puppets, marionettes (Marionettes or "string puppets" are my favorite) and on occasion shadow puppets as well as humanettes. I prefer musical variety as opposed to stories because it allows me to utilize all of these different styles in one show and I'm personally bored by most "story" type shows I see and find them tedious to perform over and over again. Well-known stories are easier to market to theatres and schools so I do occasionally offer stories such as "Hansel and Gretel" or "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" when needed, but even with these I usually tag on a short variety show at the end. When audiences see my variety show they love it and by performing mostly to music I avoid language barriers and am able to entertain all ages. I want to entertain the parents every bit as much as the kids and thats what makes my act unique and successful.

I've also done educational videos and a lot of TV work and oftentimes these will be story related (Either familiar tales or specifically written original story-lines for the given project) and these are usually done using Hand puppets (i.e., Glove or mouth puppets) similar to the Muppets, as these work best on camera. On stage I prefer to work marionettes and they make up about two-thirds of my live touring act.

The term "Puppets" is all inclusive. Marionettes, Rod, Shadow, etc. are just names given to differentiate styles of puppetry, but they are all puppets.

And you created li’l’Elton. Why the reason of this character and what does the film “I Want Love” consists of?

I've made a number of Elton John puppets over the years. Most all have been marionettes for my touring act. The little film I made of "I Want Love" came about by happenstance. I was working on an educational television project and had built a series of "Anything Puppets." These are hand/mouth puppets that you can temporarily apply different eyes, hair, noses, etc., holding them in place by double-faced tape, velcro or pins, creating different characters as needed. It's the way I approach most of my film work. Unlike my live touring act where each puppet will go through a thousand or more performances and everything must be sewn or glued permanently in place and be made to last, TV and film you only need the puppets for the shoot. So I make these to use over as different characters as needed.

One of the characters for this project was a little over-weight boy. One night my wife walked into the studio and upon seeing him observed he looked like Elton. Several days later there was a lull in filming and I just started fulling around with the character. By simply removing his eyes and replacing them with a pair of my own eyewear I had on that day and slapping a Versace logo on and old dancers jacket and then adding an actual Elton John earring that came with a Bob Mackie designed costume I own from Elton's 1986 tour, he truly became, as you call him, lil' Elton. I quickly spliced together a 60 second soundtrack from two different EJ recordings and we shot the film in one take! It was just a lark, but it turned out well and became a hit with members of Elton's organization as they became aware of its existence.

(To Be Continued)

Wayne Martin: An Exceptional Mastery Of Puppetry Skills (& Part Two)

So great!!!!! When did you became an Eltonite? Remember the first time you heard Elton's music and what moves you to buy his music?

Music has always been my first love. From my earliest memories, I always had a radio playing and just loved all types and styles of music. If I could have chosen my talent it would have been a piano player, singer songwriter. The piano has always been my favorite instrument and I always looked forward to visiting one of my aunts who owned a piano so I could bang away on it as a young child. Unfortunately, I have no musical talent whatsoever!

I fell in love with Elton's music in the spring of 1970. One of my cousins was on leave from the Army, just back from a tour of duty in Vietnam and was staying with us. I was a very square and shy 12 year old and my cousin was this wild hippy listening to music that I was unfamiliar with at the time. (Mostly underground FM Rock while I was still listening to AM top 40 Pop). One day I walked into the living room as he was listening to a progressive FM Rock station when on came "Border Song." I stopped dead in my tracks and my cousin laughed at me and said, "You like that one don't you?" and he was right. I did!

That fall I would leave for school at 8am each morning and for weeks on end, every morning at 8am as I was turning off my radio, "Your Song" was played. I loved it and as that was the last song I would hear, I would be singing it to myself in my head all day long.

The following year I started Jr. High School and had an incredible choir teacher. One day early in the school year I walked into his classroom and he had a record playing on his stereo that I can only describe as having been a religious experience for me. I asked him who was singing and what was the song. He said the song was "Levon" by Elton John. I asked him who Elton John was and he explained Elton was the singer I liked so much. I didn't know what he meant and he explained that most of my favorite songs that he had been teaching us in class were by Elton John. Your Song, Border Song, Love Song, Holiday Inn, Goodbye... all of these songs that he had been teaching us were all by the same person, Elton John! I'd had no idea! I only knew that I loved these particular songs.

Walking home from school that day I stopped off at the local record store and bought "Madman Across The Water" and like seeing Hattie the Witch on TV when I was three, here I was a decade later having another life-changing experience. With a little research I learned that Elton had released five albums at this point and because my parents frowned upon us kids spending money on records ("That's what the radio is for... you don't need to buy music") I spent the next 4 Fridays buying one EJ record at a time, playing it constantly over the next week until Friday came round and I could buy the next. Remember I was working and had my own spending money, so I could afford to buy them, but to avoid a run-in with my parents, I bought one at a time so they wouldn't notice as much.

From "Honkey Chateau" onwards I've gotten every album on the day of it's release and for the last twenty years or so I've obtained most even before their official release, through contacts I've developed.

What was it like seeing Elton for the first time and how many concerts have you been? Once you said: "Elton's concert in 1976 is considered to be one of the greatest shows in Cincinnati's history”. Why is it that so?

I've seen Elton in concert nearing 150 times at this writing, the first time being in July of 1976. I recently wrote a piece that ran on eltonjohn.com that I will include here;

"The summer of 1976, and I finally got to see Elton live in concert...not once but twice. First on July 20th in Louisville, Kentucky, and then again in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, at Riverfront Coliseum on August 3rd.

