Journals 2008

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Elvis' Journals


Elvis Costello

04.22.08

YOUR UNRELIABLE CORRESPONDENT WRITES...

It's been a while since I've written so I hope this finds you in rude health and distilled spirits...

I'm just about to depart New York for rehearsals and some groovy shows in Memphis and Nashville - not to mention playing again with Allen Toussaint at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. So, I hope to see you all there in your finery. We would have also been playing the Tabernacle in Atlanta, had it not been temporarily put out of commission by tornado damage. I hope the old place gets well soon.

All of this is leading up our summer jaunt in the Big Top with the band we like to call "The Filth"...

Il Papa is coming to town tomorrow and he and I obviously have an agreement to never play the same venue on the same day, so I understand that I must leave under cover of darkness to avoid the traffic chaos...

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ABSO-MOMOFUKU-LY

By now, some of you may have heard rumour of an album called "Momofuku" and wonder what this record is...

Well, the real version is pressed on two pieces of black plastic with a hole in the middle. You may prefer other, more portable, less scratchable, editions that will soon become available for your convenience but this is how it sounds the best: with a needle in a groove, the way the Supreme Being intended it to be...

The absence of much advance notice or information might seem a little strange and perverse but the record was made so quickly that I didn't even tell myself about it for a couple weeks.

Ever since I hid ten copies of "30:10", - solo home recordings of re-written songs - in the jewel boxes of the "Best Of" collection released in the Spring of '07 and then waited in vain for one of them to surface, I'd realized that it was time to do things differently...

I don't think many people believed that "30:10" really existed but if anyone reading this has one in their possession, they had better claim their special prize right away because we will be posting the songs on this site very soon and the offer will expire...

So, what can I tell you about "Momofuku"?

Number One, on Page One of daft interview questions is, "Why is it called "Momofuku"?

Well, obviously the title is a tribute to Momofuku Ando, the inventor of the Cup Noodle. Like so many things in this world of wonders, all we had to do to make this record was add water.

Now, I understand that there is also a fancy eatery in New York City that has made the same connection with Ando-San. So, just in case anybody is inclined to mistake our record for something edible, we've added a disclaimer to the record jacket. I like saying, "record jacket" again.

This record actually came about because of an invitation I received from Jenny Lewis to sing on her upcoming record. Davey Faragher had been playing bass on some of the sessions, so it didn't seem like too much of a stretch to call Pete Thomas to complete the Imposters' rhythm section.

It was Jenny's idea for Pete to play alongside his daughter, Tennessee, who plays drums in The Like and the line-up was completed by Ms. Lewis' beau, Johnathan Rice on guitar and vocals and their pal, "Farmer" Dave Scher on pedal steel and vocals with Jason Lader manning the controls.

So, I went down to Los Angeles for the day and we cut a couple of versions of a song Rice had written for Jenny's record plus two songs of mine, one of which I wrote on the eve of the session. Some rock and roll music is better if you don't think too hard on it.

In the absence of a full-time keyboard player, "Farmer" Dave and I split the organ duties, on an old Acetone. I especially liked the vocal harmonies that Jenny, Rice, Davey and "Farmer" Dave cooked up for "Drum & Bone".

Ms. Lewis sang the entire harmony part of "Go Away" in the vocal booth with me, while the band played in the studio, lead by Rice's guitar part and the drumming of Thomas, Peré et Fille. That was Take Two. Then we went home...

I'd been telling people that I was done with recording and believed it myself. This record date reminded me that it wasn't making music in the studio that made me miserable but the nonsense that predictably follows in what we laughingly call the "music business". So I decided to change it and my mind. That's what I do.

We booked Sound City Studio in Van Nuys for six days of February and cut the eight new songs that I had written in the weeks following Jenny's January session.

We also recorded "Song With Rose", the lyrics of which I wrote with Rosanne Cash and "Pardon Me, Madam, My Name Is Eve" a title that was given to me by Loretta Lynn, while we were writing some songs together, late last year. I had first played these two songs an autumnal tour, opening up for Bob Dylan, although I think they sound a little different now.

I called Steve Nieve in from Paris and asked our friend, David Hidalgo to add little guitar to "Flutter & Wow". He also played viola and then added Hildalguera to "My Three Sons".

