London Daily Mirror, April 9, 1999

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London Daily Mirror

UK & Irish newspapers


One in a million

Kevin O'Sullivan

Rock legend Elvis Costello talks exclusively to Kevin O'Sullivan about taking risks musically, and the high price of his principles.

Elvis Costello is a man of principle. After all these years he still refuses to let his music be featured in TV commercials. He even turned down big money from Nike who wanted to use his 1982 single "Pump It Up" to advertise their trainers. The deal would have been the easiest million quid he'd ever earned — had Elvis not said an instant, emphatic, no.

"I can't even say I was tempted," insists Costello. "I've always had a golden rule that none of my records end up as the backing tracks to adverts for cornflakes, training shoes, or, for that matter, anything else.

"When people buy my records I'm entering into a kind of contract with them. Allowing my music to be used in commercials is like saying, ‘Here's a record I've made. Dig into your pockets, even though pretty soon everyone will be listening to it for free while they're being persuaded to get Nike trainers.

"So, sure, I'd like the million quid, but there's no way I would do that kind of deal — it doesn't seem right."

Surely after more than 20 years as a rock icon, with a string of globally successful hits including "Watching The Detectives," "Oliver's Army," and "A Good Year For The Roses" to his name, Mr. Costello doesn't actually need another million.

He gives a broad grin. "Actually, I am genuinely not rich and a quick million would be very nice indeed," he declares. "If you look at my career, there have been long periods when I haven't exactly dominated the charts.

"The truth is, I have enough money to be able to say sod off when I am offered lucrative work I don't want to do, but I don't work as some sort of hobby. I work because I love it, because it's my vocation and because it's how I earn my living."

For a man whose name is known all over the world, Elvis Costello, 43, is disarmingly down to earth. He arrived at his local pub a few miles outside Dublin full of apologies for "dragging" us out to the beautiful hills that overlook Ireland's fair city.

The plan had been to meet at the swish Westbury Hotel, of "owned by U2" fame, but we meet in a pub near his home with second wife Cait O'Riordan, bassist with The Pogues, instead.

"I'm sorry," he says, peering through pop's most famous pair of spectacles since Buddy Holly, "But I've been up to my neck in it and I just didn't have time to drive into Dublin."

He's been preparing for a UK tour which kicks off at Liverpool's Royal Court on Wednesday, followed by the Royal Albert Hall next Thursday, and for the release of his latest single, "Toledo," next week. "Toledo" is one of 12 beautifully orchestrated songs of love and heartbreak on the album Painted From Memory, Elvis's acclaimed collaboration with US composing giant Burt Bacharach.

It's an unlikely partnership which as well as producing some wonderful, stirring music has put paid to Costello's image as pop's angry young intellectual. Not that Elvis has ever cared much about tags.

Diehard fans are still trying to understand why he branched into classical music with the Brodsky Quartet. He also knows that lovers of his old band The Attractions are not exactly doing cartwheels about him singing with the man who penned easy listening standards such as "Walk On By" and "What's New Pussycat?" But Elvis won't hear a word against the 70-year old maestro.

"First of all, Burt's music is incredibly complicated. Secondly, I am certainly not young. I'm not sure I was ever an intellectual, but I can still get angry about the things which annoyed me 20 years ago. "I've admired his songs for as long as I can remember. It was a privilege to work with him. I thought I was a perfectionist, but I met my match in Burt. And I know there are people out there who only like "Pump It Up," but you have to move on in life, do different things, take a few risks."

Elvis played a series of highly praised concerts with Bacharach, but for his UK tour, he will share the stage with Attractions pianist Steve Nieve.

"We'll be doing some stuff from Painted From Memory, but there'll be old stuff as well. People enjoy all those early songs, and I still like them, so why not?"

Born Declan Patrick MacManus, the son of a bandleader, Elvis counts Ireland as his home, although he has a flat in London.

"I love it here," he says. "The TV has all the Liverpool matches, the people are great and I couldn't be happier."

Since his 1976 debut single, "Less Than Zero," Costello has established a reputation for being difficult with journalists. It is impossible to work out why. He is charming, articulate, and very obliging to A List photographer John Ferguson, who wants Elvis in the frame with a Guinness.

"I don't drink," says Costello. "But if you want me to pose with a pint, sure, I will."

"I drank like the next guy. No big deal. But I just woke up one morning and I knew I'd lost the taste. Last October I had the same experience with coffee — suddenly I didn't want it ever again. Same with meat. And I've never smoked. So I'm not much of a smash-up-the-hotel-room type, I'm afraid.

"I used to be a night guy — up all night, sleep all day, but as I've got older I do it the other way around, and I have to say, I much prefer it."


London Daily Mirror, The A List, April 9, 1999

Kevin O'Sullivan interviews Elvis Costello.


1999-04-09 London Daily Mirror A List cover.jpg

1999-04-09 London Daily Mirror A List page 05.jpg
Page scan.

Photo by John Ferguson.
1999-04-09 London Daily Mirror A List photo 01 jf.jpg


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