"I say finally because I became a huge overnight fan of Elton upon hearing Border Song in late summer, 1970. Elton and his original three piece band (with drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray) would first play Cincinnati's Music Hall on their second tour of America in the winter of 1971, but I was only 13 at the time and as neither parent was available on that night, they would not permit me to go unattended to a rock concert at this tender age! Elton's next scheduled appearance in Cincinnati would come in the fall of 1974 at Cincinnati Garden's, only to be cancelled just before tickets were scheduled to go on sale.

"1975 of course had Elton playing dates only west of the Rockies...so in the spring of 1976 when tour dates were announced (and I now had my driver's license and the independence that came with it) I was taking no chances and bought tickets to both the Louisville and Cincinnati shows.

"I had seen quite a few concerts by this time, including The Who, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones, but on July 20 Elton did not disappoint and, for me, put all of the others in the shade. He sounded even better live than on record (even though he was suffering from a cold) and I never dreamed he could top that night. Imagine my surprise when just of couple weeks later, he did! Not only was he recovered from the aforementioned cold, but I was to learn how even though venues can be similar sizes and layouts, acoustics, ambience and the ever elusive "X factor" can make an artist's performance go from great to truly "magic," which is what happened on August 3rd.

"In 1975 through 1976, you of course could not turn on a radio, pick up a newspaper or magazine or turn on a TV without seeing or hearing Elton. Cincinnati's number-one pop radio station of the day was WKRQ-FM and each night, Monday through Friday from 10-11, the station would play that day's top ten most requested songs. Night after night for the better part of a year, Elton's songs would claim anywhere from seven to nine of the top spots. (I don't recall if he ever scored a perfect ten, but no other artist ever came close to reaching his number in the five years that the station devoted this nightly hour to requests.) Night after night it was essentially the 'Elton John Hour' with the songs Philadelphia Freedom, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, Pinball Wizard, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Island Girl, Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me, The Bitch Is Back, Your Song and of course in the summer and fall of 1976, Don't Go Breaking My Heart leading the charge. On any given night, Elton's guest appearances on songs like Neil Sedaka's Bad Blood or John Lennon's Whatever Get's You Thru The Night might also be heard, thus adding to his dominance of the hour.

"To say Cincinnati was ready for Elton is an understatement. The media was camped out at the airport for his arrival late that hot summer afternoon and even though they couldn't get close, telephoto shots showed him getting into a limo with Kiki Dee... with the local evening news reports immediately speculating that the two were to announce their engagement at that night's show!

WOW!!!

"For those too young to have experienced a major rock concert in the 1970s, it was a very different experience than it is today. First of all, everything was festival seating (no assigned seats) – at least in Louisville and Cincinnati. The first fans to arrive filled the main floor (standing) until the legal fire code numbers were met and then the rest began filling the seats. The smell of marijuana and alcohol was everywhere. Before and after the opening act's set, large beach balls would be batted about the arenas, and local radio stations would drop enormous balloons with their call letters from high above to be tossed around all evening long. Also, seemingly everyone brought flash cameras in with them; when Elton first came on stage to a 'dark' room, there would be 20,000 flash bulbs going off for the first few minutes, which made the absence of stage lighting obsolete and generated excitement like you can't imagine. The closest I believe you can experience this excitement today is at Madison Square Garden, but even there, cell phones just don't have the same punch as our old flash bulbs.

"To add to this environment, only minutes before Elton took to the stage August 3rd, there was a huge explosive sound, causing the building to shake and rumble. We would later learn that the glass wall lining one whole side of the building had been knocked in when hundreds of fans unable to buy scalped tickets to the sold-out event had lifted the concrete benches lining the greenway and hurled them through the glass wall and then rushed into the building. No one was injured, but a year later the Coliseum would be the site of the infamous Who concert tragedy where numerous people were trampled to death as the Coliseum, in an effort to avoid another Elton wall-smashing incident, had bricked over the windowed wall, tightened security and opened fewer doors. The concert-going experience in this town, and many others, would never again be the same.

"When Elton took to the stage that night the roar of the crowd was deafening, the 20,000 flash bulbs blinding, and there were even small 'cherry bomb' firecrackers ignited by some of the people in the audience. Elton swung from the light and sound cables that night, throwing plastic cups of water at audience members and any crew member within range. He wore multiple baseball caps and would taunt the audience by putting on a cap of another city's team, at which point the audience would boo, only to remove it revealing another team's cap hidden under the first (to another round of boos) before removing it to reveal the beloved Cincinnati Reds cap to thunderous applause! (This was the height of the 'Big Red Machine' with the dream-team players Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, etc., many of whom were said to be in the audience. He did this throughout the two and a half hour show, and came out for one of the encores wearing over six caps at once. It was great fun.

"I honestly thought the roof was going to collapse when he introduced Kiki Dee to duet on Don't Go Breaking My Heart and sing her own hit, I've Got The Music In Me. Kiki was a surprise, unannounced guest at this and a couple of other dates leading up to Elton's record-breaking week-long stand at New York's Madison Square Garden a short time later. Following Kiki's departure, one wondered how he could possibly sustain the momentum, but he did by playing Philadelphia Freedom but with a twist: instead of singing 'Philadelphia', it became 'Cincinnati Freedom, with Elton of course wearing a Cincinnati Reds cap once again. This is still talked about to this day and is mentioned in every local review whenever he returns to Cincinnati to perform.

"Elton's concert in 1976 is considered to be one of the greatest shows in Cincinnati's history. Since that night I've been to hundreds of Elton's concerts around the globe, and while it took me six years to see him live those first times in '76, boy was it worth the wait!"

East End Lights brings me some nice memories. It was the pre-Internet Era and it was so difficult to find information about Elton, fanzines like this fill that gap. I still remember waiting for my issues. Great names, like Tom Stanton, Claude Bernardin, You, Mary Anne Cassata, John F. Higgins, Liz Rosenthal or the incredible Jim Turano, taught us about Elton’s World. How do you value that experience?

