Journals 2002

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Sunday, May 5, 2002

This is the first in a series of occasional dispatches about my recent adventures. I can’t promise to be a constant or reliable correspondent, in the sense of writing at regular daily or weekly intervals, but when I do get time to write I hope to offer the occasional report that you won’t read in the newspapers.

The week prior to the release of “When I was Cruel” was not a typical seven days in my life. I was rehearsing with my new beat group, “The Imposters” in the evening. This is the same band that plays on the album. The Imposters are Pete Thomas on drums, Steve Nieve on keyboards and Davey Faragher on bass. We are about to start a world tour that lasts from our first show in Portland, Oregon on May 18th to early November – taking in the U.S., Japan, Australia, Finland and Liverpool. Watch this space for further announcements.

We are currently hard at work adding to our repertoire of cuts from the new record with a variety of tunes recorded in the last twenty-five years. While we are still going to perform many better known titles, if you attend one of our concerts this summer, you are likely to hear one or two songs that have rarely been performed on stage until now. Needless to say, while three of us have played together many times, all of these songs are new to Davey and he has been encouraging us to consider tunes that I had long forgotten about.

Because of Pete and Steve’s involvement, some folk have been quick to point out that this group resembles The Attractions – a band that really broke up in 1986, despite a couple of attempts to work together a few years back. However, I tend to live in the present time and after careful consideration of several identities, including, “The Popular Trend” and “The Lovely Hooligans”, we settled for Pete’s suggestion: “The Imposters”, a suitably preposterous name.

Meanwhile, back in the week leading up to the release, I was attending sessions during the daytime at Abbey Road Studios where the Michael Tilson Thomas was conducting the London Symphony Orchestra for a recording of “Il Sogno” – my first full-length orchestral score. This was written in 2000 for the Italian dance company Aterballeto’s adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It is hard to schedule something like this, so it was worth working day and night to get the recording done and rehearse at the same time. “Il Sogno” is due to be issued by Deutsche Grammophon in early 2003 together with some new songs that I am currently working on.

“Il Sogno” is entirely instrumental and contains plenty of drama and humour and some good tunes. It has been edited considerably from the version used at the Teatro Communale, Bologna premiere in November 2000. I’ve also re-orchestrated and re-composed some sections to make it work better as a purely instrumental piece.

John Harle is the featured soloist on soprano saxophone for a cue entitled “Tormentress”, while the great American drummer, Peter Erskine, joined the sessions and really got the symphony orchestra swinging on five or six of the titles.

Michael Tilson Thomas is one of the world’s finest conductors. He is also a player, composer and teacher and has been very generous with his advice about the interpretation of the music. Writing music down on the page is something that I only learned how to do about nine years ago. However, it is only a code to get your ideas across – as screaming, shouting and banging an instrument, my usual method, just doesn’t make it when you have seventy musicians in the room. M.T.T. did actually suggest it a couple of times but that was just so the orchestra could understand what was intended beyond the written dots. The members of the L.S.O. played very beautifully and gave so much of care and attention to the music.

It has become a fashionable posture to hold that if pop musician composes music for classical players then it must be the product of vain or deluded ambition, simply a way of being taken more seriously. I have to say that this makes me laugh as I have always been taken far more seriously than I could possibly deserve.

This score was written at the request of a very remarkable choreographer, Mauro Bigonzetti. You might think it an odd idea to take a play by Shakespeare and abandon the one thing for which it is most famous: the words but I’ve taken things a stage further and “abandoned” the dancing as well – at least for the purposes of this recording. However, the music is closely related to the narrative and the ideas found in the original play.

It was a unique experience for me to sit in a theatre, the lights to go down and for action to occur on stage that was being moved along by music that I have imagined and written down with a pencil. It was no less remarkable to hear this music performed in the giant space of Studio One. I hope that you give it a listen when the time comes for it to be released.

At the final session, we completed the last cue with thirty seconds to spare before several of the players had to leave for an evening concert. I had my own appointment that night with The Imposters and a dress rehearsal before our first show in the Paradiso, a club in Amsterdam. Right now I feel like playing what I can only describe as “beat music”. Some other time, I might feel differently.

In the last two weeks we have played four clubs shows to introduce, up close, both the new group and the songs from “When I was cruel”. We had pretty good nights in Amsterdam, London, New York and Chicago, finding which old songs best compliment the new tunes and where they should appear in the show. We are already discovering very different ways to play some of the songs from the new record. It has been great to hear that Davey gets plenty of applause when I announce him – even among people who might still be a little sentimental about my old band.

It was happy to see and meet so many people at the recent record store appearances. I’ve made a couple of these using the home set-up of beat-boxes and distortion devices on which I wrote most of the songs on “When I was cruel”. I want to send thanks all those concerned at the shops for making us welcome and also to those who brought gifts, smart remarks or just your beautiful selves.

Some readers may know that I occasionally appear John Kelly’s radio show, “Mystery Train” which is broadcast here in Ireland on R.T.E. and is available over the internet. John is kind enough to let me take over for a couple of hours now and again and play pretty much whatever I want, as the name of the show suggests. The good folks at WXRT in Chicago let me do something similar during my recent visit. They allowed me to raid the record library and even found me an excellent Muddy Waters collection on vinyl which sounded just as good as you’d expect it would. I think it should be the law that every radio station has to have this record.

On a visit to W.F.U.V. in the Bronx, I got to play a Jimmy Martin bluegrass record and the title track of one of the two new superb Tom Waits albums, “Alice”. I also stopped in at Y-100 on my way into Philly spun a couple of tracks from “When I was cruel” and later that night did my 21st. Century One-Man-Band thing at “The World Café” on W.X.P.N.

On May Day, I added to the world of musical distortion live on X-FM in London, while at Virgin and on B.B.C. Radio 2, the acoustic guitar was my instrument of choice.

Last week we recorded a concert in the tiny radio theatre inside B.B.C. Broadcasting House – more usually associated with the light music of the 1930’s. This seemed to be in the mind of the person who previewed the broadcast for the “Radio Times” (the near equivalent of “T.V. Guide” for U.S. readers) – who quaintly suggested that this likely to be a “mellow” concert with “no earplugs required”. While we do not wish your ears any actual harm – I can assure you that this was an entirely mistaken assumption that I can only think was based on the evidence of my 1999 recording of “She”.

The television appearances introducing “When I was Cruel” began with a performance and interview on the “Jonathan Ross Show” on B.B.C. One. As the members of The Imposters were fulfilling their previous engagements, I was accompanied on this occasion by a splendid Merseyside band, “Amsterdam” - augmented by a great new Liverpool singer called Steven Kennedy. Steven sings harmony on “45” and “My Little Blue Window”. For this take on “Tear off your own head (It’s a Doll Revolution)”, Steven was joined in the vocal group by Amsterdam’s Genevieve Mort - while main songwriter, Ian Prowse, lead the band in a storming version of a tune that they had only just learned that afternoon.

You can find out more about Amsterdam and their two albums, “Attitunes” and “Live, Left an Covered” at:

Look out for a new record from them soon that includes the incredible “Glorious Day”.

You can read about Steven Kennedy and his new record, “Control Freak” at:

I make an appearance on “Control Freak”, singing vocal harmony on an acoustic version of the Steven’s song, “Autopilot”.

Over in New York, we played outside at C.B.S. Plaza on 5th Ave for the “Early Show” to a crowd of about 600 and a number of people hanging out of the windows of surrounding office buildings. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to get arrested as we had hoped.

I also made my twelfth appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman” – which I understand has me in a tie with Bonnie Raitt just behind, the record holder, Willie Nelson. I don’t mind that kind of company. However, I think we can safely lay claim to the “most appearances with different bands (in different cities)” title, having played the show; solo and with The Attractions, Deborah Harry and the Jazz Passengers, Burt Bacharach and a string section, Anne Sofie von Otter and Her Sons of Sweden, The Fairfield Four and with Toshi Reagon and Big Lovely – as well as appearing when the show was “on the road” in San Francisco, L.A. and in London, on a night where both Chuck Berry and Little Richard were sitting in with the house band while I had guitarists, Marc Ribot and James Burton augmenting The Attractions.

After Pete tried to demolish his drum-kit during “Doll Revolution” on this occasion, I had a pleasant chat with Dave about my recent excursion to the Grammys - by the way, B.B.C. viewers who think I have taken up a career as a roving reporter might be amused to know that my “appearance” with Ms. Holden was entirely a creation of the editing suite.

These award shows are like a trip to the funfair – make yourself sick or win a teddy bear but don’t take them too seriously. It is my chance to meet some of the people who I dig, like Beyoncé Knowles and to see great men like Tony Bennett and Dr. Ralph Stanley, whose version of “Oh Death” was worth the journey alone. Only the last of these things had anything much do with real life, although I didn’t exactly have the worst company in the world in my real life co-presenters, Gwen Stefani and Diana Krall.

