Elton John is one of the few artists whose popularity doesn’t drop off no matter where on earth he tours. It’s
also easier to count the years in which he hasn’t been touring than it is to count the years he has – one of the
reasons the Rocket Man’s farewell leaves such a gaping hole. And the man who’s been directing it all for the past 40 years is Keith Bradley.
When Elton John announced a 300-stop farewell world tour back in January of 2018 at a press conference in New York, “I can assure you, my promoters thought I’d lost my mind,” Bradley recalls. Five years later, and against all odds, the “Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour” made its final stop July 8 at Tele2 Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, concluding an epic 330-show run that kicked off at PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Sept. 8, 2018. It became the highest-grossing tour to date, dethroning Ed Sheeran’s “Divide” tour. And while Bradley is incredibly proud” of this feat, he adds, “It would have been even bigger had we not had the pandemic, because we lost Asia, Latin and South America; we lost the Middle East, and we lost another U.S. arena leg. We finished on 330 and, in reality, we probably lost another 50. I think we would have [hit] the billion mark as a gross number, but it is
as it is, as they say.”
When most of the world went into lockdown, the tour had just concluded its Australian leg March 7, 2020. “We were due to start in Indianapolis March 23, 2020, and the tour fell apart state by state,” Bradley recalls. When things finally began to open again in January 2022, Elton John was one of the first major acts to go out. The entire industry was watching, promoter Barrie Marshall told Bradley at the time, to see if it was indeed possible to tour again. “It was,” Bradley says, but not without testing everybody every day – from Elton John to the team surrounding him to the entire crew: Some 150 tests, six days a week.
To schedule 330 dates is a task in itself. Being forced to reschedule not once, not twice, but three times while overcoming a diminished supply chain and personnel shortage, almost seems unfathomable. It will forever remain a testament to the team that has grown alongside Sir Elton John to have accomplished such a feat. And it marks a pinnacle of Bradley’s 50-plus year career that has touched many aspects of the music industry, from managing tours for Marmalade in the early 1970s to mixing front of house for Eric Clapton to joining the team of one of the greatest artists of all time 27 years ago.
By that point, Bradley had already been touring with Elton John for 13 years. When he first came into the offices of Rocket Entertainment in 1996, he was “the invisible agent inside the office that booked every date we played outside North America. From that point onward, Elton played roughly 100 shows every single year, from 1997 through 2023, except for the pandemic.”
Bradley’s team has been at his side for most of this incredible journey; COVID wasn’t enough to throw them off their game. “Most of my guys have been with me for decades, all my crew, and the band,” he explained. “So, to a certain extent, when we get back together, after about two or three days, it feels like we haven’t been apart. I’ve always been a great believer, even back in the ‘70s, in no demarcation. There’s not sound, light, and video; there’s a crew and we work as a unit. Each department helps each other as best as they can without compromising their own position. That’s very much my ethos on how touring should be.”
Bradley says the tour wasn’t just a farewell, but also a gigantic “thank you to all the markets we’ve toured in, and the people we’ve toured with.” The distinguished list of promoters on the “Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour” includes Barrie Marshall, Peter Rieger, Thomas Johansson, Leon Ramakers, the late Gérard Drouot in France, or Michael Chugg in Australia, who first worked with Bradley touring ABBA in 1978. Thinking back on all the adventures they’ve lived through together, Bradley says, “It was great fun, it was wonderful, I wouldn’t change a lot of things. What we’ve accomplished is beyond remarkable. My only concern is that we need to look out for the next generation. That’s all you can do in life: help the next generation, elevate them. It applies to my family, but also applies to the music industry. If the next generation has questions, and if we can give them the answers, we should try and do that.”