East End Lights was one of the best and exciting things that has ever happened to me as far as Elton John fandom goes. Thanks to Tom Stanton, he brought us all together before there was an internet and the friends I made in those first years of the publication are my best friends to this day. It took twenty years, but I found the friends I'd always hoped to have, thanks to Tom and EEL.

What kind of place do you see for Elton John in the history of rock music?

He will be remembered as one of the greatest singer/songwriters and "Rock and Roll" pianists the world has known.

Name one other artist that has remained relevant and as productive as Elton has for as long as he has. You can't. He's arguably in a league unto himself. He may never be the critics darling, but numbers don't lie and his record sales alone secure his standing in the history of rock music right alongside Sinatra, Elvis and The Beatles. He's also unique in that he crosses all age and economical barriers with his record sales and concerts.

Historians will show that along with creating a huge catalogue of timeless music, he also brought fun and "showbiz" back onto the world stage at a time when most popular artists were wearing jeans onstage and taking themselves and their music a bit too seriously. While Elton was a truly soulful artist and took his music seriously, he stood out from all others through his outrageous stage wear and his acrobatic approach to and percussive playing of his piano; His humor and need to share fun. And again, his music was and is timeless. No one other artist from the last 50 years has produced as much music that still holds up and is played on as many different radio station formats worldwide as Elton's. And none of his tunes sound dated. Even the oldest remain fresh sounding and relevant today. No other artist that broke in the seventies can say that.

I use some of his lesser known music in my touring act; a lot of his instrumentals and pieces the general public are unfamiliar with. Audience members are always coming up after a performance complimenting me on my choice of music and asking who's music it is. Nine out of ten times it will be Elton's music they unknowingly are asking about and when I tell them they can't believe it. It just proves how universal his melodies are and how they move and touch people in ways they aren't even aware.

On the down side, time is a cruel editor and when you are as prolific as Elton, so much great music that he has created will unfortunately be forgotten and lost to the masses. Lesser known albums and songs will occasionally be rediscovered, as "Are You Ready For Love" was a few years back and older tracks will find new life when you least expect, like "Candle In The Wind" and "Tiny Dancer" have. But the big hits are so big, numerous and ingrained in the publics consciousness that its a given that many of his other equally great works will get lost.

But that said, his position at the very top is secure.

Looking back on Elton’s catalogue, which of his songs are arguably the greatest he has ever written? And the worst? Finally, could you tell me your five favourite EJ songs in running order, for my AllSongsList, in which I try to discover the best Elton songs ever?

This is impossible for me to answer. There are so many songs that I believe are truly great that I just can't comfortably do it.

I will list my favorites by decade though.

1970's:

Favorite Albums: "Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy" & "Blue Moves"
Favorite Songs: "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" & "Tonight"

1980's

Favorite Albums: "Two Low For Zero" & "Sleeping With The Past"
Favorite Songs: "I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That" & "Sacrifice"

1990's

Favorite Albums: "The One" & "Aida Demos" (Though not an official release I love it!)
Favorite Songs: "A Woman's Needs" & "Live Like Horses" (I feel the official release of this song is over-produced, but remains one of the most beautiful songs Elton & Bernie have ever conceived and is breathtakingly performed solo by Elton in concert)

2000's

Favorite Albums: "Songs From The West Coast" & "The Captain And The Kid"
Favorite Songs: "This Train Don't Stop Here Any More" & "The Bridge"

2010's (So far!)

Favorite Album: "The Union"
Favorite Songs: "Hey Ahab" & "Mandalay Again"

Favorite Elton John Tour: 1979's "A Single Man In Concert With Ray Cooper"
Favorite Song Live In-Concert: "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me"

Least favorite albums: "Leather Jackets" & "The Big Picture" (Although both these still include songs that I love, it's just the albums as a whole I'm not fond of)

Least favorite song: "The Wide-Eyed And Laughing"

Thank you! I really like your official website, specially the “special promotion” section. Could you explain us, please, what we fans could find there? That’s on http://www.waynemartinpuppets.com

My website gives visitors a brief background of my career and an idea of the types of productions that I offer. It also includes numerous photos of my puppets as well as some promotions I've done over the years.

I hope to update the site in 2013 and plans are to add video clips among other new and enhanced features.

What are your plans for the future?

My plans are to continue doing what I do. I love my work and the life my wife Marilyn and I have created. We also plan to continue to travel and of course to see as many Elton John concerts as we can!

Would you want to add some observation or suggestion, or something you want to say to other eltonites?

Just that I hope they are as appreciative, grateful and respectful as I am to follow an artist and humanitarian as gifted, talented and productive as Elton John is.

And to enjoy the music! Because in the end, it's all about the music!

Well, I couldn't say it best. That's a wonderful epilogue to this sensational interview. First, I would like to thank our guest for being here, for collaborating and for sharing his time with us. It was a great honour to do this interview with you, Wayne, thanks so much by heart. But, before you go, I have someone here that would like to say something about you, he's a good friend, and accepted to be here today:

Tom Stanton, editor, teacher, writer: "Of the more than one thousand people I came to know through Elton John and East End Lights, Wayne Martin rates among my favorites. He is a fascinating, incredibly talented, humble, kind-hearted man who just happens to be one of Elton's most knowledgeable fans. I associate Wayne (and Marilyn) with some of my fondest Elton moments. But even if we didn't have Elton fandom in common, I would still treasure him. Our personalities click. When I think of all the wonderful gifts that East End Lights provided me, I count Wayne Martin among them".

Thank so much for being here, Tom, and you Wayne, I wish you all the best and keep go doing your great work, bringing fantasy to this world.