Our most recent performance for television was on the B.B.C.’s “Later with Jools Holland”. It was a particularly good edition of the show with a beautiful solo performance by the great Malian singer, Salif Keita and two fine young bands, one of which was a very droll bunch from Sweden. However, the star of the evening was undoubtedly Mary J. Blige. She and her superb band opened up the show with a phenomenally intense version of “Family Affair”. It should have been almost impossible to follow, particularly for the very young crowd of people jammed in between her stage and ours. I should explain, for those who have never seen it, the show is recorded in a circular fashion with all the performers present throughout the broadcast. However, these folk initially only had eyes and ears for Mary J.

Then a strange thing happened. During out second number, I noticed that Mary J., her singers and band were starting to groove on the Mina sample that drives “When I was cruel No.2”. Needless to say this was not lost on her fan club and by the our fourth number, Mary J. was leading her gals in some pretty fancy dancing which was doing us absolutely no harm at all in eyes of “her” audience. So, me and The Imposters want to send out our love and respect to Mary J. and her team for showing people how to let go of their feelings – not only is she wonderful singer but she can cut a rug like no-one else.

Before I close, a few more details regarding things that I’ve been asked about recently.

You may still be able to catch a re-run of the “Crossroads” concert special with Lucinda Williams on C.M.T. Lu and her band were just great to play with and it was a joy to sing on her songs “Blue”, “Drunken Angel” and “Changed the Locks” as well as harmonising on “Indoor Fireworks” and “Wild Horses”. If your T.V. station doesn’t show “Crossroads”, then write to them and tell to spend some of that money they waste on game shows.

The U.C.L.A. “Artist-in-Residency” season continues, despite press reports to the contrary. The next date is with The Imposters at the Ackerman Ballroom on 28th May. It will be my first standing-only show in Los Angeles for nearly 25 years. So we get the job done properly, the subsequent appearances in the series are going to take place in early 2003, after the “When I was cruel” world tour.

The first events at U.C.L.A. took place on 20th September 2001 with two Royce Hall concerts together the Charles Mingus Orchestra. The repertoire included some of my songs arranged for the jazz orchestra and a number of Mingus compostions – six of which were performed with my new lyrics.

One of these pieces, “Invisible Lady” was later recorded in New York and can be heard on the new Mingus Big Band record on the Dreyfus label. The album is called “Tonight at Noon”, which is also the title of Sue Mingus’ great and moving memoir which has just been published by Pantheon.

To find out more about all things Mingus related, go to this site:

The most frequent question that I’m asked, after “When are you playing next in Billings, Montana?” and “How did you get your name?” is about my current listening choices. So, this is what is rattling the windows in the kitchen, shaking the doors in the car and engaging the senses in late evening.

• “Alice” and “Blood Money” – the two superb new albums from Tom Waits.

• “The Cold Vein” – Cannibal Ox – hip-hop beats and harsh poetic words. Plus the “El-P presents Cannibal Oxtrumentals” version of the same album.

• “Mumu” – Steve Nieve’s lovely solo album of songs on the Silvertone label. Available from French Amazon or the FNAC sites, if you know a little French.

• “Buddy and Julie Miller” – “Little Darlin” is my favourite cut on this one.

• The “Ethiopiques” Series – cannot recommend these highly enough. There are currently eleven volumes available of a projected fifteen record series. My personal favourites are Volume 4 – the “Ethio-Jazz” of Mulatu Astatqé, Volume 9 – featuring the funk recordings of Alemayehu Esheté and Volume 10 – “Ethiopian Blues and Ballads”.

• “Sun is us” – Deidre Rodman. Unique jazz ensemble compositions from a pianist that I first encountered while performing in Roy Nathanson’s “Fire at Keaton’s Bar and Grill”.

• “Dickie Freeman and the Bluebloods” – a solo album by the mighty bass voice of the Fairfield Four.

• “Hava Narghile (Turkish Rock Music – 1966 to 1975)” – Sounds like two Yardbirds records playing half a bar out of synch with each other. Unbeatable.

• “Houndog” – Mike Halby and David Hildago’s slow groove blue masterpiece.

• “Don’t give up on me” – Solomon Burke – Anti’s upcoming record from the King of Rock ’n Soul, produced by Joe Henry and featuring songs by Joe, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, Dan Penn and Nick Lowe. My wife, Cait and I also have a song on the record called “The Judgement”. Dr. Burke sings it even better than I could have imagined. Don’t miss this one when it arrives.

To read more about this album go to this address:

This dispatch has gone on a little longer that I expected but I wanted to kick things off in style. More concert dates will be announced shortly on this site. I’ll be writing again once we get on tour.

Bye for now. E.C.

Sunday, May 19, 2002

It was a gloriously clear day as we drove down to Portland yesterday. There was a spectacular view of Mount Rainer as we left Seattle, where we have been rehearsing for the last week. As we approached the Oregon border we saw Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood with equal clarity. I’m told we were lucky to see all three so clearly on one day.

We open our tour here this evening at the Roseland before returning to Seattle for a show at the Paramount Theatre. For the Europeans in our party, the mild, vaporous climate of the North West is a gentle introduction to early summer in America.

I have been overwhelmed by the response to the “Ask Elvis” feature of this site and have got a kick out of reading your questions. I must thank you for so many compliments. It is obviously difficult to reply to every single enquiry individually and have time to play any shows but I thought that I would make some replies here to popular topics so people do not feel thwarted or slighted by not getting an answer right away.

Far and away the most common question is “Are you coming to…(insert your town here)?” It is great to know that there are people out there who want us to visit their neighbourhood but needless to say we do not have complete control over these matters. There may not be a suitable or available venue when we are passing through or your local promoter may simply be too cheap or hate my guts.

In future you can expect to see much more advance notice of upcoming shows (as well as of television and radio appearance that you may care to catch). I CAN say that the Japanese and Australian tours are now finalised and those dates will be posted shortly. The festival and concert dates in Europe and Scandinavia during August will be announced very shortly. I believe the Scottish tour starts in Glasgow on 5th September. The English tour starts in Newcastle the next day and ends the day before the Welsh tour begins. More precise information as soon as it is confirmed.

At lot of people have written in from towns in the U.S. to which I returned in 1999 after an interval of several years (and this means you all in St. Louis). I said I would come back and in most cases I hope that will be the case during a second American tour that is currently being booked for late September through to the first days of November. Whatever the news about your town, I hope you’ll hear about it here first.

The next most plentiful group of questions concerns possible collaborations. The door is also open and the phone is always connected to Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach and the Brodsky Quartet but these things will happen when they happen. The same certainly applies to all of those imaginative suggestions for my ideal co-writer. It is not as if I can invite myself into their life and work unannounced, nor would I wish to do so. Right now I am enjoying writing alone but keep the wild suggestions coming.

The final variety of question concerns the release of various albums and un-issued recordings from the vault. Many of these are about to be scheduled or under consideration for release by Rhino Records. Once again, advance notice will be posted on this site.

When it comes to enquiries regarding live recordings and the more loaded questions about downloadable material - the ugly matter of rights and ownership tends to make things a little more complicated.

There has been a vague plan to assemble a collection of live performances for a number of years. The truth is that many of the official recordings happen to be of the least memorable concerts. It was almost a standing joke between The Attractions and myself that if there was a mobile recorder outside the venue, the show was doomed. The concerts recorded when I was under contract to Warner Brothers are simply not mine to release without their agreement.

Nevertheless, there IS a considerable amount of decent material to be assembled one day, although it is difficult to imagine being able to judge the merits of nineteen versions of the same song at this distance. I am probably more attracted to the one-off event with special repertoire such as the album, “Deep Dead Blue” with Bill Frisell or the recent CMT special with Lucinda Williams. The future lies ahead.

If your eye should ever stray to the business pages you will no doubt read that the record business is in crisis. Let’s get this straight. The “record business” is in trouble, “music” is doing fine. People are full of apocalyptic predictions and generous advice as to how to separate a songwriter from the ownership of his compositions and recordings via the Internet.

Protecting your rights does not imply that you endorse the plunder of the known world by multi-national corporations. Just as some “righteous” independents and cyber-entrepreneurs turn out to be inefficient capitalists waiting for the day when they too can sell stock options. There are good and bad people all over.

It is lucky for us that we have the luxury of arguing about how we will hear the next song rather than how we will get our next meal - whether we buy it or steal it. The idea of people using the products of a major corporation – namely, a computer – to argue that all music should be “free”, strikes me as ludicrous.

There are many complications to presenting downloadable music is a coherent and accountable form (after all there are other musicians involved who have their “rights”). This does not mean that I do not have this option under review. Watch this space.

When I began making records, 8-tracks tapes were still in use and vinyl was the main medium, so I will not be surprised if I find my songs being issued in the form of a pill which we are all required to swallow before the time comes for me to leave this world.

It was good to see so many people at the appearance at the Easy Street store in Seattle – and I enjoyed playing D.J. at K.M.T.T., spinning some Buck Owens, Tom Waits, Solomon Burke and a couple of Imposter re-mixes. These tracks were also aired during the recording of a session with my beat boxes and fuzz tones earlier in the week at K.C.R.W. in Santa Monica. I believe that one can we heard on the ‘net.

Those who came to the recent record store events will know that I am more than happy to sign and meet with people for a couple of hours. I am equally glad to sign and talk at the stage door or backstage after the show. However, I find it necessary to make the following point clear as we hit the road. I make a clear distinction between these times and that which I need for myself.

