As anyone who knows me even slightly can probably testify, any opinion I express regarding the work of Elvis Costello is not so much biased as besotted. I have all his recordings and, although there is plenty of competition among similarly devoted fans I have encountered over the past 37 years of concert-attending, would be in with a good shout for the perfect attendance prize for all of his tours to Scotland, including the Get Happy! album trek that visited out of the way venues like West Calder and Dunfermline's Kinema ballroom. That last gig is one that merits a mention in Costello's new memoir, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, published this week. In the light of my confession above, you will be unsurprised to learn that I think it is one of the finest musical autobiographies I have ever read, and I have read many. But the truth is that it really is, and I am absolutely convinced that someone with as much interest Costello as I have in One Direction will find it an engrossing and rewarding read. Possibly excluding only many actual fans of 1-D.
My perfect attendance record is most significantly blotted by my failure to be at his earliest gig in Scotland, at the Silver Thread in Paisley on August 30, 1977. The date is not mentioned in the book (although he does say it was five days after his 23rd birthday), but is ingrained on my memory, because I was really very cross at the time that I couldn't go. On the same evening, however, what I am sure was a much smaller crowd was in a pub in Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street called the Amphora to watch the combo I was singing with, then called Fever, go through a set of recent chart hits and a couple of funky numbers the guitarist and I had written. As Costello writes, he was not allowed to perform in any of the city centre venues in which I could murder Ace's How Long? and Why Did You Do It? by Stretch: "The city's ferocious reputation was then being belied by the decision of the city fathers to deny a license to any promoter reckless enough to propose bringing anything vaguely connected to punk inside the city limits. Just being on the same label as The Damned meant that we were exiled to the function room in a small hotel of a satellite town."
The book also relates the sequel to the Paisley show, which involved a precarious journey in a tiny chartered aircraft so that the band would make its first appearance on Top of the Pops despite there being an airline strike that week. As with every wry anecdote in the book, Costello has spookily detailed recall of the events of those days, and narrates it with compelling style. Anyone who has seen him perform in recent years will know that he spices his sets with riveting introductions to the songs, and some of the stories collected between hard covers are ones he has rehearsed previously. What is quite brilliant about the book, is the way he has structured it to interleave tales of life on the road with the story of his own life and music and that of his family. It is also quite clear that the death of his father, big band singer Ross MacManus, has both allowed and driven him to write the book, and about which he is quite wonderfully moving. Take it from the besotted, you should buy this book.
Elvis Costello, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink is published by Viking/Penguin at £25.