Published: 30/05/2014 18:57 - Updated: 30/05/2014 13:11

Elio is the piano man in Billy Joel tribute

Elio Pace
Elio Pace

WHEN Elio Pace plays the songs of Billy Joel at Eden Court this weekend, it will certainly not be the first time.

Last September he was invited to fill the shoes of the piano man himself when Joel’s original touring band from the early 1970s reformed for two special reunion shows in New York and Philadelphia.

Not a bad accolade for an Anglo-Italian boy from Surrey, Pace laughs.

Pace was one of two musicians picked to sit in for Billy Joel in last year’s recreation of the Stigma Sessions live concerts which helped get Joel noticed by the music business.

It was an American fan who suggested Joel’s original 1971 bass guitarist, Larry Russell, check out the English pianist-songwriter on YouTube.

Russell liked what he saw, and soon sent an invitation to Pace to cross the Atlantic.

"I did have to double check — I thought it was a joke at first," Pace admitted.

"Singing Billy Joel’s song to a room full of New Yorkers, including his friends and music business people, was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life."

Well known to Radio 2 listeners through his regular appearances on Terry Wogan’s Sunday show, Pace has been visiting Scotland as a professional musician for 26 years.

However, this is will be the first time he has led his own headline show of Scottish theatres — even if a certain Mr Joel has to share the bill.

"I’m very excited about taking the show to Scotland," Pace said.

"There’s a bit of a love affair between the Scots and Billy Joel."

A singer-songwriter himself, Pace is happy to devote an evening to the songs of Billy Joel.

"I really do believe that Billy Joel is the most over-qualified rock star ever," Pace said.

"Billy Joel started as a classical musician and that’s what he wanted to be. He became a rock and roll musician because he was blown away by The Beatles when he saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show.

"Because of that, Billy is like a car mechanic. He can take the music apart and knows how to put it back again. He never stands still and he never repeats himself. He’s released 12 studio albums and the music on them is so vibrant — there’s jazz, there’s blues, there’s classical, but it’s never high-brow."

Although appearing with Billy Joel’s backing band in the US has provided the impetus for Pace’s new tour, the idea of an evening of Billy Joel songs has been a long-held ambition.

"In the back of my mind, whenever I did a Billy Joel song as part of my own set, I’d think that I’d love to do an evening of just those songs," he said.

"Back in 1992/93, I even put out feelers to a couple of hundred theatres about doing a show like this, but only a couple wanted it. It wasn’t the right time."

With Billy Joel back in the UK last year to perform a couple of rare European concerts, the time now seems right.

"This isn’t a tribute act," Pace stated.

"This is a different way of communicating those songs. I have the most phenomenally talented six-piece band and my brief to these guys was that we would learn to play the music as close to the Billy Joel originals as we possibly can.

"But I’m not trying to sound like Billy. I do have some of the inflections of Billy Joel in my voice. That’s because I’ve been listening to him since I was 17 years old, but it is my own voice.

"Even so, it’s amazing the number of people that come up to me after a show and say that if they close their eyes, I sound just like him!"

• Elio Page sings The Billy Joel Songbook at The Empire Theatre, Eden Court, on Sunday  1st June at 7.30pm.

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