It doesn’t come off as “enthusiastic” to find people hanging outside the hotel where we are staying or meeting the plane that we are arriving on. It comes off as intrusive and creepy. Genuine listeners may unknowingly get mixed up in this but I strongly suspect that most of items I am asked to sign in these locations are intended for e-bay. My refusal to sign a cheap guitar usually results in a sudden shift of demeanour to “who does he think he is?” Any workingman, woman or beast expects to be available at their place of work – they do NOT expect to find someone lurking on their doorstep unless they are a stalker, burglar or vacuum-cleaner salesman. The hotel is my house for the night. I am not on holiday.

So, let’s be humans abut this. Just a few people being pushy and stupid can really make me want to head for the hills. I apologise to the decent folks out there for even having to take up your time with this. If your intentions are genuine, please come to the show (or just to the stage door if you can’t get a ticket) and I will be happy to meet and do what I can. Either that or hail me as I pass YOUR place of work or pleasure.

So, that is all want to say about these matters. I don’t intend this part of site to become a debating society or, what I understand the young people call, a “chat room” – in the words of Errol Flynn, it is only “for fun and sport”.

You may get a kick out of the following site: The Story of Pete Thomas, drummer extraordinaire.

Bye for now. E.C.

Sunday, June 2, 2002


So the Pacific Coast section of the tour is over and we are about to depart for Denver and Mountain Standard Time.

It has been a great couple of weeks – we got quite a welcome up in the North West, opening the tour to a standing crowd in Portland before playing our first theatre show at the Paramount in Seattle. A big salute goes out to Peter Buck for joining us on Rickenbacker 12-String for an encore “(What’s so funny about) Peace, Love and Understanding?”

Next stop was the Bay Area – the first show was actually south of there at Saratoga in the kind of open air, mountain-top venue that is no doubt ideal on a warm summer evening but one that can be a little tough when the temperature is dropping into the 40s. After seven songs, I was looking at my fingers to see what chord I was playing but once people got to their feet, enough heat was generated to see us all through to the end of the night.

The Imposters and I build the show using different songs every evening. The sound of the hall, the mood of the day and the way my voice is feeling all have something to do with the choices. I frequently spend some little time writing the “perfect” set only to tear it up after five minutes on stage, as was the case in Saratoga.

The Berkeley show was the night when “Clowntime is over” re-appeared after fifteen years or more on the shelf. “You Little Fool” and “Tiny Steps” have also been included in these last days. The songs from “When I was Cruel” are great to play in concert and the arrangements and interpretations are changing constantly. There are still a couple of songs from the record that we have yet to perform on stage but their time will come.

Leaving San Francisco we took our first long road trip, travelling south, close enough Bakersfield to spy a sign for Buck Owens Boulevard and then across the Mojave Desert into Las Vegas. We stopped at a rest area, with Edwards Airforce Base off on the horizon, where tiny yellow birds were feeding on insects in the dry, hot air and ground squirrels sparred in the scrub. It was probably better not to investigate further as a notice warns that Sidewinders may be found coiled there at dusk.

I seriously doubt that there is a single theatrical set designer available in Hollywood as they must surely all be in Las Vegas designing casino facades. This was my second visit to the city for a concert, having once passed through the city out of curiosity in the early ‘80s. Those were the last days of the Old Vegas, well, if not the Vegas of Frank Sinatra then the Vegas of Hunter Thompson. Many of the original landmark institutions were still standing. I saw Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, playing at either ends of the strip in one evening. The enjoyment of strolling from block to block was something of a lottery back then – now you can walk for miles and never breathe the desert air but you can travel from Egypt to Camelot and from New York to Venice without leaving Nevada. You also have to consider that the members of the audience have passed up opportunities to see Britney Spears, The Marvelettes or several people who make large or wild things disappear.

Then we travelled to Reno – another remarkable desert drive, past a multitude of cacti and the pink painted palaces of sin – some rather joyless looking mobile homes set back from the highway. The sand must be troublesome. When the view did get less fascinating, I took the time to read through the questions that have been sent to the “Ask Elvis” feature of this site.

A few people have asked whether I read all the questions and how I select those to which I reply (and it is me answering, I assure you). I do read as many questions as time allows and try to respond to correspondents of all ages and nationalities. After all this is the “World Wide Web”. As the information about dates is available elsewhere it might not be possible to respond to every request to play your town or about that favourite song but keep the questions coming because it gives us the idea of where we should travel next and what people desire.

Once in a while there is a good question that is attached to such fulsome praise that it would be frankly immodest to re-print it along with my answer but I send my thanks for all those compliments. Needless to say, there are also a few cranky entries and crackpot theories out there but why should the site be different from anything else in this world?

At Reno we said farewell to American Hi-Fi, who had opened up all the shows since Seattle. They gave a good account of themselves every night and seemed to win over people who may not have heard them before. We wish them all the best on their travels and with their next record.

I closed my eyes for a few moments on the road out of Reno and when I awoke we were on a mountain pass with banks of ice and snow piled up by the side of the road and among the pines. We had climbed up to 9000 feet, passing still blue lakes and the evocatively titled, “Kit Carson Lodge”. Every bend in that road seemed to reveal a more spectacular landscape as we descended into California.

I understand that Calaveras County is famous for its giant jumping frogs and an association with the writings of Mark Twain. It is also a place where it still seems to be 1968 and this is not necessarily a bad thing. We were playing on a festival bill with Trey Anastasio, who I believe sometimes plays with a group called The Phish. I must confess that they have completely escaped my notice but he seemed a very decent fellow. We were required to play for a brief while in the early evening as the sun was descending. People seemed to like it best when we played one chord for a very long time. We were happy to oblige and then hit the road for Los Angeles.

The next show was part of my absurdly named “Artist-in-Residence” season at UCLA. Let’s get this straight. I am not living on the campus, neither am I teaching, just two of the misconceptions that this title seems to have inspired. The Ackerman Ballroom had all the charm and mystery that I recall from seeing Steppenwolf play at Liverpool University in 1971. It was a dark, airless shoe-box, so naturally it was perfect for our purposes. It was also briefly illuminated by the first of our opening acts, The Like. True to say that this teenage group contains Pete Thomas’ daughter Tennessee on drums and our pal Mitchell Froom’s daughter, Charlotte on bass and vocals but they more than deserved their place on the bill. The line-up is completed their companion, Z, on lead vocals and guitar and their songs have great charm and melodic invention. It was a big show for the gals and they did themselves proud and seemed to win new admirers.

The darker music of Autolux was also heard that evening and they continued with us to open the show in San Diego and the second Los Angeles concert - illuminated only by a striking arrangement of orange lightbulbs. They have one of the finest drummers around in Carla Azar. She helped me out last year playing drums on a demo version of “Daddy can I turn this?” Their music really reveals itself on repeated hearings and I have found myself turning a couple of their melodies over in my mind in the last few days.

The last show of the West Coast adventure was in the spectacular new Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. I resisted the constant temptation to announce each song with the phrase “…and the award goes to…” as it is best known as the home of the Oscars. Surprisingly, the management had a very relaxed view about people standing in the aisles – which is extremely uncommon in the fancier theatres. This and the great crowd of people contributed to probably the best atmosphere and our most enjoyable performance of the tour so far.

There was an old out-of-tune piano in the dressing room in San Diego and I started writing new melody on it. Hopefully, I’ll have time to work on the piece as we leave Denver for Minnesota. So, if you don’t hear from me, it’s because I’m writing something else.

Bye for now. E.C.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002


It has been a while since I have written this journal. The distances between shows have been greater but the time for writing and reflection has been scant. I have been working on the liner notes of the next in the series of Rhino re-issues, including “Armed Forces”. It is curious to writing about a record from more nearly twenty-five years ago while bowling along exactly the same highways on which many of the songs were written. This is the first tour in a number of years during which I have been, literally, “on the road”. Ronnie, our driver makes safe and steady progress and the accommodations and features onboard are a great improvement on the old Silver Eagle that I purchased in the late 70’s and ran to a standstill on the narrow lanes of Europe.

Having said this, we actually left the West Coast for Denver by air and arrived in Colorado in time to make an appearance at a record shop. At best, these events give me a chance to create a club atmosphere in the store and meet a few local people. Unfortunately, not every establishment can be adapted for performance and it is a thin line between low-key charm in which the evil conjurer reveals the working of the his trick and feeling like a precocious performing child from the 18th Century perched on a table top.

Hopefully, nobody in attendance (or those who no doubt ran the event in good faith) was any the worse for my dismay but I resolved to only honour my next such engagement. In truth, my first responsibility is to those who have bought a concert ticket. It is fine to visit radio stations and make these appearances occasionally but there are other ways for people to learn of the existence of an album. The record company can always take out some advertisements.

I have visited Denver infrequently over the years being suspicious of high places that lie that far from the ocean. Our show at the Fillmore seemed to go well enough but we were in town too briefly to reach any further impression of the place other than that the streets of the city were strangely deserted on the following morning. These must be hard working people.

