Dublin Sunday Tribune, May 19, 1991

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Dublin Sunday Tribune

UK & Ireland newspapers


When Elvis C meets John McCormack...

BP Fallon

Mighty Like A Flower is a new Elvis high

You walk into the rehearsal room with your blessing of "Peace and Love" and Pete Thomas the drummer, he says "Ramalama, you mean" and Elvis Costello, he turns to the band and says "Let's do Beep's song" and they blast into a scorching explosion of Little Richard's "Bama Lama Bama Loo." Great gosh Aliighty! It's just like some old 50's black 'n' white rock 'n' roll movie, with you playing the part of Alan Freed. Wild.

Elvis Costello And The Rude 5, who'll be headlining at Feile '91 in Thurles on 3 August, they're one hell of a band. Pete Thomas was a member of Elvis Costello And The Attractions since the year dot. Guitarist Marc Ribot played with Tom Waits. Jerry Scheff played bass behind Elvis Presley in Presley's backing group The T.C.B. Band, even played on The Doors' album L.A. Woman. And keyboardist Larry Knetchel played that gorgeous piano on Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters," played bass on The Byrds "Mr Tambourine Man," organ on The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" and was a member of Phil Spector's studio band. Pretty damn hot stuff.

These guys, they're the nucleus of the players on our Elvis' superb new album Mighty Like A Rose (Warner Brothers Records), arguably the finest record yet from Elvis's brilliant canon.

So where did the album title come from, El?

"I stopped for petrol in the middle of the country, Tuam or somewhere, and they had a John McCormack tape and it had these songs on it that I've never found anywhere else on any other recordings of McCormack and one of them is this great song 'Mighty Like A Rose'. And I liked the ring of it so I nicked it, basically." He's laughing, going on to say that a friend in America told him that the song had also been recorded by the 50's doo wop group The Carols, sent him a cassette, and now Elvis is sitting there beside you singing "Doo doo doo doo doo, sweetest little fella, everybody knows" and laughing some more.

John McCormack? We all know that Elvis' musical tastes are wider than the Mississippi, that he's sung with everyone from Tony Bennett to Richard Hell And The Voidoids to Christy Moore, George Jones to Eurythymics to The Pogues, Count Basie to Paul McCartney. These days he listens to everything from pop music and rock 'n' roll and country to jazz, folk and classical music.

"One night at The Royal Festival Hall I was sitting four seats away from Dennis Thatcher, which was a very disconcerting thing. I didn't know whether to watch the concert or to watch him, he's such a fascinating awful looking person. And I was thinking 'This man has actually done it with Maggie Thatcher' which is a pretty amazing thought." Elvis is bent over with laughter. "And they have the evidence, the grizzly evidence in their two ghastly children! And you're trying to concentrate on Brahm's 4th Symphony, you know..."

Talking of children, but this time children of a superior lineage: Elvis' dad Ross,MacManus sang and played trumpet with The Joe Loss Band while Elvis' son Matthew who's now 16 plays guitar and loves Hendrix.

Elvis, he got Matthew a Django Reinhart record, a Charlie Christian, plus a Who record "'cos you've got to learn to play rhythm as well. And against my better judgment, Led Zeppelin who I've always abhorred but 1 figured he's going to hear it sometime. It's a bit like taking your son out for his first drink — he might as well learn the bad habits from me as from somebody else."

To El's album Mighty Like A Rose ... and my favourite track, the manic "Hurry Down Doomsday (The Boys Are Taking Over)" which contains a line about a woman sleeping with a dead country singers' shirt.

"It's a true story. The whole song is just a series of absurdities. I think it was Jim Reeves, a woman who got divorced by her husband because she slept with Jim Reeves' shirt on her pillow and he gave up in the end, she used to go to Nashville and sleep on his grave." Elvis adapts a serious sombre voice: "It's one of those terrible tragic sicknesses ..." and now he's laughing ... "which have their own poignancy. It's like the mood you get somedays — I wish the apocalypse would hurry up because man is definitely not the superior animal on the planet".

People do take your lyrics very seriously, don't they Elvis?

