Monday 17 December 2018

Elvis Costello has not left the building

Heading to Dublin's Bord Gais Energy Theatre in June for a long-awaited show, Elvis Costello is still the king

Elvis Costello
Elvis Costello
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

'There's a lot of rock music that's become exclusive and it's of no use to anyone. Least of all me," Elvis Costello said in an irascible but typically forthright interview with Melody Maker in 1977.

"Music has to get to people. In the heart, in the head," added the wordsmith with the Buddy Holly glasses who emerged in 1977 as the archetype of the angry young man (as The Guardian dubbed him).

His furious first single, Less Than Zero, fitted the bill and had the aforesaid anger in spades - with Elvis giving out yards about a British fascist leader of yore...

"Calling Mister Oswald with the swastika tattoo/ There is a vacancy waiting in the English voodoo," snarled Elvis, who was born Declan Patrick MacManus in August 1954 in London; his father, Ross MacManus, who died in 2011, was a musician of some note (and of Irish descent).

Less Than Zero's bloody bile was nothing compared to the lash Margaret Thatcher received on 1989's literally blood-curdling Tramp the Dirt Down: "I'm trying so hard to behave/ Because there's one thing I know, I'd like to live/ Long enough to savour/ That's when they finally put you in the ground/ I'll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down."

Please note. Maggie died on April 8, 2013; Elvis is still alive and kicking - whatever about tramping the dirt down on the Iron Lady's final resting place.

I prefer the more sensitive Elvis: like We Ought to Be Ashamed, the beautiful duet with Johnny Cash on the deluxe edition of Elvis's 1981 alt.Nashville album Almost Blue; or the aching melancholia of Good Year For The Roses or Veronica, or the plain beauty of Alison; or even the plain forlornness of Shipbuilding.

The song, about the Falklands conflict, was made yet more forlorn by a Chet Baker trumpet solo. "Chet Baker, this wizened corpse on death's door, strung out, just played," recalled bassist for Elvis's band the Attractions, Bruce Thomas. "He followed this bass line and played his solo, so simple, with so much soul in it. It really touched me."

As did the anti-war Oliver's Army from 1979 - an impossibly catchy track that implores you to dance along to its vaguely Dancing Queen by Abba piano riff courtesy of Mr Steve Nieve.

Elvis, who lived in Dublin for many years when he was married to Pogue bassist Cait O'Riordan, has incorporated all manner of styles into his work every few years (sometimes seemingly out of spite for his fans who expect him to write another Pump It Up every year): punk-pop, country, reggae, Tin Pan Alley, classical, jazz, pop, r'n'b, soul, Tex-Mex, tango, new wave.

His My Aim Is True album from 1977 as well as 1981's Trust remain classics of their time, as do in their way 1982's Imperial Bedroom, 1986's King Of America (with T-Bone Burnett behind the desk) and, of course, 1989's Spike.

Asked last December by Rolling Stone magazine what were his resolutions for 2018, Elvis answered: "To continue enjoying everything that still may be enjoyable in what's left of the world and in what's left of the time [in this world]. Let's hope for something better... There is a lot of stuff that needs sorting out... Don't get me started!"

"Oh, I just don't know where to begin..." Elvis sang on his 1979 single Accidents Will Happen about someone's infidelity: "She says she can't go home/ Without a chaperone." You can also hear him sing his heart (and his pain) out on Everyday I Write The Book and Nick Lowe's (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding. What's so funny about a baldy fella with Buddy Holly glasses still doing it brilliantly after over 40 years in the business?

Elvis has not left the building.

You can catch Elvis Costello on June 23 at Dublin's Bord Gais Energy Theatre (

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