On our way out to the airport we took a detour out to Boulder to visit to a radio station and I played a couple of songs on my newly acquired Gibson J-50 – replacing one of the guitars destroyed in the recent flood at our storage facility in Dublin. The guitar sings very sweetly, I’m almost afraid to touch it as it surely contains a hatful of ballad melodies and I am enjoying playing rock and roll music again. The station had invited a number of listeners to lurk in the hallway listening on tiny speakers while I performed in a glass booth – an oddly impersonal compromise. That just about completed my perfect trip to Colorado. I came in like Mr. Waits’ “Table Top Joe” and exited as a goldfish.

The next stop was Minneapolis, my favourite city between the coasts. The cooler weather and lake littered layout is good for the spirits. The Mississippi flows through a series of weirs and locks with more youthful force than the stately progress that one can observe at St. Louis, Memphis or New Orleans. We had enough time to make two visits to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, one of my favourite museums in the U.S. Almost every city contains riches but the one-day visitor has to be very selective in the larger collections. People familiar with the institutions of London would appreciate that a trip to the Minneapolis Institute is like seeing something of the National Gallery, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum all in one modest sized building.

I was particularly intrigued by the allegorical “King of Goats” engraving and the paintings of Max Beckman and James Ensor but the eye would also land on an exhibit of vintage telephones or Danish chairs on the way through the galleries. The lower rooms contained a spirit figure of wood and driven nails from the Congo more alarming than anything in horror cinema. Other objects echoed the themes of the superb exhibition of African art that we were lucky enough to see in Seattle at the beginning of the tour. I will follow the example of Mr. Nieve, who includes links to places of interest in his internet journal and offer the following address if you should be heading up to the Twin Cities with time on your hands:

Our cultural adventures were curtailed by the timing of my appearance in a record shop but on this occasion there was a small stage and I was able to perform at something like eye-level with those in attendance. I also played a small radio concert at an ideal recital room at Bobby Z’s studio at the edge of town. Then it was time for the concert at the great old Orpheum Theatre. The reaction of the audience was very strong although in truth, as is sometimes the case when you have high expectations of a show, I found it difficult to consistently find my voice that night.

Perhaps, this is why a member of the audience offered to assist by joining us out of the shadows during the encore of “I want you”. A plaintive cry or two had already interrupted to mood of the final verse so there seemed little point in ignoring the attempted duet. I invited the heckler down to see what would happen. Once the blonde and rather bewildered fellow appeared from the shadows and planted a kiss on my cheek, there was little else to do than return in kind and end the song on something of an unlikely comic note.

We now embarked on the longest road trip of the tour, driving out through the idyllic lakes and waterways of Minnesota and into the rural pastures of Wisconsin, including the apparent apparition of a herd of Bison. We also passed forests from which you might have expected the emergence of the occasional dinosaur. After crawling passed Chicago, we eventually stopped for dinner in Merriville, Indiana. We were happy to be a local curiosity and amusement with our strange accents in return for the gracious welcome. A little further down the road into Michigan we stopped to get gas for the bus and stumbled into one of those rare truck-stops where all the CDs and cassettes (and even a few DVDs) are weird cut-outs at the kind of prices that make you take a few gambles. I had spent several of the recent journeys catching up with movies that I’d missed over the last few years (“Wonder Boys” and “Traffic” being among the favourites). To this we could now add a strange movie set in the 30s with Johnny Cash as a local sheriff bringing a local bigot and despot (played by Andy Griffith) to justice. I could always imagine Big John in this kind of role.

The audio swag included a cassette copy of Neil Young’s “Harvest” (very welcome, at $5, as we had just been listening to “Old Man” on the “Wonder Boys” soundtrack), a great Blind Willie McTell compilation and “Super, Super Blues Band”, a wild Chess session in which Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Howlin’ Wolf try to outdo each other on a series of loose jams.

Music DVD’s get played pretty often during our journeys. The new edition of “The Last Waltz” makes very poignant viewing these days. The Attractions and I had what must have been bootleg VHS on our tour bus very soon after the original release and we watched it until we knew every word of the interviews. Too many of the people involved have departed sooner than you would wish. I can barely watch the interview with Richard Manuel, he is almost transparent and the wildness that once seemed very attractive now seems only fragile and tragic.

I am reminded of my love of these songs. Levon Helm’s singing and drumming on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is a wonder but it is Rick Danko who stands out for me. His singing is superb on “It makes no difference” (a song that would surely be a “standard” without that weird rhyme about the “stampeding cattle” in the bridge) and there is an unnerving intensity about his performance of “Stage Fright” and his verse of “The Weight”, a performance that is also graced by the remarkable Mavis Staples. It is great to see Muddy Waters and Van Morrison in such rare form, so the lasting impression is a joyous one. I wish I could have seen the re-released film in a cinema during the recent theatre run.

Another beautiful release is “Down from the Mountain”, D.A. Pennebaker’s film of the Ryman Auditorium concert featuring music from the “O Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. This film also has a melancholic edge as it contains the last performances of John Hartford. His laconic introductions and beautiful singing and fiddle playing are more moving as he is clearly in the later stages of grave illness. After his passing, I was asked by the producers, T Bone Burnett and Joel and Ethan Coen, to M.C. the companion Carnegie Hall concert. I had the best seat in the house behind a lectern to the side of the stage, rising only to make a few impromptu remarks and introductions.

It was completely overwhelming to be just a few feet away from the supernatural Suzanne Cox as she floated her voice into the auditorium during “I am weary let me rest” with minimal amplification. However, when it came to Dr. Ralph Stanley’s terrifying solo rendition of “O Death”, there was nothing else to do but withdraw to the wings and join the hushed cast of singers. Something of this intimacy is caught in the film with the beautifully concentrated close-ups on Willard and Suzanne Cox being the most affecting.

I’ve also been enjoying Dr. Stanley’s new self-titled album release (on DMZ). This is a beautifully recorded collection of traditional songs. I recommend “Little Mathie Grove” to give you a sense of the mood. A lot of my other listening and viewing consists of CD and tapes that I’ve been given along the way. Just last night I received a gift of a Roscoe Holcomb collection that will accompany us on the final miles as we head down to Virginia and Georgia. Sometimes I get little chance to really thank people for their gifts, so I send my regards here. It is difficult to respond to every demo tape that I am given, as I honestly feel that my advice, certainly that of a practical nature, is of little value in this wicked world showbusiness. There is no easy answer. It seems that talent is never enough. Much luck is required to advance these days. I do try and listen to everything that I receive, although the system on the bus doesn’t seem to like CD-Rs.

My favourite gift was a compilation of blues performances from a noted archivist. It contains one number by Howlin’ Wolf (with one of my guitar favourites, Hubert Sumlin in support) that makes you realise that something has been lost in the modern performance of music. Hubert is still playing and recording today. He came to a concert of mine a short time ago and I was delighted to receive a framed photograph of the two of us backstage from Hubert’s manager just the other day. It will be hang in my music room when I get home.

The epic journey finally concluded in Birmingham, no not the one in England, as it seemed it might and certainly not the one in Alabama but a small town outside of Detroit. So began a run of concerts predominantly in venues that are commonly called “sheds” and with good reason.

The choice of locations is made on the advice of promoters and my agent with regard to the realities of the touring economy. That groovy dive downtown may simply not support a band and crew on a cross-country tour. Detroit is a perplexing case in point. I truthfully favour the downtown halls but I am told that people don’t like to go there and prefer the semi-outdoor facilities during the summer months. Despite this our Detroit area appearance seemed to go well. It was also the second night of the tour for our new opening act, Billy Bob Thornton and his excellent band.

I ran into Billy Bob at Dublin airport a few months back and spent a couple of delayed hours talking about music (and even making a start on a country song once we finally got into the air). A week later he was back in town for a show and my wife and I went with him to see the Monkees (well, Mickey and Davey) on the evening before his date. The next evening I made a guest appearance on the Leon Payne song, “Lost Highway”. Mr. Thornton is a real gent, loves music and has some fine songs. Our driver, Ronnie, picked up a DVD copy of Billy Bob’s film, “Slingblade”, which he wrote, directed and starred in. I hadn’t seen the film since it was released in the theatre and it is an incredible piece of work if you have not seen it. I was glad to have him along for a few nights.

It is not always possible to book dates in a logical order, so we next re-traced our route back to Illinois and a date at the Chicago Theatre. This is a venue at which I have had fine shows both with Burt Bacharach and on my 1999 tour with Steve Nieve but on this occasion there seemed to be an oddly distracted atmosphere. Perhaps we had returned to town too soon after our recent House of Blues club date. You know what they say about absence. It was harder to judge the evening as we had made our largest departure from the structure of show that had been the basis of all the concerts on the tour. We brought, “Clubland”, “Sulky Girl” and “Accidents will happen” back into the repertoire and gave our first performance the song that my wife and I had written for Solomon Burkes’s new record. It is called “The Judgement”. Despite the changes, I believe we played pretty well in Chicago as the conclusion of the evening seemed to suggest.

We alter the show nightly but had retain certain combinations of songs to enter and exit the stage, if only so we don’t forget how long we have been playing and go beyond the inevitable theatre curfew that is the enemy of a runaway concert. Whatever was in the air that night, I was somewhat surprised to hear that the autumn date at this venue has all but sold out in a couple of days. I’ll be looking forward to that return engagement.