Tennessee Thomas played alongside her Dad for two more cuts, including "Stella Hurt" - which is a true story - but then she had to leave for the mixing of The Like's great new album. Look out for that, sometime soon.

The Imposters and I recorded a number of songs as a quartet, including "American Gangster Time", "Mr. Feathers" and "Pardon Me, Madam, My Name Is Eve" and "Harry Worth" which is not actually about the beloved English television funnyman but a true story nonetheless.

Jenny, Rice, "Farmer" Dave and their pal, the guitarist, Jonathan Wilson came back in for a couple more days and to add their voices to the new songs. We had a ball making up the parts for the vocal "supergroup" to which everyone contributed.

The live band for "Turpentine" and "Song For Rose" got up to nonet. That was a fine old noise.

For those who like to know these things, we recorded exclusively to tape, completing and mixing each song before moving on to the next. The entire record took a week to record and mix.

The music has been pressed on four sides of vinyl for volume and clarity although the album was originally sequenced with six tracks a-side.

Jason Lader not only recorded and mixed the record; he also managed to document the sessions with his camera.

Coco Shinomiya put these shots together in a gatefold sleeve design, so you have something to hold in your hands while listening to the music, especially if you don't currently have a sweetheart or swell of your own.

Every record has its own method. This was the one for these songs.

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www.elviscostello.com

This site is new. It no longer exclusively hosts UM label imprints. It is also a work-in-progress but I wanted to get some words out there about "Momofuku", as I will be playing a lot of shows this summer and my chances of appearing in the hallowed pages of your local " Morning Bugle & Whippet Fancier" might be a little slim.

There will be new features appearing in the weeks to come and I hope you find something of interest among them. "Momofuku" is one of those records that I would rather be heard than read, but if you want to know the words to your favourite cut, you will find them on this site.

A complete lyrical database will be available shortly, along with facsimiles of original notebooks with rough drafts and deleted verses going back to 1977, unseen photographs, unheard recordings and a gallery dedicated to guitars for those who are interested in the hardware. You will also soon be able to purchase egg-timers, leg-warmers, lion-tamer's hats and racy underwear featuring the likeness of singer of your choice.

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MIAMI-NASHVILLE-NEW YORK

I spent a week in Miami at the end of March. It was the first time that I had been in that city for more than a day or two. It's quite the place.

Much of my time, through the summer and autumn of '07, was taken up writing and orchestrating NIGHTSPOT, collaboration with the choreographer, Twyla Tharp for the Miami City Ballet.

Now that the piece was in rehearsal, I finally got to hear, what had previously been going around in my head, played by real musicians.

The score calls for a ten-piece dance band, performing at the back of stage, while the dancers enter a swinging NIGHTSPOT. A modest-sized orchestra plays in the pit. They combine at times into one big ensemble while at other moments they play in dialogue.

When enquiring about songs, people often ask, "When comes first? Words or music?" I suppose a similar question might be asked about ballet music only with regard to movement and music.

Ms. Tharp's method was to listen to a number of my existing songs and then ask me to write something new that departed from one or other station,

Although the writing doesn't have a verse-chorus structure and music is played continuously, none of the individual cues are very much longer than the average song. Once I had some knowledge of Twyla's intentions for the dance, I could proceed.

I made an early decision to make passing reference to some of those existing songs; a handful of changes here, a melody completely re-harmonized there or a background motif, brought to fore and fastened to an entirely new rhythm and melody.

Words and ideas attached these fleeting musical fragments plotted a line through the score while I was writing it, though it isn't necessary for anyone in the audience to recognize or follow them in order to understand or enjoy NIGHTSPOT.

NIGHTSPOT portrays many forms of nightlife and a series of couples as they go through various temptations, flirtations, betrayals and transformations. There was plenty of opportunity for waltzes, a Spanish guitar ballad, some satirical striptease music, a little ragtime tune, a cockeyed tango or two and a show business hymn.

On three occasions in the score, I used processed loops to augment the on-stage rhythm section. This was the first time I'd employed this sound since the album, "When I Was Cruel".