Pictures courtesy by Wayne Martin
Special thanks to Marylin Martin

18 Nov 2011

Sophiah Ko'i'kas' Interview: Lights, Camera, Action!!!

Hello Eltonites. Today is a very special day. Jack Rabbit was thinking, since long time ago, to invite some actress here, but she had to be an Eltonite. Other time, he thought about inviting a movie director. Or someone related to cinema. As the result, he invited someone who has all in one. And she's a true Eltonite, with enrichment experiences related to Elton. We asked and she kindly agree to be here with us. Her name? Sophiah. Sophiah is a multi-talented and very interesting person. You'll see. So, everybody, please: get up, stand up and welcome the magnificient and fabulous: Sophiah Ko'i'kas!!!!!

Thanks so much for your acceptation. Let's start, please. Which are your most beautiful memories of your childhood? How it was growing up in Detroit, Michigan?

My best memories from Detroit was Greek Town, a very small strip of about 3 blocks of Greek restaurants, bakeries, entertainment. Some of it was sold today though to the gambling. I liked the humid weather... School was tough though. Inner city poverty. I like the feeling in the air there, something creative is in it.

And explain us a bit, please, about your relationship with Greece.

My relationship to Greece is emotional. I went there two times. Both parents are from there. When I moved to LA, I sort of got away from anything Greek because they are spread out here in LA. Now that I connected to the LA Greek film festival, I started to listen to Greek music again and that always makes me feel connected. I have writing project for a movie for the future to be filmed in Greece too. I want to also travel there with lots of money and really explore Greece.

That could be a very good idea, Sophiah! When did you became an Eltonite? Remember the first time you heard Elton's music and what moves you to buy his music?

I heard about Elton through a teacher who was singing a song of his. I asked him what was he singing and he said, Elton John. I said who is that? He said "you don't know!"? My God sister loved Elton too and her uncle took us to a concert for the first time because we were to young to go by ourselves. I started to like his art little by little that I decided I'm going to Los Angeles to meet him. Long story short, I ran from home and it took me 3 months to meet him. There was a concert at a place called Universal Studios and they had a tent for him outside. Before the show I took a wine glass and after the show I met this guy there and we both went to the tent. The guard stopped us and I said, I was in already, here's my glass, I was hot and needed air. So he let us in. About 15 minutes later, I saw EJ and I went up to him and I said hi and then asked "can I ask you something?" He answered, "take a picture with me?" I said " yes, how did you know" I was so naive about celebrities. He was very kind and he posed with me and then kissed me a friendly kiss on my lips. A photographer was there and took a photo of us too and he put it in a newspaper saying "fan meets Elton John".

Good start!!! What do you like most from his music?

The songs, are so visual, the melodies are great, his early stuff so unique I feel. He continued to experiment and I'm always happy to hear a new cd coming out.

Great! What it was like seeing Elton for the first time and how many concerts have you been? And which songs do you think Elton should add on his current set list?

I've seen Elton 76 times if I include charities. When he performed at Universal 7 days in a row, I went 7 days. At the Forum, he would play 3 days, I went all 3. I saw him in London at Wembley 7 nights in a row that is why my count is very high... He doesn't do that anymore I noticed. I buy his music to support him and to enjoy his art.

For me, live on his new set, I would love to hear YOU GOTTA LOVE SOMEONE. NIKITA, THIS TRAIN DOESN'T STOP HERE ANYMORE, TINY DANCER, ROCKET MAN, Stuff from BLUE MOVES, LOVE LIES BLEEDING, and more.

How many times have you been in touch with Elton, then?

Well, the first time I talked to him was answered on how I met him... the second time, I was working at the Hollywood Bowl which is the shape of a Greek theater... I went early incase I would see him in rehearsal. They were doing an interview with him sitting in one of the chairs. When I was younger, I was bolder now that I look back. I went up to him and the two people running the interview asked him if they minded me being there and he said "no". I asked him if he ever performed in Greece. He said, "no, but one day I would love to, I hear it's a beautiful country". Later on, he eventually did perform there. He let me take a picture with him too. Then the 3rd time, I think, I just walked back stage at another concert and got in but I didn't ask for a photo, I never hounded him and I think that is why he always let me approach him. Then I flew to Detroit to see family and catch his show there, and I got my sister to walk past guards with the winners of a radio show to meet him. So I met him again. Then I saw him in areas of Hollywood. I was driving and he was pulling out of a building and I was letting someone into traffic not knowing at first it was him until he waved thank you. He was driving a white Mazda. He went right and I went left, never tried to follow him.

How did you manage to reach that?

A great one was when I met a few other girls and we went to Atlanta to see him there. I had no tickets, 15 minutes before the show, I get front row but seeing his butt which I didn't care, I rather be close than far. AFTER THE SHOW, people saw him in the lobby with Prince Albert, Prince Charles brother, and about 11 body guards. I became a bleach blonde and so did Elton by chance. So approach him to say hi and this tall man grabbed me from behind around my neck and yelled Elton. I was in shock because I didn't understand the vulnerability celebs were in in a crowd. He said to the guard " stop, let go of her. I know her, She's from Los Angeles." I said thank you Elton, I just wanted to say hi. Didn't ask for a photo this time. I said "you recognize me?". I'm a blonde now. He said, "of course, you're Sophiah". I asked him if liked being blond and he answered, "of course darling, blond's have more fun". All my friends were so like, wow, how come we couldn't get to him etc...

I went to NY for one of Sting's benefits and we waited outside for him to come in and then later go to the show. When he came out of the car, he said hi to me and posed with me. That picture is on my facebook. I have on long white sweater and he was in green. After he went inside, the guards said, "I never saw Elton stop for anybody waiting outside, he must'/must've liked you". After John Lennon got shot, he didn't like being stopped in NY.