Next we rolled into Columbus, Ohio for a torrid, humid, show down by the river. This is a town in which I left some very serious regrets about some idiotic drunken behaviour many years ago – something that I have no intention of discussing now beyond this observation. The generosity of the welcome and the success of the show felt like something of an exorcism.

I also visited the local radio station. They allowed me to broadcast the unreleased debut recording by our recent support band, The Like and also to spin some of Ralph Stanley’s album along with one of the Impostor re-mixes from “When I was Cruel”, a track called “Revolution Doll”.

On our way out of town, we stopped at the family home of Columbus’ famous son, James Thurber. The Victorian house has been arranged as an intriguing walk-through museum and the garden contains stone likeness of some of Thurber’s famous cartoon dogs. I am rarely without a Thurber edition in my travelling bag (and I was given a beautiful vintage paperback earlier in the tour) and found myself re-reading and glancing through the cartoon captions once again. I realised that there is very little in the way of practical advice and wisdom to be found in other more learned and pious books that one cannot receive through the gentle (and not so gentle) wit of this author and artist without equal.

You can read about the house and something of Thurber at:

Once in Cleveland, we found ourselves in the re-claimed industrial landscape along the Cuyahoga River. The idea of a marquee-like structure at that location was no doubt well intentioned but it did not reckon with the high winds that threatened to use the stage backdrop as a sail. This risked the entire lighting gantry ending up in the third row, so the audience was treated to a backdrop of the slagheap located behind the stage and we were obliged to swallow clouds of coal dust whenever the wind direction changed. Despite all of this, some of the people of Cleveland were persuaded to enjoy themselves and I bid goodbye to Billy Bob and all his crew with a reprise of “Lost Highway” at the end of his set.

The next day we left the country for a date in Toronto. After an unnervingly easy-going passage through Canadian Customs and Immigration we reached the partly covered venue to find the temperature plummeting after the humid conditions of Ohio. My last concert in Toronto had been one of my favourite ever shows. The venue on that trip, Massey Hall, was not available for this show but we did our best to keep people from freezing in their seats. I was introduced to the fellers from Sum 41 at the end of the evening. Our pal, Ron Sexsmith, was also in attendance and he slipped me an advance copy of his new record that finds him in very fine voice on another collection of great songs, recorded with a fresh sound.

It wasn’t long before we climbed aboard the bus for an overnight drive to Boston. I usually have to plan a maximum of three consecutive shows in order to get enough vocal rest but we were now heading for rural Massachusetts on our “day-off” to make a video clip for “45”. I must have fallen asleep watching a movie and was awakened by a U.S. Immigration Officer looming over me and gently telling me that she had enjoyed my cameo appearance in the film, “200 Cigarettes”. When I work up again on the edge of Boston, I assumed that it must have been a dream.

Director, Jesse Dylan and I had dreamt up the scenario back over the telephone and by e-mail. He had managed to assemble the crew and find the ideal location in a matter of days. This turned out to be the small town of Rowley, close to Salem. The original idea was to make a short silent movie that would be accompanied by the song “45”.

I portrayed a man dressed in a stovepipe hat, tails, white gloves and an evening coat, looking like a shorter Abraham Lincoln. I was also pushing a shopping cart full of clocks through town. In the film, the population gradually relieve me of my stock of clocks and the contents of my suitcase. Eventually, just on the edge of town, I encounter three children who would demand my coat, my hat and my shoes. I have to say the people of Rowley, who were recruited for these roles, took to them with dedication and some relish. Hardly any of the cast had any theatrical experience but they stuck with the inevitable multiple takes and coverage from a variety of angles with patience and fortitude despite the decreasing temperatures.

We began at the end. On the road out of town I passed another featured player, a cow being walked to the milking shed. Three local children did an excellent job of the final scene with just a few well-chosen words from Jesse.

We did not commence filming until the late afternoon, so that Francis, the cameraman, could give the appearance of twilight and night as the story progressed. We continued filming throughout the evening, first in the driveway of a house and then on the forecourt of a service station and convenience store.

By now we had assembled a cast of twenty or thirty people, including sparkling cameo appearances by Paddy Callaghan, who looks after our security and the members of The Impostors. After a while it seemed as if the rest of the town was driving by to watch the filming, the local newspaper sent a photographer to cover the story and it was apparently reported on the local radio station. At about 11pm the manager of the local ice-cream parlour sent one of his young staff to say that he would open up specially to offer us refreshments.

The elaborate timing of these forecourt scenes required more takes than expected and word reached us that the manageress of our final location, the Agawam Diner, was getting anxious to close. As I was not needed in the last shot at the service station, I rode over to the diner with the producer, Danyi, to crave their indulgence for a short while longer.

I can only imagine how I must have appeared, in my now quite bedraggled costume, as I entered the vintage diner. I met with the two delightful gals behind the counter, Ethyl and Elaine, who told me that they had known bad experiences with film crews who say that want to film and then never turn up. I assured them that would not be the case and soon the place was full of forty cast and crew ordering coffee and pie.

While everyone took a short break, Jesse set up the camera behind the counter and we very casually shot an entirely different version of the video which consisted of me singing the song at my place at the counter while various members of the cast took turns in the adjacent seats and did whatever Jesse directed them to do or what ever came into their head; “explain” the menu to me, tell me about their holiday, drum on the counter, try to steal my lemon meringue pie. I made sure that Ethyl and Elaine made appearances along with the stars of previous scenes.

Nevertheless, once everyone was restored we continued with the original story. Out in the parking lot I was to encounter more townspeople, who remove the last of the clocks and a cheerleader, who has to settle for a drawing of the clock. Then an angry prom-queen runs off with the cart itself and I have my final confrontation with a gang of skateboarders who demand the contents of my suitcase only to be rewarded with a prison uniform, a cavalry jacket and a pink tutu. The Agawam diner finally closed at 2.15am and we wrapped up the filming at about quarter to three.

When it was all cut together it was apparent that we actually had two films for the price of one, the original story about the clocks and a funny sequence of performances in the diner. Who knows where or when or if you will ever see either one of them on your favourite video music channel. Nevertheless, I have to say that everyone involved from Jesse and the crew to the people of Rowley and the even the local cow, (with assistance of the “cow-wrangler”, if that is the word), hit their marks better than I could have imagined. It was a rare experience in itself to visit a small town in America and have this kind of fine adventure.

The next night some of the cast were our guests at the Boston show. I was very wary of this waterside venue, even though it had been re-named and slightly re-located. My previous visit to this neighbourhood had been my worst ever show on American soil, an experience so dispiriting that I very seriously entertained the thought of abandoning concert appearances altogether for some time. Despite the cold wind and rain and the inevitable distractions and restrictions of the venue, this show seemed to be a success.

We moved on to a theatre at Wallingford, Connecticut, a town that I imagined to be just outside Oxford, England. It was a pleasure to be playing indoors again and I think the show reflected this, allowing us to included, “All this useless beauty” and “New Lace Sleeves” for the first time. We didn’t see much more of the neighbourhood as we were once again driving overnight to make another very crucial appointment.

The “Ask Elvis” feature of this site has received a number questions regarding the World Cup. I originally tried to put the competition out of my mind, knowing that it was going to be impractical to watch games in the middle of the night and still perform well on the following evening. As I support the Republic of Ireland, this seemed the wisest course after the pre-tournament drama that saw Ireland’s captain, Roy Keane, banished from the squad after a furious row with the manager.

However, it got difficult to completely ignore the games. People who attended the Cleveland show may have noticed the Irish flags flying either side of the stage, courtesy of Liam and Jimmy, the two Irishmen on the crew. The team surprised everyone by actually playing better than ever and advancing from the first stage and being very unlucky not to eliminate Germany while they were doing it, despite having to wait until the final moments of the game to actually equalise, in typically contradictory style.

We arrived in Washington D.C. shortly before the second round match with Spain. It was another impressive performance in which a team featuring predominantly lower division players regularly out-performed the stars of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Unfortunately, there was to be no romantic ending and the team lost in a penalty shoot-out. It was a great effort and made me homesick for the first time on this tour, as the atmosphere during these campaigns is extraordinary.

Several of the crew, particularly our stage manger, Milo, were anxiously following England’s progress. I keep an eye on the games if only in the hope that the players from Liverpool do well and don’t get injured. I decided that if Ireland were not to win the World Cup then I would support those other boys in green from Senegal. Unfortunately, they didn’t really do themselves justice in the game against Turkey and were also eliminated. However, I really look forward to seeing their amazing star player, El Hadji Diouf in a red shirt at Anfield next season as has been reported.

All of this football talk is a welcome distraction from thoughts of the show at Wolftrap. It was the best-attended concert of the tour and one of the most deeply felt performances but something was crucially missing. I fear that this sedate and rather smug institution is utterly unsuited to the type of show that we are currently playing. The sound restrictions themselves are rather unrealistic, as a rowdy audience might exceed the maximum decibel level before the musicians have played a note. It was one of those evenings in which the people most involved in the music seemed to be furthest from the stage and those who were trying to enjoy themselves in the front stalls were being hemmed in by the rather fussy security. These ushers are only, as they say, obeying orders but it gets a little hard look at those weird kerchief decorated uniforms without thinking of some rather dubious scout corps from the 1930s. The place is just too worthy for my liking. I’d like to thank those who threw themselves into the evening with gusto regardless and look forward to returning to the area and a show at a more viable location. On the whole I’d rather be in Baltimore.