In fact the "dummy" name of one cue was actually "When I Was Cruel No.5", as it was a more expansive version of the ideas contained in the song of that name, "No.2".

There is no immediate plan to record the score in the studio but it is not entirely impossible to imagine a performance of the entire 38-minute work being recorded for DVD, some time in the future. That way you would be able take in the entire scene as it was intended.

The dancers of the Miami City Ballet are a wonder to behold at work. Even physical preparations that they undertake in order to begin to dance would kill a small stable of horses. I am no expert on dance technique but to my eye they gave a wonderful performance of the material.

The premiere was a fairly swish affair. People were dressed up to the nines and really raised the roof at end of the night.

The performance went without any obvious catastrophes" but even as you are taking your bow and accepting bouquets, the mind is bound to stray to changes that occur, now that the music been heard in the heat of battle.

I will make a number of small but crucial revisions in time for the Los Angeles performances in October 2008.

Miami City Ballet could not have been more gracious hosts but for most of the time I was in their city, there seemed to be a 700ft. motorbike approaching from several streets away. This turned out to be the low, dull rumble of an electronic music festival that was dominating the aural and social landscape.

I suspect that a few of the company left the post-show gala to dance the night away in an actual nightspot but I shall not pretend that I was among their number.

Brief headlines now because I hear the Popemobile approaching and I must depart...

So, I left Miami for Nashville.

Straight from the plane, I visited John Carter Cash at his studio that backs on to his father's old writing cabin, which I visited while making "Almost Blue" in 1981. We recorded a couple of vocal harmony parts for the Loretta Lynn record that he is producing, including one for a song of mine.

On Monday morning, I was in Sound Emporium with my brother Henry Coward and an incredible group of musicians including, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Mike Compton, Dennis Crouch and Jim Lauderdale.

We successfully recorded the more than 35 pieces of "Henry and Howard's Last Entry Into Brussels" in three days and about which I'm sure you've already heard quite enough. The release of this soundtrack will be announced at this location in due course.

Returning to New York, I cut a song with Rosanne Cash and Kris Kristofferson, in which we each wrote a verse. Rose's husband, John Leventhal played some beautiful guitar on the track and made the whole affair go like a dream.

I think we were all surprised that our voices fit together as they did. Perhaps we'll form a supergroup; I hear they're coming back. We could call it "C.C.K.", as it sounds like an old Soviet republic.

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SPECTACLE

For the last two weeks I've been in and out of Studio 8H at N.B.C., where have been taping the first editions of SPECTACLE, the interview and music show that is being made for Sundance Channel, C.T.V. and Channel Four in the U.K.

This was the scene of my previous finest broadcast hour in 1977, when I mistook the word "live" in the name "Saturday Night Live" for an instruction and switched my song while on the air. Needles to say, I was chased from the building for my sins with dire threats that I would never appear on American television again, ringing around my ears,

Obviously, this has not been the case. I've returned to SNL on a couple of occasions and even did a skit for the 25th Anniversary show in which I interrupted the Beastie Boys playing, "Sabotage", only for them to hammer into "Radio Radio", the song that I had substituted in '77. You know what they say, "The old ones are the old ones"...

It is too early to say too much about "SPECTACLE" other than it has been a wonderful and surprising experience. There has obviously been a lot to learn in a very short time. On the face of it, I have an ideal face for radio. Still, I'm hoping that when all the pieces are put together, you will see a few intriguing conversations and hear some fine music.

I have found that people are most inspired when talking about the things they love rather than talking about themselves and repeating tales that they have told many times in the past.

I'm not pretending to be Johnny Carson or Sir David Frost but it isn't so very hard to read a teleprompter and chew gum at the same time, so when we forget about the cameras and the lights for moment, the conversations can be quite surprising.

Our first three guests were Sir Elton John - who is also one of the executive producers and who talked almost exclusively about songwriters that he loved, such Laura Nyro - President Bill Clinton and Tony Bennett. They were all more than generous with their time and thoughtful and witty in their responses.

What I can be absolutely sure about is that we have had a big time playing the musical numbers that announce and conclude the shows. Any time I can share as stage with the Imposters and musical guests such as Allen Toussaint and James Burton, is fine by me.

