During his second day in Australia, Elvis Costello was tiring of telephone interviews and was anxious to begin rehearsing some of the new music he and The Attractions will perform at the Canberra Theatre tonight.
Costello's shyness and reticence about personal matters is well known and his rapport with interviewers usually surrounds his work — Elvis Costello the musician.
But when I telephoned Costello in Sydney recently he spoke only briefly about his music and his latest Australian tour. He had seen very little of Sydney and first rehearsals were due to begin in five minutes' time.
As it turned out, we spoke for about 10 minutes, but with those time constraints what does one begin asking a musician whose dynamic repertoire has caused controversy all over the world?
Well what about the more up market venues Costello has been playing lately? He has performed in the Royal Albert Hall, London, and was to perform with The Attractions in the Sydney Opera House last Monday.
Costello said, "One of the main reasons for wanting to play those places, apart from it upsets people and creates a little bit of a stir ... is that hopefully there will be slightly better acoustics than in the dreadful hails we have played in over the years."
Costello's last Canberra Theatre concert in December 1978 was reported in The Canberra Times as inappropriate because the theatre had lacked a large dance floor. The sound had been poor, sometimes distorted, and the mix had been bad. Costello said he hoped for better equipment tonight.
A new album would not coincide with the tour as reported but would be released a month behind schedule at the beginning of June. It would comprise new arrangements which had been recorded following a brief tour of France. Costello's troupe would be playing the new material in Australia before the album was released.
"We will be doing entirely new material ... we arc hoping to do as many of the new songs as we feel we can do justice to.
"The difficulty with new material is sometimes that it obviously helps if people have heard the recorded version first, so that they can become familiar with the tune, ... but hopefully we can maybe modify the arrangements such that we can get the point of the song over."
Costello has heard little of Australian and New Zealand music but he made some insightful comments: he said he had worked for Mental as Anything and had been impressed with Brisbane band The Go Betweens which he had met in London.
"Most of what's filtered through to America and England from Australia is uniformally dreadful, but I know that that's not the case of the local scene.
"I think that some of the more interesting and unique bands don't tend to get the fair rate either in this country or outside it. Whereas the dull, sort of mainstream-sounding bands do because they fit into a nice comfortable formula for the man from the recording company.
"I think it's a terrible shame. I think there arc some really interesting groups down here, of very different styles."
Costello's manager Jake Riviera, who drew fire from Australian journalists on previous tours, is accompanying Costello again. But Costello described his reception by the media last week as "marvellous" compared with some of his previously hostile encounters with Australian journalists.