Back to London, forgot to mention that after his show, there were 3 people waiting for him to leave, it was late for us 3 to be there. Princes Diane comes out and we call out her name and wave and she waved back and said "hello". Then Elton comes out and he walks in the cold all the way to the fence to sign the autographs. I got from one of the roadies this huge cardboard of Elton's face down to his shoulders, and Elton signed it... I read his Palm too. I said he'll have a long life and he said "oh good, the rate I'm going"

:-O

Lots of experiences like this.. maybe I can have a book just on them. The best one was at the Forum in LA. I went all 3 nights and brought him flowers all nights. On the 3rd night, I went to the stage and this HUGE guard over, 6 feet grabbed me from behind and wrapped his arms around my waist. I grabbed the edge of the stage and he was almost lifting me off the ground. I was screaming Elton, Elton help me... This was when he was using that small piano center stage, all of a sudden you hear the music go from LOUD to drowning out to nothing. Elton stopped playing in the middle of his song and his whole band stopped to. Elton comes from around the piano to the front of the edge of the stage and yells at the guard. "You leave her alone, she's been coming to my shows everynight and bringing me flowers you bitch". Then he turns to another guard and says "tell him to leave!". As the guard is walking to the side and away, Elton follows him on stage to make sure he leaves.. The audience APPLAUDS... I say thank you... and he smiled. After the show, a lady comes up to me and says, I never saw Elton, ever, never stop in the middle of a show to protect a fan. She said she recorded it too..she took my address and mailed it to me... I have it somewhere, I need to find it and see if I can put it on a cd now... it was on tape.

He's let me in a party in NY... He's always been nice, I was told by his security that Elton said I can come in but not to bother any guests that were behind the red ribbon... I better get to the next question...

You’re an actress but also a director, writer, producer. You know an Elton John biopic is planned, due to be released on a next time. Written by Lee Hall, the film will document the ups and downs of Elton’s life and career, through fantastical musical sequences. But can you make a film and say what the man is about? What could depend the success of a film like this?

If a documentary is being made about Elton, I hope Elton has his say in it. To make a movie of his life, I would want it to be true to what he lived, I think that is what will make it interesting and successful.

What do you think of Bernie as a lyric writer? And which one of Bernie Taupin’s songs would inspired you to make a story for a film project?

I love Bernie Taupin's lyrics, they are so picture perfect with a story. The song, THIS TRAIN DOESN'T STOP HERE ANYMORE inspired my to write a whole scene in my movie DISAPPEARING BAKERSFIELD. I wanted that song but the cost would be to much but because of that song, in my imagination I wrote this great scene that I love for the movie. I met him for the first time years ago when I worked at a movie theater, he came to the cash window and asked if I can make change for a dollar so he can use the phone.. no cells ha ha.. I was so shocked. I gave him the change. He was so handsome and recently for the Leon Russell show with Elton, I got into rehearsal from a roadie and I got his autograph for a friend from facebook who is a huge fan of them both who lost his dog so I asked Bernie if he would sign his name for this person to cheer him up and he did.

How do you value the experience about the movies you directed “Disappearing Bakersfield” and “The Lady and the Taxi Driver”? You have been in all crew positions I see, but in which you feel more realized?

I value the filmmaking process because of the imagination it brings up and to make it a reality is great. I was into acting first but my type is not straight so I started to write for my personality. It all goes king of together. I like to produce for the fact you have the say, although I don't like the paper work. I love to see how all the actors bring the words to life and bring their ideas too.. I enjoy being in the editing room and steering the editor in the direction the movie should feel a lot... it feels like it comes to life.. I like those moments.

Ok! You know that’s the Month of Dolls, toys, dummys, etc. related to Elton, obviuosly. We have seen Elton in felt, paper, as a bobble, a mask, as a wax figure, as a lego recreation, and in chocolate. Maybe it could be an Elton doll, but if not, which is your Elton's item that you really appreciate, for being hard to get or for the happiness you've got to have it?

One of my favorite items from Elton was half of his piano stool. At his show, he broke it up and was giving it away by throwing it to the audience. I asked for a piece and he put it directly into my hands and a girl from behind me grabbed it! I started to cry, Elton, she took my piano stool. He went and asked his roadie for a whole new piano seat and broke it in half on stage and gave it to me very carefully. I love the cardboard, which stands about 3 feet that he signed in London that I carried on the plane in my hands back home. I love a personal thank you letter he sent to me from Australia when I sent him about 2 good get well cards when he had through surgery. I sent so many thinking, so many people would, that I wanted to make sure, he'll get mine. He wrote in the card "Thanks for all of you cards, love Elton". I was shocked, it came to me like 6 months after it was post marked.

What other projects have you become involved with? And what are your future goals?

I volunteer for the LA Greek film festival, I am writing another screenplay about a dog. I have a long short that is ready to be edited. I have two other ideas for screenplays. This man approached me to help him produce his life story. My goals are to make enough money where I can finance my own projects.

Finally, could you tell me your five favourite Elton John's songs in running order, for my AllSongsList, please?

5 top favorites. wow. LOVE LIES BLEEDING, ROCKET MAN, YOU GOTTA LOVE SOMEONE, NIKITA, GOODBYE NORMA JEAN TINY DANCER...TICKING, It's hard to name 5..

Hahahaha I know, I know ;-) Thank you. Would you want to add some observation or suggestion, or something you want to say to other eltonites?