It was a little more surprising to find myself singing a Hank Williams song in a line-up that consisted of Charlie Haden, Pat Metheny and James Burton, with Pat deferring to James to take the lead.

Charlie is making a terrific record with his daughters, Petra, Tanya and Rachel and, his son, Josh, continuing the tradition of the Haden Family Band. He was playing in his parent's hillbilly band at the age of two, long before his work with Ornette Coleman, Hank Jones, Quartet West or Liberation Music Orchestra.

It seems he thought well enough of our SPECTACLE rendition of "You Win Again", to ask me to sing it in the studio a couple of days later.

Last night, we opened up the last of these shows to be recorded in April with two Velvet Underground songs. The band comprised of Steve Nieve, Larry Campbell, Tony Garnier and the wonderful violinist, Jenny Scheinman playing my new arrangement of the song, "Femme Fatale".

This preceded a soulful and often very funny talk with Lou Reed, who was joined in the latter stages by the artist and film director, Julian Schnabel. That conversation obviously centered on their friendship and collaboration - a recently filmed performance of Lou's "Berlin" album - but also took in a little magic and considered some loss.

Lou and I closed out with two-piano accompanied version of "Perfect Day", because it was.

More editions of SPECTACLE will be made later in the year and it will air on a channel near you in November.

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I can't always promise that I'll write at this length on every occasion but I wanted to kick things off in style. I will check in during the coming weeks and months and be back with some news of records, people and places that you might care to know and hear...

If you want to know anything at all, don't ask me.


06.03.2008

“QUIT MUMBLIN’ AND TALK OUT LOUD”

Bo Diddley was one of only two people to whom I’ve ever addressed a get-well note. That is people that I didn’t know, personally. The other was Ava Gardner but that is another story.

It was as if the mere idea of them, the very thought of them and the indelible mark that they made on their chosen fields made it preferable not to have to entertain a world without them.

Nevertheless, when the news of Bo Diddley’s passing hit the wires this afternoon, I was somewhat surprised to see my name in a list of rock and roll musicians who had come under his spell.

By then I’d been asked by a newspaper for my thoughts on the man and volunteered that there was a kind of rock and roll music for which only a tremolo guitar, a killer beat and one and a half chords were really needed. I’ve tried to live by that on a couple of occasions and it is not nearly as easy as it sounds.

Then if you put most R&B originals up against the cover versions cut by beat groups and rocking combos of the 60s and 70s, you’ll find a slower, more emphatic pulse that lays waste to cheap excitement and nervous energy of pale young imitators.

However, this is not the case with Bo Diddley. He has them beaten their own frantic game. The last time I had played “You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover”, I had check that my turntable was not running fast. This thing is urgent.

Maybe it was that tremolo guitar or the ferocious use of maracas that makes the tempo appear as if it were rushing ahead. This record jumps out of the speakers and runs away up the hallway, screaming. Nobody ever played this number better.

In any case, people didn’t always take their Bo Diddley, head on. Buddy Holly took “that beat” into the charts with his own song, “Not Fade Away” and The Rolling Stones turned that same tune into something close to punk rock, while The Strangeloves had a hit on the Diddley beat, in 1965 with “I Want Candy”.

Even though that record still sounds fantastic today, “The Strangeloves” were actually a bizarre pop-punk scam, the invention of the songwriting team behind the title, who insisted the “group” pretend to be sheep-shearers from Australia for reasons that remain obscure today.

New versions of that tune seem to hit the airwaves about every ten years and some of them with even less obvious claims to “authenticity”, that most over-rated of pop virtues. Still, Bo Diddley didn’t have too much time for imitators.

Nevertheless, my favourite “Bo Diddley” song, not written by Bo Diddley was “Rosalyn” by The Pretty Things”. At least they had the decency to name themselves after one of Bo’s records.

If you are reading this then you probably know all the great Bo Diddley cuts and the cover versions too. My favourite Bo Diddley cover? That’s got to be “Pills” by the New York Dolls. What else?

However, if you still want to hear something really unhinged, check out “Mumblin’ Guitar” or “Hush Your Mouth” from Bo Diddley “Chess Box Set”.

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I only saw Bo play live once and that was in Australia during the 1980s. He was second on a double bill with Chuck Berry.

