JOEL COOMBES spends his working life being someone else. His alter ego is Elton John. Joel
JOEL COOMBES spends his working life being someone else. His alter ego is Elton John. Joel sings like him, talks like him, dresses like him but there the Â similarity ends.
While he is acknowledged as the leading Elton tribute performer (important that word tribute rather than impersonator) he doesn’t earn millions, doesn’t get mobbed in the street and generally leads a quieter life.
It will be put into sharp contrast when he comes to the Kenton Theatre to perform his Your Songs show just 10 days after the man himself performs in front of a dinner-jacketed audience at the Henley Festival.
Only a matter of a few hundred hundred yards separates the two venues, but their lives are very different.
So how did a lad from Leicester end up “being” Elton?
“I started working in music full-time when I was 20,” says Joel. “Originally I played the bass. I had piano lessons as a child but you tend to only learn classical music.”
His talent got him work on cruise ships and he then pitched up in the Mediterranean playing guitar in a variety show touring the holiday hotels and living in hotel apartments.
“We did impersonations and Elton was one of them but certainly one of the stronger ones,” he said. “It is odd — I don’t think I necessarily picked Elton, rather I think he picked me.
“I did a show away from the hotel where people didn’t know me and it went down brilliantly and that was when I started thinking about doing a tribute show.
“Elton was one of many singers I liked, but I am a huge fan now. The more you put in, in terms of work and getting things just right, the more you get out.
“I don’t have any strong physical resemblance to him but most of it is the voice and Elton’s mannerisms while he is sat at the piano.
“He is quite a quirky performer and I have spent hours watching him on YouTube and learning how to do the strutting from the Seventies and walking in those shoes.
“There is 30 years between us so I guess that at 38 I am the age Elton was when he was at his absolute peak. I have seen him eight times— the last time was two weeks ago in Leicester where he had one of his strops. I can’t do that.”
One of the reasons that brought Joel back to England was that he and his wife Bridie wanted to start a family and they now have two children aged four and five. They live near Middlesbrough where Bridie comes from.
A key part of Joel’s act is his attention to the detail of Elton’s constantly changing fashions.
“I am very lucky in that my mother-in-law is a seamstress and when I need a new costume I ask her if there is any chance she can make it for me,” he says. “I mix all the periods up — including those huge platform shows and the big glasses”.
Joel’s act covers the full range of Elton’s hits. He says: “Elton has recorded around 300 songs but I concentrate on 50 of them. In any show you can only sing around 18, but they are all songs people know by heart.”
His Elton work does have its exotic bonuses — he has just returned from giving a concert in Sitges, just outside Barcelona, and reckons that Elton outstrips him in the number of shows that he does each year.
While Joel spends his year “being” Elton, he has never met the star.
“Unfortunately that has never happened,” he says. “I think I would struggle honestly to know what to say and there is certainly no way that I could play in front of him.”
But does Joel have any regrets that his career has become being someone else?
“Not at all,” he says. “There are some really superb singers out there who could have had great solo careers but work in tribute shows.
“I don’t mind not having people point at me all the time saying ‘Wow, there’s Joel Coombes.’ I am very happy doing what I do and looking forward to Henley.”
And with that Joel finished packing for a holiday in Holland with his family. Not a very Elton trip, but very convenient from the North-East.
Tickets for Your Songs on Saturday, July 16, at 8pm are on sale at the Kenton Theatre.
The box office in New Street is open Monday to Friday from 11am to 3pm and on Saturday from 10am to 1pm. To book, call ( 01491) 575698 or visit www.kentontheatre.co.uk.