Suggestions for fans of Elton, I would like to say, there are still more stories meeting him and having to talk to him... I think the reason he stuck up for me and or let me stay at his parities, is that, I am not aggressive, I'm polite, then I leave. I met a girl who was angry that I met him... there were a group of fans talking after a show. This girl told us how she JUMPED THE STAGE once (I remembered her when she told me the story) and tried to grab his privates! I remember Elton pulling his body away from her hands as she kept trying like they were going in a circles. The guards finally caught her but he must've remembered. That is so rude and gross... Elton is very friendly, very funny, gives out autographs if you asked... he says now, now that he is sober, he really appreciates the support of people who've been buying his music and he sees them from the stage too.

Sophiah, I would like to thank you for your kindness and for the time we spent here. It was really an honour to have you. I will never forget that experience. As Jack Rabbit says: Eltonites' have talent, and you have. My best wishes.

Pictures courtesy of Sophiah Ko'i'kas

12 Nov 2011

Kay Petal's Interview: The Art In Her Hands

Absolutely impressed!!! First time Jack Rabbit saw a needle felted caricature doll by her, he was pleasently surprised! He discovered it by chance on the internet while searching for interesting things related to Elton. The creations are so real, they've got their own life. Well, after that, Old Rabbit determined not to throw away his old wool sweaters anymore: they could be so useful, specially if you had the ability. You don't, Rabbit, sorry. But she does. She's a genuine person, a really great person to chat with, an amazing eltonite, with a positive view of life, and she's so so talented. So, please, everybody get up, because the doors of AllSongsList are all wide open to receive, from Alaska, the fantastic and incredible: Kay Petal!!!!!

Thank you for the acceptation, Kay, it’s really an honour to have you here. Which are your most beautiful memories of your childhood? How it was growing up in Alaska?

Thank you Miquel – I’m honored you asked to interview me. Growing up in such a beautiful place as Alaska has left me with so many memories - My very first recollection of my childhood was the day my family moved to Alaska. I vividly recall the moment the small sea plane touched down on the water in Ketchikan harbor. My dad was an avid outdoorsman and our fishing trips first made me notice the splendor of nature and realize that I was very lucky to have such a place for a playground.

That sounds beatifully. “I was the crafty sister with stacks of craft magazines in my room at a young age”, you said. Was it that so?

That was me - I dreamed of someday being so clever as some of the craft designers in the magazines. My nickname was Holly Hobby. I dabbled in so many things my whole life and finally found “it” in the craft of needle felting 6 years ago. And that craft led me to discover my artistic abilities that I never knew I had.

So, when did you discover what to do with your old wool sweaters? And who was your biggest influence?

Living in a cold climate means lots of warm, wool sweaters. But many that had been accidentally thrown in the washing machine, never to be worn again because they had shrunk so much and the wool turned into thick felt. In looking for ways to turn some of my shrunken favorites into something crafty, I discovered handy little tools called barbed felting needles. I learned that I didn't even need sweaters to make cool stuff - I could start with fluffy, un-spun wool and make it look like real people using only these barbed needles.

My biggest influence has been a fiber artist from Denmark. Birgitte Krag Hansen pioneered the craft of sculptural needle felting in the 1980s and her work is magical. Just after purchasing one of her books, I learned she was traveling to Alaska to teach needle felting workshops. What I learned from Birgitte was more than techniques, it was as though a magician had revealed the secrets to me.

Marvellous! Have you ever give one of your needle felted character to his real replica and, in case, what it was his/her reaction?

I have given several of my caricatures to their real counterparts - the most fun was the doll I made for John 'Rabbit' Brundrick, the keyboard player for The Who. His wife told me that Rab was like a little kid when his doll arrived early in the morning. I had dressed li'l Rab in a red & black western style shirt so Rab dug through his closet to find his matching shirt to pose for a photo with his doll. Each time I see the photo I smile because I can see the collar of his pajamas peeking out from the red shirt. As a special thank-you, Rab sent me some of his original songs and some video footage he filmed while performing during live Who concerts. As a long-time fan of The Who, this was pretty exciting.

And most recently, a funny video clip of my li'l Conan O'Brien doll appeared on the Conan O'Brien show. A rep from the show told me Conan LOVED it. The reactions are always fun!

So nice, Kay. You couldn’t forget Elton. How difficult it was to do his caricature art doll and how you get the inspiration to do it?

My Li'l Elton was one of my early caricatures. I grew up watching Elton on TV and his flamboyant costumes and funny glasses stand out in my head very much. Elton was a the top of my list the moment I realized I could make dolls that resembled real people. I enjoyed endless hours of Elton John music as Elton's colorful personality emerged from the wool. I think I captured the humorous Elton that doesn't take himself too seriously.

When did you became an Eltonite? Remember the first time you heard Elton's music and what moves you to buy his music?

I remember distinctly becoming a fan in the early '70s. I was only 8 when I picked up an Elton John/Bernie Taupin songbook at a friend's house - the words and pictures fascinated me long before I ever heard any of the music. Besides what little I heard on the radio and occasionally on tv, it wasn't until my older sister brought home the Captain Fantastic LP did I finally get to really listen to the magic. And now, in this age of YouTube, I especially like watching his earliest performances. The 'purchase on itunes' option on the videos is a handy way to collect his music.

What was it like seeing Elton for the first time and how many concerts have you been? And also, could you tell us if you ever have been in touch with him, get a signed autograph or even, speak with him or with other member of his band?

Sadly, I have never even seen Elton in concert or had any opportunity to have any sort of contact with Elton or his band members. Elton traveled to Alaska several years ago for concerts but the tickets sold out in minutes. I don't know who was more disappointed me or my Li'l Elton - he wanted to go hear Big Elton so badly!

Hahaha. And which is your Elton´s item that you really appreciate, for being hard to get or for the happiness you´ve got to have it?

It would have to be my li'l Elton Doll - many people have contacted me to purchase it and the answer is always “sorry, no, he’s not for sale” there is no way to put a price on his head. I believe the only one that could ever get it is Elton himself - and for him there would be no price!