Now Chuck is infamous for leading his often, inexperienced pick-up band accompanists a merry dance of perverse rhythm changes and tricky key signatures and this night was no exception.

I remember very little else about Chuck’s performance, except for a rather sweet and faithful rendition of Nat Cole’s “Ramblin’ Rose” – which he preceded with the remark, “And now for some REAL music”, as if his own compositions amounted to nothing at all.

The little I recall is in stark contrast to every beat of Bo Diddley’s set, which was hammered into my memory. He couldn’t possibly have played every song I would have liked to hear in the time available but I recall a stupendous version of “Mona”, which made be forget all about the Quicksilver Messenger Service.

At the end of the set, a rather nervous M.C. took the central microphone, as Bo continued to vamp out the rhythm of his final number. He made an erratic flapping gesture and yelled, “The Legendary Bo Diddley!!!” and started for the wings.

Bo, stopped him, said something in his ear and sent him out centre stage…

“The Incredible”, “The Amazing” and “The Fantastic” were all auditioned, in turn, as tributes, followed by that same bolting run for wings and the same slumped tramp of shame back out into the spotlight, as the M.C. once again failed to measure Bo Diddley’s achievements.

This seemed to go on for five or ten minutes, although I accept that it was probably less. Nobody was complaining. The place was in uproar, as Bo and band churned on with “that beat”.

Finally, in desperation, the hapless comperé sprinted to the microphone and blurted out, “The originator of ALL MUSIC! Bo Diddley!” and the great man was satisfied and brought the number to close.

Later that evening, I found myself in small and crowded hotel elevator with “The Originator of All Music”. He was still wearing his black cape-like smock and his gunslinger Stetson.

I was a little disappointed to see that his sheriff’s badge was actually cut out of that rainbow reflective foil that you see at the funfair and stores selling party favours. I suppose we should all take that up with those who bought his songs for a pittance and those who never paid him his due…

Staring at my equally unimpressive shoes, we rode up a few flights together and I didn’t dare utter a word. It was a close to greatness as I care to get.


06.06.2008

YOU TAKE THE HIGH ROAD AND I'LL TAKE THE LOW ROAD

I'll be in Glasgow in just over two weeks. The occasion is my first orchestral concert in the land of my grandmother's fathers, if that makes any sense at all.

It is from that side of the family tree that I descend from the name, "Jackson." I was recently informed - by our local Highland apparel emporium, here in British Columbia - that I am entitled to wear the Hunting Stewart tartan. It was either that or the pattern specially designed for Mr. M. Jackson of Neverland, California.

I should explain that on this year's Burns Night, I was attending a formal dinner and felt honour bound to don a kilt with all of the accessories. It was an ensemble that caused grown woman to swoon and trembling men to run in terror. Then again, I was armed to the teeth.

Fear not, I have not become like one of those American Presidents who belatedly discovers that the blood in his little toe flows from a whisky still outside the village of Yell in Shetland. This is my round about way of saying, "The road lies ahead."

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For those of you considering attending the concert with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on the 22nd of June – and that's an awful lot of "Royal" - you might care to know what you will hear. I can assure you that fancy or formal dress will not be required.

For the last couple of years, Steve Nieve and I have been appearing with orchestras from Honolulu to Houston, from Chicago to Baltimore and, most recently, from Nashville to Minnesota. The repertoire has developed and changed radically since the year 2000, when these adventures began.

This concert in Glasgow and another with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic on the 25th of June will be the first to consist almost entirely of orchestral arrangements of songs.

Previously, we featured a 30-minute suite from the ballet score, "Il Sogno" and it had been erroneously stated that half of the Glasgow concert would consist of instrumental music.

However, as a guest of these orchestras, I think it is only good manners that they be heard before I enter the scene and start singing. So only a brief, overture-length excerpt from "Il Sogno" will be played, followed by a programme of songs dating from 1977 to the present day.

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These dates will be my first collaboration with these orchestras and the conductor, Clark Rundell. We will also be joined by the rhythm section of Chris Laurence on bass and Martin France on drums with Rob Buckland taking care of the saxophone features in a number of the arrangements.