New York came not a moment too soon. I have many friends in the city and know plenty of places that I like to visit, although on this occasion our schedule was pretty tight. It is one of cities in which I have seriously considered living, although my decision not to go massively into debt to buy a loft on 12th Street in the late ‘70s was probably better for my health.

On both nights at the Beacon Theatre we were joined on stage by the horn players who worked on “When I was cruel”, Roy Nathanson having kindly transcribed the lines from the record as I forgot to pack the original parts. From the moment the mighty Ku-umba Frank Lacy hit the stage to play solo trombone on “Spooky Girlfriend”, I knew the evening was going to go well. At the first encore, we were joined by Roy on alto saxophone, Jay Rodriguez on tenor, Curtis Foukles on trombone with Frank switching to trumpet and Flugel horn for extended versions of “Dust” and “15 Petals”. Steve Nieve has been covering these parts with highly treated samples and it was great to hear the “dub horns” and real thing trading lines. If we had been able to find more rehearsal time then we might have adapted the arrangements of a few more songs.

We planned to perform at least twelve different songs at the second Beacon concert but it was apparent almost at once that something was very badly wrong with the out-front sound system. The vocal sound on the stage kept altering and I knew from the audience reaction that the P.A was malfunctioning. This the worst time for such a problem, when everyone’s energy and expectation is high. So we pressed on hoping that the crew could fix it without us having to leave the stage.

The sound in the Beacon Theatre is not ideal but the atmosphere usually makes up for such shortcomings. Now I was getting an urgent signal from, Milo to leave the stage. As I got a fairly nasty electric shock, the last time I ignored his advice in Milan, I waved to the band to conclude our third attempted number, “Clubland”. Fortunately, I remembered that I had no trouble in projecting my voice without a microphone at the end of the concert for “Couldn’t call it unexpected No.4” when I played the theatre in 1999 with Steve Nieve. I got my Gibson J-50 acoustic and went to the edge of the stage for a solo version of “Red Shoes”. Not everyone seemed to realise that I was singing without amplification at first but by the second verse the audience were doing a fine job on the background parts and I got a signal that everything was in order and concluded the number back on my microphone.

Something like that gives you a tremendous rush of nervous energy and the set list was almost forgotten after that. We had to leave the stage after, what turned out to be only, 55 minutes as I was unsure how long we’d been playing and didn’t want to run into problems with the house curfew before we had reprised the horn numbers. Fortunately, we had time to play most of the planned songs and given the circumstances there were no complaints from the house when we ran over by a few minutes.

Earlier that day we were at N.B.C. to appear on the Conan O’Brien Show. We performed “45” and I took part in a skit in which Conan serenaded me with a deliberately awful version (well, I hope it was deliberate) of “Alison”. When I could take it no more, I was to snip the strings off his guitar with some pruning shears. It seemed to play pretty well. Our song also felt good, knowing that Julie in the studio’s mixing booth probably gets the best sound on all of television. There was even time for a brief chat, the whole show was very relaxed and enjoyable.

I had last seen some of the band members from Conan’s show, was at a gig in Asbury Park. The ensemble was billed as the “Max Weinberg Seven” but that wasn’t fooling anyone. The evening was part of a season of Christmas Shows planned by Bruce Springsteen in the style of a soul revue with guest singers. The aim was to raise the spirits and some money for a local community that is clearly not doing too well. We attended as members of the audience but ended up on stage, firstly for an impromptu duet with Bruce on “Alison” and then as part of the massed choirs of backing singers for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. Cait was even persuaded out of retirement to join the encore chorus of the Phil Spector number, “Christmas”. It was a great night and I made a note that evening that I should try and play my own show at the Convention Center before too long.

Asbury Park very much features a seaside town of my own childhood, New Brighton across the Mersey from Liverpool. It also had amusements and attractions (including. at one time, the “World’s Largest Outdoor Swimming Pool”) that thrived from the 30s to the late-60s. After that it was the familiar story of ruthless property developers and either incompetent or corrupt local government. There isn’t a viable venue left in New Brighton but the Asbury Park Convention Centre, which actually resembles an ice-rink more than anything else, is ideal for a rock and roll show. On the other hand, the town looks as of it has been through a particularly rugged conflict but unless people are prepared to play there is will remain that way.

Arriving in the area a little early, we were driven along the coast to get a little air away from the “construction” and found that the borderline from Asbury to neighbouring towns brings a remarkable change of fortunes. At Belmar we stumbled into a classic car gathering, where people parked their beautifully restored Cadillacs and Impalas along the boardwalk. It seemed like a rather more affluent version of a Bruce Springsteen song.

Rolling back to the venue we passed the “Madam Marie” fortune telling stand that is mentioned in Bruce’s great early song, “Sandy” and the club with which he is associated, the famous “Stone Pony” and the place where we closed our very first American tour in 1977. Our show at the Convention Center was as clammy and rowdy as I had expected. Perhaps it was all these backward looking glances caused me to pull out a seven song run from 1978-79 toward the end of the show. Sometimes it just feels right to play these songs even though they’ve been heard many times before.

The Impostors are a new group despite the presence of Pete and Steve in the line-up. I made a joking reply to recent question about the extent of our repertoire in which I said something to the effect that the band knew more than one hundred song but not necessarily by the same composer. This is, of course, quite true but it was not meant to give accurate account of the songs of mine that we know.

We have been learning more tunes throughout the tour and have our minds set on broadening the set list still further as we proceed. By the time we return to the U.S. in mid-September we will have visited Japan, Australia, Italy and Sardinia and played in Ireland, England, Scotland and several other European and Scandinavian cities. Who knows what we will be performing by the time the tour concludes in early November?

There are there are a few things of which I am certain, The Impostors are as fine a band as I have ever played with. I’m in the mood for this rock and roll music again and it is hard to know where that may lead. It has been good to hear such a strong reaction to the new songs, all of which we now play with considerably more abandon than just a month ago.

Last evening we returned to the Tower Theatre, Philadelphia a favourite venue of mine since 1978. The atmosphere did not disappoint. Without a curfew to trouble us, we ended up playing the longest show of the tour. As I close this journal, we are approaching Norfolk, Virginia and we will play in Portsmouth this evening before travelling overnight to Atlanta and the final show of the U.S. tour.

The next morning we leave at 5am for a connecting flight to Tokyo, losing a day in our lives in process. They used to riot in the streets during the Middle Ages over such tricks of the calendar. Instead we will drive the two hours, past Disneyland and the endless golf driving ranges and the Love Hotels, on the road from Narita Airport into the city and hope to find a television channel that is showing the second World Cup semi-final.

We’ve have recently had what has been described as a “No.1” hit in Japan with a version of the Charlie Chaplin song, “Smile”. I think it is only in the chart for “International Artists” but the television drama for which the track was recorded has been drawing an audience of 30 million people a week. I just hope they don’t all come to airport to meet us.

Bye for now. Elvis Costello - 22/06/02

Monday, August 12, 2002

Nancy Sinatra was doing “Born to be wild” when we arrived in the woods at “Smukkeste Festival” – the “Most Beautiful Festival” in Skanderborg, Denmark and with a fair claim to the world title.

Nancy, a vision in white P.V.C. hot pants and beige suede boots (what else?), had the crowd bowing in adoration by the time we got to side stage to see and hear her finale of “These boots were made for walking” and “You only live twice”. I met Nancy after the Los Angeles concert that I did with Burt Bacharach a few years back, so it was good to see her again and with such a rocking band.

It has been a while since I’ve written this journal. We’ve been around the world since my last dispatch. The schedule has allowed much less time for writing than when we were travelling across America by tour bus.

Concluding the U.S. tour in Atlanta, we flew early next morning via Chicago to Tokyo. The journey did not get off to a sparkling start. I had one of those petty and ridiculous disagreements with a security person that makes me grateful to have kept our wheels on the road for the last few months.

Obviously, it is essential that security procedures be improved in the aftermath of recent events. Coming from a country that has always taken these things seriously and is prepared to employ law enforcement professionals to carry out the task, the level of competence and the grasp of the real problem in the U.S. frequently borders on the reckless and insulting. The airlines, airport authorities and the Federal government just will not pay what is required to get sufficiently trained personnel who realise that it is the travellers who actually “take the risk” of taking to the air. Here is an example of the current absurdity.

I was asked to take my case for a “random screening”. This was not strictly true on two counts, as I was allowed to elect which of my cases would be searched, which seemed rather odd; it is also true that my “alien” passport seems to have invited a similar search on each one of the flights that I have been obliged to take since late 2001, so these things aren’t that “random”. Anyway I’ll let that pass, needing two hands to swing my case into place, I dropped my ticket wallet on the counter, an action that triggered an alarming reaction from the security woman in the brown nylon uniform.