Understandable. Felt alive. I really like the name, and I truly recommend your website, of course, with beatiful pictures of your creations. What more we could find there? And what we have to do if we wanted to buy some needle felted dolls?

Thank you, Miquel. I have fun with my dolls and I think my website shows that I don't take myself too seriously when it comes to my art. The videos of my dolls in action demonstrate how hilarious and lifelike they are. And I do take custom orders for dolls on occasion. I can be contacted through my website - www.feltalive.com

How many replicas you have in your collection? And which ones you have in mind to do?

You know, I’ve never counted them - perhaps 25 or so. My list is long of people to bring to life in wool. Musicians are especially fun as I immerse myself in their music while I'm working. Creating Li’l Elton was most enjoyable! Some of my plans include The Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, and my nephew keeps requesting Biggie and Tupac; but really, the list goes on and on.

Once you said: “My sense of humor drives my creativity”. How important is not to loose humour in life?

For me it would mean to lose my ability to cope with the stress of life. Humor is a driving force behind my work - my dolls are silly and unusual and they make me laugh. The reward is even greater when they make other people laugh.

Sure. Kay, what are your other interests? What do you like to do with your off time?

We are currently traveling/living full-time in an rv and are having fun exploring strange, new places outside of Alaska.

And finally, could you tell me your five favorite Elton's songs in running order, for my AllSongsList?

Someone Saved My Life Tonight
High Flying Bird
Daniel
Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy
Levon
(stopping at 5....it’s tough...)

Hahahaha, thank you. Would you want to add some observation or suggestion, or something you want to say to eltonites?

First of all – Thanks Miquel for all you do keeping us informed about our favorite living legend! And to the Eltonites - Thanks for your interest in my needle felting and my Li’l Elton caricature doll. My hope was to capture Elton John’s endearing, playful side and I hope the li’l guy makes you smile.

For sure, Kay. Well, Eltonites, that's another part of Jack Rabbit's tour around the world. I would like to express my gratitude to Kay Petal for her kindness and for sharin' her time with us. Kay, it was really an honour to have you here. I am sure Eltonites appreciate your interest and the love you put in your creations. For me, that was one of the best experiences of my eltonites live. Keep on with your beautiful artwork, and a big hug for you. Thank you very much for everything.

Pictures courtesy of Kay Petal

5 Nov 2011

Dirk Denoyelle: Just Like Belgium

Dirk Denoyelle is an amazing voice imitator, a singer, who has a Masters Degree in Electronics Engineering. Born in Roeselare, West Flanders, Belgium, in 1964, he is probably the most versatile comedian in Europe. Very soon his incredible voice talents were discovered by national radio and TV.

Also he is a well-known speaker. What most surprised is his ability to turn a boring seminar into an interesting event: "Dirk Denoyelle listens to what the other speakers have to say, and immediately gives his funny comments. After every speaker" explained the website. "Dirk Denoyelle also makes sure to also pass your message. And because your message was repeated in a humoristic way, it sticks to the audience". No worries for languages: he's able to speak in Dutch, English, French, German, Spanish and Danish, and would not get lost in a few more. More than this, he also performs at a conference dinner or a client event. In these cases he makes a show together with his keyboard player Kris De Jean. Two CD's with his work were published, with the best songs and sketches of the 6 theatre shows he has written and played so far.

Dirk is also one of 13 LEGO certified Professionals in the world: "In my life, there have been three different LEGO episodes: from age 7 till 18, enjoying LEGO as a kid, building cities, cities and.. cities. From 34 til 43, picking up LEGO as a hobby again, and building heads of famous people: they were kind of a publicity stunt for my theatre work. And then, early 2009, I turned the hobby into a profession and became an LCP" he likes to explain. Lego came to be called from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means "play-well". The Lego Group began in the workshop of Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter from Billund, Denmark, who began making wooden toys in 1932. The LEGO Group's motto is det bedste er ikke for godt which means roughly "only the best is good enough" (more literally "the best is never too good"), and it was created by Ole Kirk to encourage his employees never to skimp on quality, a value he believed in strongly. So as Dirk. His goal is to do a tour of museums in Europe and show not only his heads, but also his buildings, including the Ghent towers (currently on display in the Zebrastraat’s STAM museum) and two-dimensional mosaics.

Finally, here's a great video about the art of buildin':

video

pictures courtesy of Dirk Denoyelle

4 Nov 2011

Buildin' Elton: Dirk Denoyelle's Heads

Absolutely impressed!!! When I was younger, so much younger than today, I used to play with my Lego brick pieces. A house, a car, a robot. I never could imagine that, with those pieces, somebody could build Elton (not me, obviously). An Elton's portrait, that's amazing! When I knew about his work, I sent Jack Rabbit to Belgium to interview him. And we found more than a Lego master: an absolute talent, well known for Belgian audiences of course, and for other parts of Europe as well. I was fascinated about what this man could do, so I invite he. Please, ladies and gentlemen, everybody on his feet to receive the one and only, the fantastic... Dirk Denoyelle!!!!

Thanks so much for the acceptation, it's an honour to have you here, Dirk. Could you tell us a little bit about how one becomes a Lego Builder?

Becoming a LEGO builder is quite easy. You just buy LEGO, and start building. Becoming professional is the same, but then you have to manage to sell what you have built. If you want to become a LEGO Certified Professional, you have to match a set of criteria, like having an established business (not just a hobby), be willing to comply to LEGO rules (we are not allowed to build for alcoholic beverages companies, religion, pharmacy, etc..., we pay a fee, we have meetings...) and have a proven track record of quality. There is a sort of jury, and so on...

Right. What are some of the things that help you be a Lego Builder? Patiente could it be one of those.