This team will surely make short work of the more rhythmic songs; a 50s detective-theme arrangement of "Watching the Detectives", Vince Mendoza's psychedelic chart for the Billy Strayhorn composition, "Blood Count", for which I wrote words and re-titled, "My Flame Burns Blue" and the Charles Mingus number, "Hora Decubitus."

These concerts obviously feature more ballad material than rock and roll but both Steve Nieve and I have continued to add to book of arrangements.

Some of this orchestration work was actually done while travelling, as I sensed the elements needed for a more balanced programme.

I wrote the arrangement of "All This Useless Beauty" while trapped in my hotel room by monsoon rains prior to our Honolulu dates of two years ago. Shortly before our last orchestral dates in the autumn of 2007, I arranged a song that I co-wrote with my wife, Diana, called, "The Girl in the Other Room."

Steve Nieve's version of "Greenshirt" is one of my personal favourites, making imaginative use of the woodwind section and calling for one of the percussionists to play an old manual typewriter.

At the end of 2007, I made an orchestral transcription of Chet Baker's trumpet solo from "Shipbuilding" and was amazed to find that with very little additional harmonization, his spontaneous inventions could provide nearly all of the material for the orchestra. In a way, the arrangement is really his work.

There are some songs that lend themselves very obviously to the orchestral setting. We usually feature a couple of songs from the album, "Painted From Memory", a full-string orchestra version of "Still" from "North" and the Charles Azanavour tune, "She."

Some songs have been adapted or re-arranged from my work with the Brodsky Quartet. Richard Harvey – with whom I co-wrote the music for the television drama series, "G.B.H." – provided a beautiful, full-orchestral setting of "Birds Will Still Be Singing" from "The Juliet Letters."

My arrangement of "Almost Blue" was begun for string quartet, as an encore tune on "The Juliet Letters" world tour and has been adapted and expanded until it now features the entire orchestra and closing bars in which I do something unspeakable at the piano, while Steve Nieve takes a solo on the melodica.

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The concerts will also include the first full-orchestral performances of three excerpts from "The Secret Songs", an unfinished work that was commissioned by the Royal Danish Opera as part of the Hans Christian Andersen bicentenary celebrations of 2005.

My version of Andersen story centres on his infatuation with the renowned Swedish soprano, Jenny Lind, who provided the inspiration for a number of his most famous tales and yet rejected his romantic advances, which were feeble at best.

In 1850 the "Divine Jenny" Lind undertook an American concert tour, the first of its kind in scope and acclaim, promoted by the showman P.T. Barnum.

There was certainly a marked contrast in the way the two men regarded and were motivated by Lind. Andersen elevated her to a pedestal of virtuous womanhood and artist ideal, while to Barnum she was more of a marketable entity.

One of the themes of Andersen's story - that of a misfit in love with an unattainable woman - was of particular interest to me and can be clearly understood in the three numbers which will be performed.

Gisela Stille, who sang in the Lind part in the Copenhagen premiere of a "work-in-progress" song cycle in 2005, will sing, "How Deep Is the Red?" – an imagined folk riddle performed on the first occasion Andersen encounters the singer.

This will be followed a ballad in which Andersen recounts Lind's romantic rejection. The title of the piece notes Lind's response when Andersen asked why she could not return his love: "She Handed Me a Mirror".

Finally, a duet, "He Has Forgotten Me Completely" – part of a dream in which Andersen imagines Lind performing his "secret songs" – which stand for the tales that she inspired in real life.

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The Glasgow concert will be followed by an appearance at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool on the 25th of June.

My Ma worked as an unpaid, volunteer usher at "The Phil" in the late 40s and early 50s, so it is something of a family reunion to be playing at this venerable institution.

2008 is also the year in which Liverpool celebrates being European Capital of Culture, so I'm glad to be playing in what I regard as the closest thing that I have to a "hometown". It is pretty hard to be sentimental about Paddington, unless you mean the marmalade-eating bear.

The ECOC awards are usually accompanied by an influx of investment, European grants and the drawing up of grand town planning schemes. So, I wish I could believe that this award was somehow destined to transform the fortunes of the city.

I also wish I could comprehend the ugly local politics that has already capsized the original plans for at least one major event during this gala year.