In the words of Pete Thomas, she was “painted for war” with an extraordinary choice of make-up that made appear as if she was preparing for a Star Trek convention. Apparently, my travel documents were capable of dashing the security counter to bits and throwing the entire fabric of the Free-World into chaos. When I turned to warn my travelling companions that we were at the mercy of an hysteric, she started cackling with a truly disturbing glee and informed her colleagues that she was going to force me to miss my plane as she was ordering a suspension of my search.

I realise and respect that such workers are underpaid and over-worked but it seemed to have escaped her notice that one of purposes of “security” is to make traveller feel more “secure”. It would on the face of it have little to do with the self-importance of the security personnel. A siege mentality hardly encourages an atmosphere of calm. If all that stands between us and a determined terrorist threat is this threadbare patchwork semi-articulate rent-a-cops, with a huge disparity of techniques and procedures (not to mention a slim grasp on both common sense and simple logic), then there is every reason to feel apprehensive.

Even the presence of heavily armed National Guardsmen or Reservists in combat fatigues fails to inspire much confidence. Their inability to blend in with the foliage, that is usually utterly absent from an airport concourse, would make them a terribly easy target in the event of an armed attack on the security checkpoints. What is their presence supposed to indicate?

Don’t think that these remarks indicate a flippant or disrespectful attitude to matters of security. It is the travelling worker, such as myself, who is obliged to take these matters very seriously.

When I finally located a sane and weary senior member of staff, I enquired by what authority the suspension of my baggage search could be justified. The supervisor informed me that to turn my back on the search of my bag was “against Federal regulations”. When I pointed out that there was not one sign posted to inform travellers of these “Federal Regulations”, she replied that that “Federal Regulations do not require that we tell you about Federal Regulations”. Joseph Heller died for someone’s sins but not for mine.

The fact that the hapless security operative, who had the unpleasant task of picking through my dirty laundry, had her back to me throughout, thereby obscuring any possible view of the examination, was a detail that I thought it prudent not to mention. So, I was free to go and said “Farewell for now” to “The Land of the Free”.

Our tour of Japan was enlivened by the success of a version of the Charlie Chaplin song, “Smile”, which was commissioned by Fuji Television for a weekly epic drama and recorded in two versions, one with strings and rhythm section in New York City and another ballad arrangement, conceived by Steve Nieve, which was cut in Paris and Dublin. The series concluded almost as we landed and the success of the single (it had reached No.1 on the International Artists chart) brought a lot of new people to the concerts.

The scene was set at the Tokyo Blitz, a large standing venue, at which the audience executed the handclap parts perfectly in the opening number, “45”. Although “Smile” has little in common with the rest of “When I was Cruel” (it is an additional track on the Japanese edition), the song made an excellent encore tune. It never harms a singer’s performance to hear the opening bars of a melody accompanied by the squeals of excited young women.

The World Cup competition was also reaching its conclusion in the days following our arrival, although we saw very few football fans in the streets. We were at least able to watch the concluding games on television in the same time zone as following the earlier stages had meant many late nights and early mornings.

Come to think of it we saw little of the streets, as the weather was extremely oppressive, temperature stuck around 35?c, humidity rarely lower than the 80 to 90%. Although the concert halls themselves are highly air-conditioned, the rest of the time it seemed wiser to stay out of the draining heat by exploring the city using the strangely fascinating network of underground shopping malls or the subway system.

We managed to visit a couple of excellent art exhibitions. The first was a remarkable selection of works by Marc Chagall and the second, a Jean-François Millet collection at the Nagoya Branch of the Fine Arts Institute of Boston. The explanation of the existence of this institution in Nagoya was not made clear in any of the museum literature but it made a welcome respite from the teeming, steaming city. We also had time to visit the amazing National Museum in Ueno Park, Tokyo and several smaller collections Japanese statuary, prints, painted screens and other historical artefacts.

Travelling south on the Bullet Train we arrived in my favourite Japanese town, Fukuoka. A slightly slower pace is immediately evident. Silver fish can be seen jumping above the surface of the river at that runs through the city at dusk. The show there went extremely well and we worked our way back North, with shows in Nagoya and Osaka, the reaction to the concerts was equally encouraging.

I met a lot of people after the shows and received many kind and thoughtful gifts and letters written in exquisite handwriting and with a poetic and slightly shaming grasp of English, as my Japanese is restricted to a few courtesy phrases after nearly twenty-five years of visits. We have always worked with the same promoters in that time and the people who work with us are very patient and generous hosts.

As always in Japan, I seemed to spend a lot of time in record shops. I quickly filled the remaining space in my suitcase with all sorts of unusual and unique editions, including a very haunting live Richard Manuel album recorded a year before his death, on which he sings several Ray Charles songs to what sounds like a very casual and small club. He also performs solo versions of many titles that he originally recorded with The Band. His voice is quite fragile at times and he makes little attempt to create a full accompaniment to these songs, apparently playing just “his” piano part – something that can be rather disconcerting unless you know those recordings well enough to fill in the other parts in your mind. Nevertheless, there are several wonderful moments, especially when he is joined by his former colleague, Rick Danko, for the frail but moving two-part harmony in the chorus of "Tears of Rage". “The record is called “Whispering Pines – Live at the Getaway”

It seems that many more people were familiar with the songs from “When I was Cruel” in Japan, certainly compared to the last few shows in the U.S where the majority of the people present seemed to know little about us beyond a couple of early singles. Either condition can actually make for a good show. When we encounter a crowd who are unfamiliar with most of the songs, it simply makes us deliver each tune as if it were brand new, with no reliance on any sentiment.

However, once it was apparent that people were really welcoming the new tunes, we were able to feature “Soul for Hire”, “Daddy can I turn this?” and several other songs from the new record that had not often featured in the American shows. On one evening, we played thirteen songs from “When I was Cruel” as well as several songs from deep in the catalogue. Among these titles were “Tokyo Storm Warning”, “Human Hands”, “Suit of Lights” and “You Little Fool”. I imagine that we will continue to play them occasionally during the remaining dates of 2002.

We continued to add to our song list upon arrival in Australia, working up new arrangements of “Home is anywhere you hang your head” and “The Other Side of Summer” and performing “Veronica” for the first time on this tour. Steve Nieve was also featured on melodica, playing variations on the theme that I wrote for an “Almost Blue” arrangement performed in the past with Anne Sofie von Otter’s concert ensemble and also with the Charles Mingus Orchestra. Steve’s playing on the coda of this tune became a highlight of several shows in the final weeks before our short summer break.

If the reaction of the Japanese audiences has, in the past at least, been reserved and overly respectful at times, the same could not be said for Australia. This has something to do with our unusual history there.

Our first visit in 1978 was attended by hysterical press scare stories claiming that the police and Federal authorities would be watching our stage act “to see that it does not become too bizarre”. Needless to say the temptation to live up to expectations became too much for us resist when the toytown drum kit and equipment, hired by our promoters, literally disintegrated under us after scant 45 minute set in Sydney.

A minor riot ensued and seats were smashed etc. The next day arriving in Melbourne, the press posse was waiting for us at the airport with a girl dressed in drunken 70’s journalist’s idea of a groupie: bubble perm, green hot pants and thigh high silver platform boots. They attempted to push the hapless young woman in a few photo opportunities and a couple of cameras were smashed in the process. Needless to say, this further fuelled the hooligan image that they were trying to promote, with reports of terrified children being snatched from under the boots of the marauding “punk” hordes. Looking back it seems rather quaint but it was several years before we returned.

Several less sensational and a few rather drunken tours followed, the least successful of which was with the Rude Five, who by that point has become the Rude or Filthy Four, following the departure of Marc Ribot, leaving me, as the sole guitarist, to terrorise the sparse audiences lured into entirely inappropriate venues by a pair of professional wrestling promoters who were trying their luck (and our patience) with a venture in rock and roll.

In 1999, I visited with Steve Nieve for some great concerts that were only complicated by an uncharacteristic bout of vocal frailty that caused a rare cancellation and the rapid re-scheduling of a few dates, meaning that we actually made two visits in one month following the completion of that year’s Japanese tour.

It must have been the impression created by these concerts, which heavily featured the material from “Painted from Memory” and the subsequent release of “She” from the “Notting Hill” soundtrack, that had prepared this year’s Australian audience for a crooning show. There was clearly an element in each crowd who were a little shocked that we had “gone electric”. Despite this, three successive nights at the, wonderfully battered, Enmore Theatre seemed to get the message across that this was more of a rock and roll show.

It is stating the obvious to say that Sydney is a beautiful city and arriving on the Southern Hemisphere’s winter it was particularly mild and ideal for walking. Some in our party even ventured up on the Harbour Bridge Walk, an organised trip that sees a constant procession to the top of the arch from dawn until late evening.

Sydney is also the home of my oldest friend, Joel – we can be seen sunbathing as lads in the pages of the “Brutal Youth” booklet. It was good to spend a little time with him and his family as well as with other pals that we see so infrequently.

Unfortunately, the schedule of this visit did not permit shows in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth but there was apparently time for a trip to Canberra. This is a city that even loyal Aussies speak of with a lack of enthusiasm. It can seem a rather sedate and soulless place but on this occasion we got a great reception. Plans are already being laid for a return to Australia in 2003, when we will perform in all the major cities.