"I had a young German, he came in and he had taken every single word on the record as being literal first person opinion so he was horrified at the negativity he identified." (Puts on German accent) "You have all the people you used to adore. How can you say 'Forget about Beethoven', I said 'Well, it's irony': He said `No, you are like Richard Wagner, you are trying to destroy pop music like he destroyed symphonic music'. I had to tell him that maybe he should go for a lie down."

"In 'Hurry Down Doomsday' it says let's throw everything away, even things we should value. Like just throw out Beethoven, Rembrandt, along with the bloody Mars Bars and Marlboro cigarettes, Coca Cola, Disney and all the trash we're fed."

"This album starts with some fairly macabre comical songs where people are not treating each other well and I'm looking at those relationships and trying to tell a story but it's not like my life."

"The record finishes with the song 'Couldn't Call It Unexpected No 4' which leads up to this personal thought 'Please don't let me fear anything I cannot explain, I can't believe never believe in anything again' which is, y'know, one sincere thing I say from my heart".

And, Elvis ... have there been any reactions to your current visual of the mad rock 'n' roll Rasputin?

Elvis grins through his untamed beard. "Yeah," he chuckles. "Bewildered and terrified!"

No fear here...


The Sunday Tribune, May 19, 1991

BP Fallon profiles Elvis Costello.


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On track

BP Fallon

Elvis Costello discusses some recent musical collaborations...

■ Elvis wrote the song "Hidden Shame" for the Johnny Cash album Boom Chicka Boom (Mercury Records, Phonogram).

"It's a terrific thrill to have John ask for a song. He's one of the top men. He's a bit imposing. When I first met him it was extremely unnerving because he's so incredibly like himself, one of the two people who looks so much like himself it was almost ... frightening. The other was George Michael but it was a different kind of presence. John is definitely The Man In Black where he walks into the room.

"George Michael looks exactly like his photograph. It's very rare pop stars look exactly like their photograph, as if someone just cut 'em out of a picture and animated them. He was very nice, polite and not at all swell-headed for anyone's who's got so famous so quickly."

He's been called a genius...

"I think that's a bit of an exaggeration, advertising bullshit. It's a bit like Madonna being called a genius. People will tell you that she has a genius for selling sex. Well if that's true there's a lot of geniuses in the Reeperbahn."

■ Elvis recorded the Grateful Dead song "Ship of Fools" for the new LP Dedicated (Arista Records), a fine tribute to the Dead also featuring Los Lobos, Suzanne Vega, Dwight Yoakum, Jane's Addiction, Cowboy Junkies and Dr John, with monies going to The Rainforest Action Network.

"I've always liked The Dead. I don't like every record they've made and I've never been that big a fan of the improvisational meanderings... I much prefer the songs and they're incredibly underrated as songwriters mainly because as vocalists they're very much an acquired taste. We had a lot of fun doing 'Ship Of Fools' and it's a charity record but it's a continuing project.

"I got to meet Jerry Garcia and he's not this drug-befuddled hippy, he's terrific."

■ Elvis wrote the song "You Bowed Down" for the latest album by Byrdman Roger McGuinn, Back From Rio (Arista Records), and song on the track too.

"I was really pleased when he got back into making records and he asked for a song and right away I was working on it, I think I wrote it in two days. He did a great job on it. I like a lot of the LP and hopefully we'll have an opportunity to work together again. If anything, his voice has improved through the years, it's got more character to it which is really saying something because he's got of the most distinctive voices in rock 'n' roll and he's still got it in him to go to some of the places he visited in The Byrds."

■ And Elvis wrote and performed, joined by Mary Coughlan, Donal Lunny, Davey Spillane and a strong sextet, the song "Mischievous Ghost" for the TV series Bringing It All Back Home (BBC Records/Record Services).

"That was great fun. It was totally experienced. I didn't feel really that I had the credentials... I thought it might seem a little pretentious if I just light in on doing a traditional song, 'Here's me and my Irishness,' y'know, because there's an awful lot of bollocks talked about all of that. I mean, I'm not even sure I want to be a human let alone being Irish or English or anything."

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Page scan.
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