Do Tell Him, Spike!


Tomorrow night I’m going to see Elvis Costello.

Not to see him perform, mind, although I’ll be a little annoyed if he hasn’t brought his guitar along.

No, tomorrow night I’m going to see him “in conversation” with Nick Hornby, author of, amongst others, the excellent “31 Songs” (in which he attempts to provide a critique of – you guessed it – 31 Songs which he loves, making the very valid point that it’s harder to explain what you like about a song than what you don’t like (I feel his pain), and that it’s far too easy to just talk about what the record reminds you of (err…..mental note to self: must try harder….) and “High Fidelity”, which is itself named after a Costello song. You will know if you have ever read the introduction to this blog, Hornby is also inadvertently responsible for me writing it.

Anyway, the event is primarily to promote Elvis’ new memoir “Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink” (Is a memoir different to an autobiography…? *shrugs* I dunno..).

This is what his website says about the book:

“This memoir, written entirely by Costello, offers his unique view of his unlikely and sometimes comical rise to international success, with diversions through the previously undocumented emotional foundations of some of his best-known songs and the hits of tomorrow. It features many stories and observations about his renowned cowriters and co-conspirators, though Costello also pauses along the way for considerations of the less appealing side of fame.

Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink provides readers with a master’s catalogue of a lifetime of great music. Costello reveals the process behind writing and recording legendary albums like My Aim Is True, This Year’s Model, Armed Forces, Almost Blue, Imperial Bedroom, and King of America. He tells the detailed stories, experiences, and emotions behind such beloved songs as “Alison,” “Accidents Will Happen,” “Watching the Detectives,” “Oliver’s Army,” “Welcome to the Working Week,” “Radio Radio,” “Shipbuilding,” and “Veronica,” the last of which is one of a number of songs revealed to connect to the lives of the previous generations of his family.

Costello recounts his collaborations with George Jones, Chet Baker, and T Bone Burnett, and writes about Allen Toussaint’s inspiring return to work after the disasters following Hurricane Katrina. He describes writing songs with Paul McCartney, the Brodsky Quartet, Burt Bacharach, and The Roots during moments of intense personal crisis and profound sorrow. He shares curious experiences in the company of The Clash, Tony Bennett, The Specials, Van Morrison, and Aretha Franklin; writing songs for Solomon Burke and Johnny Cash; and touring with Bob Dylan; along with his appreciation of the records of Frank Sinatra, David Bowie, David Ackles, and almost everything on the Tamla Motown label.

Costello chronicles his musical apprenticeship, a child’s view of his father Ross MacManus’ career on radio and in the dancehall; his own initial almost comical steps in folk clubs and cellar dive before his first sessions for Stiff Record, the formation of the Attractions, and his frenetic and ultimately notorious third U.S. tour. He takes readers behind the scenes of Top of the Pops and Saturday Night Live, and his own show, Spectacle, on which he hosted artists such as Lou Reed, Elton John, Levon Helm, Jesse Winchester, Bruce Springsteen, and President Bill Clinton.”

Astonishingly, for an artiste with such a rich and plentiful back catalogue stretching back to 1977, he has only ever had three top ten singles in the UK, and two of those (“I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down”, and “Good Year For The Roses”) were cover versions.

Of his 30 albums, on the other hand, 11 have made the UK Top Ten.

As you will probably have guessed by now, I’m more of a singles kinda guy than an albums one, so it’s perhaps less astonishing that I own more kind of bits and bobs by the non-jumpsuited Elvis than full albums.

One album I do own, however, is “Spike”, and there will be more about this at a later date.

For now though, something a little different for round these parts. Here’s the interview the BBC did with him at the time of “Spike”‘s release in 1989, a Late Show special if memory serves.

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Spike

It’s rare for me to be drawn in by what is essentially a promotional interview to such an extent that I actually go and buy whatever is being plugged, but this did it for me. As soon as I heard Elvis speak, as soon as I heard him perform some songs from the album, I knew I had to own it.

The next day I went to Rainbow Records in Pontypridd to get a copy, left swiftly as they didn’t have it, and then ventured into Cardiff to pick a copy up from the wonderful Spillers Records. Yes, Mum & Dad, sorry but that’s what my student grant went on in my first year: Elvis Costello CDs and train fares. (And booze and fags, if I’m honest).

Obviously, I’m hoping he is on equally good form tomorrow night. If he is, then I’ll be coming to a reputable bookshop near me soon.

More soon.

Published by


Contact me by email at: Follow me on Twitter: @atastehistory Or do both. Whatever.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s