My hope is that the trip will allow me to visit the vast areas of the country that usually go untouched by rock and roll tours. Apart from a two-day visit to Kangaroo Island (south of Adelaide) some years ago, there has been little time for such adventures in the past. On that occasion we found ourselves on a red dirt road coming across a lot of animals (although it was true to say that there was a depressing amount of roadkill, despite the scarcity of vehicles).

Visitors are obliged to eat their picnics inside fenced enclosures, which some would say is how it should be. Even so, I managed to get mugged by a mob of kangaroos, as they are wise to the fact that visitors buy corn (or some such grain) with which to feed them but they much more dexterous than you might imagine…and stronger and very persistent.

My wife and I are big fans of the A.B.C. television programme from the early 90s, “Bush Tucker Man”. In this, the Australian army’s Major Les Hiddens is often found retracing the steps of early explorers, plunderers and blunderers. Major Les is forever reaching a God forsaken spot in the bush where some hapless adventurers perished from hunger only to utter the immortal phrase, “If only they had realised…”

This is usually followed by the plucking of some unpromising looking fruit, root, tree bark or insects dug up from the earth that are the makings of perfectly nutritious “tucker”. Naturally, there is some serious research behind these observations, together with a very clear message that the ignorance or arrogance of these explorers towards Aboriginal knowledge of these matters was the main reason for their demise.

Intentionally or not, it is one of the most wonderfully subversive programmes to appear on television in recent times. The programme can still occasionally be seen on one or other version of the Discovery Channel or as filler in the early hours on the terrestrial stations. While brasher and more sensational wildlife programmes are widely publicised, you may have to seek this one out. I think you will find it is worth the search.

One of the more unusual songs to feature in our recent shows is “My Mood Swings”. It was written at the behest of T Bone Burnett and the Coen Brothers for their movie “The Big Lebowski”. The song, which was completed in a yellow cab on the way to the studio, does not feature very prominently in the movie (it can be heard leaking from Jeff Bridges headphones in the scene in which his character visits the “dentist”) but it had been in my mind to add it to our repertoire since May, as it was the only rock and roll song cut for, the then, Mercury label prior to the release of “When I was Cruel”.

The song’s finest hour arrived at the second night in the Melbourne Concert Hall. This is a very plush venue, much better suited to a recital, although we have fond memories of the Attractions show there in 1984 at which we honoured the attendance of Ms. Olivia Newton John by performing “Hopelessly devoted to you”. This in turn triggered a backstage session around the piano at which the band and road-crew serenaded her with selections from “Grease”. But that is another story…

We decided to take advantage of the fine acoustic of the Concert Hall by including ballads such as “God Give me Strength”, “Shipbuilding” and “Almost Blue”. However, when it came time to step up the tempo, the audience seemed reluctant to leave their comfortable seats. All that is except for one young lady who required very little encouragement to take to the stage and illustrate the steps required to the sedentary throng. It was some of the best tailfeather shaking seen on our stage since the days of the “Kitten McCracken Go-Go Cage” during the Spectacular Spinning Songbook dates in the mid-80s. “My Mood Swings” finally found its true moment and it continues to be our cue to change the scene.

We then embarked on one of those runs of dates that sound wonderful when they are proposed but have you questioning your sanity when the time actually comes. We flew from Melbourne to Helsinki via Singapore and London, a journey taking something close to thirty hours. We found ourselves in the middle of the Finnish summer, which was being celebrated with a robust and lusty enthusiasm. There is light in the sky until eleven at night and the beer never seems to run dry.

After a night of fitful sleep, we drove three hours north to Pori, the location of a long established jazz festival. I had hoped to arrive in time to see my friends from the Mingus Big Band but the estimated journey time kept changing, so it seemed wiser to concentrate on making the best of our own performance. However, I did run into Kirk Joseph backstage, the former Sousaphone player of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and one of the stars of the album “Spike”. It was good to hear that he was out playing with some new colleagues.

Needless to say, the internal metronome is inclined to play tricks on you after a trans-global trip such as ours. Every song in our late afternoon set seemed either to be too fast or too slow but there were enough sun struck young Finns shaking their blonde locks about to suggest that we were doing something right.

The next day we travelled to Liverpool where we played as part of the “Summer Pops” season. The concerts are held in a Big Top on the site of one of the demolished warehouse buildings that run along the Mersey waterfront. Many of these remarkable structures have been converted into apartments, while another houses a branch of the Tate Gallery. Liverpool is one of the candidates for the next European City of Culture – well, you’d think they had done enough on that account.

The city recently renamed the local aerodrome, “John Lennon International Airport” and the Walker Art Gallery, one of several magnificent Victorian buildings from the great shipping days of the city, has recently opened a new wing allowing greater display of works kept in storage as well as new exhibitions, the current one being of paintings by Paul McCartney. Needless to say many visitors concentrate on the local sites related to The Beatles but there is a lot more to the city’s artistic history and riches.

Our contribution to the local artistic scene consisted of The Imposters first concert in England since April and a spot of community singing. The tent venue does not generate the same tight, exciting atmosphere as our usual venue, the Royal Court Theatre and being part of a summer season, the constitution and expectations of the audience is slightly different. However, at the conclusion of the concert I asked those present to join me in an acapella chorus of the old folk song, “The Leaving of Liverpool”.

This had been my Ma’s last night out in her hometown before moving to a new house in Dublin – no small undertaking at the age of 75 – and the Liverpool crowd did not let me down sending her off with several rousing choruses.

The next morning we flew from Manchester to Italy. Unfortunately, the routes between John Lennon International and Brindisi are still to be established. From Brindisi we drove to the beautiful city of Lecce, a wonderful place to walk around despite the temperature rising close to 40ºc during the day.

The next evening we played in the courtyard of a Palazzo. Even though the evening was a little cooler, the technical side of the show was not ideal as we were obliged to use hired amplifiers, as it was impossible for our gear to make the journey in time. Despite the harsh and shrill sound of our rented gear, we gradually won the assembled townspeople over, including the mayor and a group of local dignitaries. The whole scene started to resemble a Vincente Minnelli musical. I’m sure I saw a policeman beating time with his nightsticks or maybe I just imagined this.

From Lecce we took the train across some wonderful countryside, all of it allying fears of an olive oil drought. Our next show was in elevated plaza above the town of Caserta, near to Naples. The view would have been spectacular if it had not been for the haze. Here the local P.A. company had managed to blow up their own equipment before we ever played a note and when a replacement was found, the show was first delayed and then twice interrupted by rainstorms as the stage was open to the heavens. During the second less serious shower, I told the band to leave the stage and played a couple of solo “acoustic” numbers (as the cable to my acoustic guitar pick-up seemed less risky in the rain than a full band playing through rented amplifiers). Consequently, “Indoor Fireworks” made its first appearance in this year’s touring.

A small consolation for this frustrating evening came next morning with a brief trip into the streets of Napoli. I have not been in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius since I was thirteen years old and walked to an excellent vantage point down by the Bay. It was on the chairlift, halfway up to the crater, that I discovered my morbid dread of heights thirty-five years ago. So, it was quite re-assuring to view the volcano from sea level and confirm that it is quite as imposing and scary as in my teenage memories.

Sadly, our Sardinian debut in Cagilari was also blighted by heavy rain, although at least the stage was covered on this occasion, so the show was only slightly delayed. The old saying, “it never rains in Sardinia at this time of year” was repeated several times during the late afternoon and evening, while the island did a fairly good impersonation of Manchester in November. Those who braved the inclement weather saw the last set of the first half of our world tour and we made of the best of it as we knew that we would not be playing for a couple of weeks.

Since then The Imposters and most of the road crew have taken to the Sardinian hills or made it back home to their families. I’ve been helping my Ma move into her new place, so there hasn’t been much time for lying around in hammocks but I have become a dab hand at banging in picture hooks. We are currently in Scandinavia at the beginning of six weeks of concerts and festival dates in Europe before we return for another six-week tour of the United States.

With that I think I shall bid you all farewell until another time and place. I was hoping that this site would be the beginning of a new mode of communication. Beyond the crackpots, seething critics and whiny babies there are some genuinely thoughtful and sensitive people out there and I don’t just mean the ones who pay me handsome compliments. However, I now realise that too little time, thought and application has gone into the maintenance of the content of this site. Basically, if I don’t find the time to create input, the thing grinds to a halt. So that is what it is going to do for the foreseeable future. Perhaps it will shut down and re-emerge in another guise. Perhaps it won’t.

I thank all of you who have written in the “Ask Elvis” feature. You response has been quite overwhelming. I am trying to find a more efficient way to put up the backlog of the answers that are waiting to be posted (I have found a way of copying the questions into another document, so they can be answered “off-line” but no similarly easy method for posting replies), let alone select and answer the most interesting of the remaining enquiries.

Naturally, there is a great deal of near-repetition in the questions, so please do not be offended if your question is not answered personally; more than a few are quite mad but a surprisingly small amount are highly insulting. Most of the questions regarding concert information have been overtaken by events or you will have already got your answer via more efficient communications in other media. Once again, thank you for your interest. I shall now return to my more usual job of writing songs and performing concerts. If I see you, I see you.


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