If you want to be a good LEGO builder, you need good 3D insight, eye for detail and quite a dose of creativity. Because in the real world, edges are smooth. In the LEGO world, you kind of digitalize to the level of a LEGO element. You also sort of need to have the complete catalog of LEGO elements in your head, and then use those in order to get as close to the real thing as you can. But you can even go further: there is no need to try and copy reality. You should allow yourself to think beyond reality, and compose your own thoughts, materialize your ideas into LEGO. That's probably where art starts :-)

And why portraits?

Because in my first life, I am/was a voice imitator. My theatre shows were - and for some part still are - based on my ability to imitate voices. If I use other people to ventilate my thoughts on stage, it's a next step to also build these other people in LEGO. That was the start. Today my focus on portraits is probably also business driven. I'm one of the very, very few to do this; and that means I have a huge market :-)

That’s perfect! But which is your way to proceed to do those artworks? I mean, you made sketches first, take pictures?

I always start with pictures. In 2D, for the mosaics, the picture I receive from the client is the basis for the mosaic. I may add a fish if the guy likes fishing, or a pair of shoes if the girl loves shoes, but that's about it. With 3D heads, I need a good frontal view and a good side view. Preferably from all sides, as nobody's symmetric. And then it's kind of just building. From the bottom to the top. There's a video on http://www.amazings.eu explaining the process.

Absolutely brilliant!! Could we define you as an Eltonite, Dirk? In case, what fascinates you most about Elton John?

I had never heard the word "Eltonite" before, but I guess I AM a huge fan. Many times I've wondered if I would use my status as a Belgian Celebrity (well, I'm not verrry famous, but famous enough) to get myself a backstage pass for his shows when he's in the country. I'm just too afraid that talking to Elton in person would not meet the high expectations I have. I mean: to me he is the best combination of songs, pianoplaying and singing I know. With Simon and Garfunkel as a close second and Billy Joel being a nice third. I've always wanted to do an Elton John parody in my shows. But I'm not even nearly good enough. I took piano lessons for 2 years, and then managed to play "Your song" reasonably well. To then realize that I can't reach his voice. So yes, I am an eltonite !

Hahahaha First time I heard this word was from Jack Rabbit’s mouth almost 20 years ago. Well, how difficult it was to portrait Elton? And how many lego portraits of him you have made?

He was quite easy, as it happens. The only difficult bit was the little gap between his teeth. That's a distance of half a brick exactly in the middle of his face. That is pretty much NOT LEGO. But with some very complicated building inside, I managed to get it done without "cheating". I mean, I could have just glued the bricks in place. But I didn't.

Fine!!!! What's your longest project that you've taken to completion? What was your longest build?

Well, that depends on how you define a project. Back in 2000 I built 25 LEGO heads for an exhibit to celebrate my 10th anniversary on stage. That took me 9 months or so. I'm now building a series of 40 heads for a client (Kloen vzw, a hospital clown charity). I have about 4 years to do that. But otherstuff is done in the meantime. I think the project I'm completing this week is the largest so far. Took about 9 months as well, involves about 500.000 bricks - I think - and 550 hours. It's a replica of an event/living complex in Ghent, called "Zebrastraat" (they have a website as well).

One of the flemish best-known comedians. Also an imitator, singer, speaker. First it comes to my hear is where you find the time to do everything. Then, how amazing is to see how an event, conference or congress could turn with your touch. To this hard days we're living, humour could be the best way to communicate?

Well, there's a few answers to this. First: finding time is indeed the tough part. I think I run two full time jobs these days. On the other hand, I have 3 assistants for the LEGO, working on self employed basis whenever things get too busy. And for the comedy I have a very good team of technicians, management and keyboardplayer.

Humour is always a good way to communicate. In fact, a lot of times I'm hired by multinational companies because they want to deliver messages. And they know that hiring a comedian, one that can put a new perspective to their content, will facilitate that process.

About the hard times: I was born in 1964. By the time I got conscient about the ‘outside world’, we were in the seventies. Oil crisis. When I graduated (as an engineer), it was hard to find a job, even for engineers. I have not known any period in my life when people said "today there is no crisis". Of course we are in hard times today. But what I mean is: we are ALWAYS in hard times. The only way out, is to take matters in your own hands, and find your own way out of the hard times. I found a line of work in which there is hardly any competition. And very much fun to do as well. I know I am very lucky :-)

Yes, you are, and you have reason in what you’re saying, Dirk. I am wondering about how many people are on your list of imitations?

Wow, that's a tough one. A few years back, I counted them and got to about 200. But as I perform more and more internationally, the importance of voice imitation in my shows is getting less. There just are not very many people that EVERYBODY all over the world really knows. Or knows what they sound like. Some singers, maybe. But I watch other TV series then you do. Listen to other music (except for Elton !), watch other movies, sports people don't talk lot... So I imitate accents more than people, when performing internationally.

My God, that’s awesome! Well, Eltonites, are you looking for a special present for your partner ? A special company logo? You could order on his blogsite. I really love your website, Dirk, specially the Exhibition part. That's on www.amazings.eu . What else we could find there?

It's a catalog of every line of LEGO art I make: 3D heads, mosaics, replicas of buildings. There are some movies, I explain the LEGO team building concept. And there are some special things I made "on the side".

Any other information you'd like to share with Eltonites?

Well, if I ever do meet Elton: what are the questions I should ask him, and which should I not. Just not to make a fool out of myself ... And people who want to know more about my performing: http://www.dirkdenoyelle.com and (archive) www.dirkdenoyellefansite.be

Well, that's the big question every Eltonite is asking himself, Dirk ;-) Eltonites, I do recommend those websites, of course. Well, Dirk, I have no words enough to thank you for being my guest. It was such a priviledge to have you here.