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Last time I was in Liverpool, I was dismayed to find that the entrance to the famous ferry landing stage was a sprawling building site. I immediately checked my watch. Yes, it was already 2008. Isn't this when the eyes of the world were upon us?

Perhaps, the people who might have been employed re-modelling that landmark had been busy, unwittingly destroying another. That is the renowned skyline as viewed from the river.

In a wiser but less civilised age, the twits who designed and sanctioned these latest, out-of-scale additions to the waterfront would have been taken out into Liverpool Bay with lead weights attached to their legs and pushed overboard.

Yeah, I used to play with Lego and Meccano when I was a kid but at least none of my "buildings" were full scale…

Okay, away from the river there are pristine shopping precincts and some fine new hotels and restaurants, together with the arrival of vendors who previously thought that Liverpool was a little beneath them. I hope that people also remember to support their locally owned businesses. Look what happened to Meccano.

Through the grim years of government hostility and neglect and the more depressing hours of self-pity and self-defeat, I've hoped to see the city restored to the kind of vibrancy of which my parents once spoke. They were born into the Great Depression and lived through the Second World War, so we're talking about the good times here.

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So, what is there to celebrate?

Well, quite apart from the extraordinary numbers of painters, poets, playwrights, songwriters, sporting magicians, comedians, prize-fighters, thespians and rock and roll musicians who have come out of Liverpool, I always tell visitors to walk through the city with their head held up.

They will see some of the most remarkable architecture in Britain. Liverpool contains more listed buildings than any city outside of London.

It also should to be noted that the 18th century Town Hall has African faces carved into the sandstone of first storey decorations, right alongside barrels and bales and other commodities from the city's mercantile and maritime boom years.

In fact, many of these grand structures were built with fortunes founded in the blood money flowing from the slave and cotton trades. The museums of the city are now opening up this chequered past to discussion and understanding, rather than it remaining a dirty, unspoken little secret.

Liverpool has always presented a series of paradoxes…

It used to have the world's first overhead railway but they knocked it down. It had one of the first tram systems but they tore up the tracks in the late '50s.

Liverpool also has rows of beautiful but abandoned Georgian terraces and not enough viable inner city housing, two contrasting cathedrals, only one of which looks as if it might see out this century. But then it also has two contrasting football teams, only one of which will ever win the European Cup.

In among the many thriving theatres and clubs, there are the obscured facades of many lost musical halls and picture palaces. Times move on. These are the venues in which my grandfather played as a pit musician, when he can home from working on the White Star liners in the late 20s.

He got back just in time for "talkies" to really take hold, throwing theatre musicians out of work. My grandmother never really forgave Al Jolson.

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Since the Tate Gallery moved into its great digs in the reclaimed Albert Dock building, it has provided an ideal space both for the works of Liverpudlian artists and visiting exhibitions, such as the one in which the paintings of JMW Turner were hung in natural light.

Even before the Tate came to town, the Walker Art Gallery was one of best-kept secrets in the North of England. You have more chance of standing alone for a few minutes in a room with a George Stubbs, a Joseph Wright of Derby or even a Rembrandt than you have in any other major city.

The institution has a remarkable collection of Pre-Raphaelite works and if you need to see more you can go "over the water" to Port Sunlight and visit the Lady Lever Art Gallery.

Sure, there are also bars and guided tours offering to part the passing Beatles fan from their holiday savings but these amusements are only what you find in other music cities such as Memphis and New Orleans.

Having been christened at the church of Holy Cross, in the North End of Birkenhead and through my mother's origins in Liverpool 8, I've sometimes snuck onto lists of famous Liverpudlian sons. Then again, if I've played a bad gig, I've also been written off as a "Cockney" interloper.

I'm not going to be the guest who is invited to the party and then spends all his time criticising the hosts, so I'll hold my peace and conclude this piece.

I will close by saying I'm really looking forward to playing my only English show this year in the People's Republic and ask that you lend your support to The Picket, the music resource venue in Jordan Street which continues to fight for its place in the "culture," just as it has done in less optimistic times.


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From Elvis' online Journal, 2008


Elvis writes in his online journal at Elviscostello.com.


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