One of rock's most enduring talents, Elvis Costello, returns to Ireland for a concert in the National Stadium this Saturday, which is sure to be packed, if only because Costello's live performances are held in near legendary esteem.
For the man has a command and attraction that belies his small untidy shape and eyes that stare cynically out from behind those old-fashioned shades. Elvis Costello is nothing if not blunt in everything he does.
Launched on a totally unsuspecting world as the new wave movement was getting into top gear in 1977, Costello soon rose to the top as an artist in the fullest sense, retaining as much control as he could over his own product.
In a shaking social climate where moral views were being changed like clothes, Costello's hard, unyielding stance on social issues was a turn-off for some but a breath of fresh air for young people alienated by the cliche-ridden expostulations of a Britain moving inexorably towards Thatcherism.
However, Costello's music also had a feel to it that was different, inspirational and a raw emotion when it came to affairs of the heart. His uncompromising lyrics struck home with a lot of people — witness "Peace In Our Time," a song containing the immortal line "There's already one spaceman in the White House, what do you want another one for."
Costello's live performances are simply incomparable, built on an intensity and style that is the rarest of commodities these days, when many concerts are judged on how loud the sound was or how bright the lights were.
To date, Costello has managed to avoid the trap of overstatement and his devastating changes of direction into new musical paths has at the same time enthralled his admirers and has perplexed the more jealous of his critics.
Costello's career — his real name is MacManus and his father is Irish — began in 1976, when one day, unknown and unannounced, he marched into the offices of Stiff Records, struck up an instant rapport with Stiff's then supremo Jake Riviera and was signed up immediately.
In 1977, Costello released three singles, with "Alison" showing how delicate a songwriter he could be — indeed Linda Ronstadt later did a cover version of the song.
However, it was the release of Costello's debut album My Aim Is True, which was in the British charts for 12 weeks and reached No. 14, that really launched Costello. Nothing like it had been heard before — the more discerning British rock critics lost their cool over it — and Elvis had won a whole new audience for himself.
Costello played his first gig, solo, supporting The Rumour at The Nashville In London — three months later at the same venue an estimated 700 plus people were locked out amidst scenes that London gigs rarely enjoy.
In June 1977, the Attractions were formed — Pete Thomas, of the notorious Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers, on drums, Bruce Thomas, once with The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver, on bass, and Steve Nieve, straight from the Royal College of Music, on keyboards.
Elvis and the Attractions rehearsed live, by playing gigs in late 1977 under an assumed name. Invariably, details were leaked to the music press and thousands would turn up to see the hand play in pubs, which at most, could hold 300 people.
In 1978, Costello was giving Americans a dose of his music. The reaction was mixed. Younger people loved the music, while the authorities were concerned that the man, who dared to use the name Elvis, was engaged in subversive activities. Despite all the furore, Costello's career prospered.
This Year's Model, his second album, reached No. 4 in the British charts, remaining in the charts for four months. Costello's year culminated in December with seven sold-out nights in the Dominion Theatre, London.
In 1979, the momentum increased with the Armed Forces album reaching No. 2 in the charts and the hit single "Oliver's Army" barely missing the coveted No. 1 spot.
This year also saw Costello make his debut as a producer on The Specials' first album on Two Tone. After the demise of Elvis's record label Radar, he formed the F-Beat label after a series of frustrating legal wrangles, but he was rewarded with the huge success of his fourth album, the classic Get Happy.
There was then a break of over a year before 1981, when Trust — one of the best rock albums ever released — came out to once again stun the music world.
But then in May 1981, Costello took the Attractions to Nashville, the home of country music to have the influential Billy Sherrill produce a country-based album Almost Blue. Costello had always been interested in country music, George Jones was one of his favourites, but it was an exceedingly bold gamble to take.
Needless to say, the album turned out to be hugely successful, gaining Elvis new admirers and two hit singles in "Good Year For The Roses" and "Sweet Dreams."
In 1982, Elvis changed tack again by combining forces with the 92-piece Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to deliver a memorable and moving concert at London's Royal Albert Hall.
All through the country phase, Costello had been writing new songs and these found an outlet in the much-liked and imaginative Imperial Bedroom album.
Costello continued to play a part in others' music — producing the up and coming Scottish group The Bluebells and co-writing with Clive Langer "Shipbuilding" for Robert Wyatt, formerly of Soft Machine and now confined to a wheelchair.
"Shipbuilding" — one of the most important singles of recent years — is as poignant and articulate an observation on the far-reaching effects of a modern day crusade like the Falklands War as one could ever possibly expect from an otherwise generally non-literary, art form.
Last year, Punch The Clock was released and saw Elvis experimenting with a horn section. In June of this year, Goodbye Cruel World was released and proved conclusively that Elvis Costello is arguably the finest contemporary British songwriter and performer. Long may his success continue.