From: Kevin Miller <> hi...this article appeared in Scotland on Sunday [13 Nov 94? -mjs]... local sunday paper...thought you might be interested....excuse any obvious typos.. Kevin Free Spirit Twenty years on, with 300 songs and 18 albums yo his credit, Elvis Costello is as busy as ever. Craig McLean finds out what makes him run In the smokey beery confines of the Metropole Hotel in Aberdeen, the Mean Machine country and Western club is in session. The young bucks on stage have already had their stab at tears in beer melancholy with a lurching paddle through hank Cochrans 'He's got you'. Johny Cash'sCry Cry Cry swings with the kind of honky tonk sass that only a bunch of skinny spivvy pub-rock Londoners in their mid-twenties can muster. The Mean Machine regulars, unreconstructed country crumblies, are unimpressed. Elvis Costello and the Attractions plough on regardless. "I got loaded last night on a bottle of gin", Costello sings. He knows they can cut it. Just last month they were in Johnny Cash's lakeside house near Nashville, The month before they were in Los Angeles recording a TV special with George Jones and friends - friends like Emmylou Harris, Tammy Wynette and Waylon Jennings,. Costello is only 27, but Jones has already recorded one of his songs, written when Costello was barely into his twenties. It might not be immediately apparent to the Mean Machine, but this gawky geek in front of them wears his hard won country spurs with pride. Thirteen years on from that heated night in July in Aberdeen - documented on the recent re-release of a re-packaged album Almost Blue - the weavings and veerings of Elvis Costello's muse are well documented. Still, he says, after 18 albums in 17 years, its all about "finding new ways to talk to people" He went to Nashville in 1981 to recover the covers collection Almost Blue because he was attracted to the "universal stories" that country music told. Having hit home with his first album, 1977's My Aim is True, he had endured 3 and a half years of constant toil, including three American tours. Now he was disillusioned with songwriting, his ambition, forged in the red-hot foundry of youth and acclaim, to "just be the dominant thing", frustratingly unrealised. hence the lure of other peoples songs, of Nashville. It seemed like vainglorious folly on the part of this twitchy New Wave brat. But it worked, whatever the Mean Machine thought. As the sticker on the album at the time warned:"may produce radical reactions in narrow minded people". Not long after, with the success of Almost Blue, and its lead off single, 'A Good Year for the Roses', Costello rationalized his dilemma and pricked his ballooning dreams of world domination, "I realises that that wasn't going to happen with the kind of music I made, because there's too many different angles. It's not easy for a lot of people to get hold of." And so, onwards and sideways. Elvis Costello sits in the offices of his record company in London. Forty now, he is wearing a suit of brown corduroy, worsted wool waistcoat, cream shirt and socks, and brown slip-on shoes. He has the garb and the girth of the landed gentry, a cheery country squire, say, for whom gout will one day be a bally nuisance. This is the Elvis who lives on the outskirts of Dublin, with a big garden - "its not like and estate or anything" - where he can make as much noise as he likes, and enjoy the peace and quiet that this songwriter's songwriter daily required. The other Elvis is the wired performer, the punk veteran precariously balancing dignity, energy and attitude. He was up there in July, playing the Galsgow Barrowlands, reunited with his old sparring partners, The Attractions, for the first time since 1986. The suit was still black and the glasses still blacker. Elvis Costello and the Attractions, having dabbled with beards, bimbos, and Brodskies - and Jonathan Ross- were back doing what they did best. Brutal Youth was hardly the return to the glory days of This Years Model and Olivers army that it was proclaimed, But for Costello's disciples, smarting from the birds nest tange of songs on Spike, Mighty like a Rose, and most recently, his conceptual collaboration with The Brodsky Quartet, the Juliet Letters, the new albums tub thumping simplicity was manna from heaven. " I grew a beard and i grew my hair long and it freaked people out" shrugs Costello. Ne can't understand the fuss. "They thought I had gone mad or I was being tremendously self indulgent." "Then the Juliet Letters was something that wasn't for everybody, and i make no apologies for that. But the people that did come, people that had never bought a record of mine because it was too loud, too shouty or too twangy....then they hear the Juliet Letters, then the hear Londons Brilliant Parade, and its not such a big difference" "Its still composed music. One is using slightly harder sounds, but it is still a song they can understand. So maybe they've eased into your music" He is, he repeatedly insists, "not trying to sell a million records every time". He has talked of writing songs as an apprenticeship, and is constantly on the lookout for challenges. If this means shedding recalcitrant fans, so be it. Others, usually, will take their places, whether it is the millions of Americans who took Veronica from Spike into the Top Ten, or the more urbane, mature music fans in this country who defied the critical mauling and actually quite liked the Juliet letters. Infamously, he replied to a request for material by Transition Vamps singularly untalented singer, Wendy James, by writing her an entire album in one weekend. This was not prostitution on Costello's part, merely another way of developing his craft. Early on, in 1983, this near academic approach to writing had happier results with Every Day I Write the Book from Punch the Clock."We made a very concious effort to re-engage to the pop audience of that time. The whole reason that that album doesn't sound very good now is because it was made with the pop manners of 1983. But its got good songs on it - its got Shipbuilding on it which is a really good piece". Through Shipbuilding, Costello Met chet baker, supplier of the song's world weary trumpet solo. Costello gave him a tape of Almost blue, written with the troubled genius in mind. Elvis heard nothing for 5 years, until baker's death. "It was very sad - he'd just fallen out of a window in Amsterdam. Next thing I know I'm doing this interview and this journalist says I've got this tape, Chet Baker doing Almost Blue...." These days Costello is as prolific as ever, steadily augmenting his catalogue of 300 songs. Following on from his collaboration with friend Alan Bleasdale on GBH, he is working on the music for the playwrights next drama - "a multiparted thing, very long, very dense emotionally" He is writing a musical for the theatre - and he's quick to preempt the obvious "Its not Andrew Lloyd Webber" Recently he has written specifically for The Dubliners Ronnie Drew and June Tabor. "Her 'I want to vanish' is the best cover I have ever had; its the most beautiful rendition of any song I 've ever written for anybody, and I feel it really hits the mark of what I was trying to get in the song, and it seems to suit her really well. I feel completely satisfied by that." But its not always gratifying being a songwriter, even when you still enjoy the rare luxury of escaping your garret and venting your spleen nightly to (once again) adoring audiences. For one, Linda Ronstadt sang Alison and four million americans loved it. "It was a bloody awful version," says Costello. But the royalties were bearable. For another, Elvis tells of how he wrote what he thought "was a great song" for septaugenarian blues man Charlie Brown, in keeping with the pianists preferred repertoire of elegant ballads from the forties, thick with rhymes: 'you find your tongue is tied, your words escape and hide, but she's so patient and kind, she's prepared to read your mind, that's all very well, till you find, because of the wine you drank, your mind is just a blank' "I thought wow man, he's gonna love that, he can really be elegant with that," Costello grins."but when i got the record he'd dispensed with all the chords in the song and just done a blues based on the song. And he just kept the hook line 'I wonder how she knows'. And he changed the words to 'I find it hard to think when I drink'! I was overdoing it I guess" The overhauled song was published as a co-credit with Brown. Costello published the original. Mary Coughlan duly covered it "It worked out well, I got two for one!" chuckles the punk poet turned songwriters songwriter turned punk poet (revisited). "You've got to be free with it" he shrugs again, a craftsman and a pragmatist to the last ================================================================ Kevin Miller....Edinburgh Scotland ================================================================