In 2014, an audience at the Gardyne Theatre in Dundee convinced Elio Pace that his dream to bring Billy Joel’s songbook to the stage might not turn into a nightmare.
Elio says that this first tour of The Billy Joel Songbook and it was “haemorrhaging money”.
Only Milton Keynes and Dundee had sold out, but one moment in Dundee showed him that he might be on to something.
‘Well, no-one knows me…’
“We had done about 40 shows and there were 30 still to do. We were getting to the point where there were 50 people in the audience, maybe 80 and we were heading to Scotland. I thought, well no-one knows me in Scotland…
“Then we reached the Gardyne in Dundee. Beautiful theatre – and sold out. We’re doing the show and the audience is reacting to everything as if I’m some kind of superstar.
“Then we get to Don’t Ask Me Why? The entire audience, at the tops of their voices, sang every single word – and with such passion. That’s when I knew that this show and Billy’s music connects with people.
“I see a real relationship between Scottish audiences and Billy’s music. There is something going on. Why are you so emotional?,” he laughs.
“I’m Italian and my girlfriend is part Welsh, so I know about emotion.”
Two complete Billy Joel albums
Elio returns to the Gardyne on March 17, this time with one of his highly successful shows where the band plays two complete Joel albums.
This time it’s Streetlife Serenade and 52nd Street, which feature Joel favourites such as The Entertainer, Big Shot, Honesty and My Life.
This wasn’t Elio’s first Scottish trip. Not too long after he had been a success on Bob says Opportunity Knocks in 1988, he received a call from Ronnie Corbett, inviting him to open for the comedy legend at the Kings Theatre in Edinburgh. He was just 20.
From there he became the go-to musician for Brian May, Huey Lewis, Glen Campbell, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Lulu, Mike Rutherford, Don McLean, Tom Chaplin, Debbie Reynolds and Martha Reeves and Albert Lee.
He worked with Lee for many years and only left when he was recruited by the much-missed Terry Wogan to be his musical director for the Weekend Wogan show.
Elio had written his own material, in fact his Christmas song What A day was Terry Wogan’s favourite festive tune, but he says he was always happy playing the very nest music that had ever been written – and for Elio that’s the music of Billy Joel.
Thumbs up from Billy Joel
The year before Elio had been invited to be one of the frontmen at two reunion concerts held in New York and Philadelphia, featuring the 1971-1972 Billy Joel touring band.
Billy Joel saw recordings of the show and gave Elio’s performance his approval.
“He told the guy who showed him the recording, ‘He’s good’, in that American way that is actually more like ‘gooooood’,” Elio laughs. “That’s as much as I’ll get and that’s fine with me.”
So why Billy Joel?
“Well I’ve said it at least 1000 times in the last eight years, and I will say it till the day I die. I honestly believe that he is the greatest singer songwriter who has ever lived.
“If I didn’t I wouldn’t have poured my own money into this to make this happen.”
Not a tribute act
The shows aren’t a tribute act. Elio doesn’t do an impersonation of Billy Joel but his piano playing is at a standard to faithfully recreate the eclectic songbook alongside a crack band.
“The songs fall naturally in my throat. His songs suit my voice but I’ve been influenced by many people. I mean, I love Stevie Wonder and Elvis Presley too.”
The investment in bringing Joel’s songs to the stage has paid off and Elio has been picked up by one of the largest booking agents in the UK, who has booked The Billy Joel Songbook into much larger theatres later this year.
So the Gardyne date is a night to see Elio and his band up close.
“I can’t make a living playing my own material, but I can from Billy Joel’s and at the same time I really do feel like I’m singing the greatest song book ever written.”
- The Billy Joel Albums Show starring Elio Pace is at the Gardyne Theatre in Dundee on Thursday, March 17. www.gardynetheatre.org.uk