London Independent, July 1991

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London Independent

UK & Ireland newspapers


Elvis Costello has kept a promise to
take his band to perform in Shetland

Alex Renton

In the catalogue of rock star excesses, playing a sports centre in Shetland seems particularly eccentric. But it was a traditionally expensive whim – indeed Milo Lewis, Elvis Costello's production manager, said it would have been cheaper to have given every Shetlander a £10 note, a CD of Costello's latest album and a video of the last concert.

The 23,000 inhabitants of Britain's most northerly islands were not given the choice. But Costello – who now says he was only a pop star for about 20 minutes in 1977 – had made a promise.

He discovered Shetland four years ago. Costello says he was escaping from a Norwegian cruise liner moored in Lerwick Harbour. In the Thule bar on the Quayside he found a good pint of Guiness and two of his songs on the jukebox, and thought: "I've come to the right place here." He returned to play solo at Shetland's Folk Festival in 1988, and then promised to return with his band.

And so he did – finishing off a two-month tour of Britain and the United States by carting a cast, crew and equipment across nine hours of stormy water from Aberdeen, to a land with only one Chinese restaurant but 80 active churches. More to the point, Elvis Costello and the Rude 5 found the hotels of Shetland's capital, Lerwick, booked solid and the band's dressing space nothing more plush than the Clickimin Leisure Centre's sunbed room.

Not that James Johnston, a director of the oil revenue-funded trust that runs the Clickimin, saw any shame in that: "People may ask why Elvis has come to an obscure venue like the Clickimin, but, well, we're the best, aren't we?" he said. He had taken much pleasure rearranging the promoter's advertisement for the tour so that "Clickimin, Lerwick" appeared in letters twice as high as those of "Hammersmith Odeon, London."

But the important question before Tuesday night's concert was whether Shetlanders wanted to pay £10.50 to see Elvis Costello. Two hours before, only 75 per cent of the 1,200 tickets had been sold, and Mr Johnston was supervising the arrangement of rigid rows of seating.

"There'll not be much dancing here," Mr Johnston said firmly. "The audience in Shetland is a lot more reserved than Elvis is used to." Celebrating might occur later on, he said, but refused any information on the one fact everyone under 60 in Lerwick wanted to know – the location of the post-show party.

Shetland may have kept its cool, but there were groupies of a sort hanging round hours before kick-off. Gary McVeigh, for instance, a 33-year-old instrument technician from Northampton who had seen every one of Costello's 20 tours and managed to catch this on the way down from the North Sea oil fields. Martin Brailli, a 28-year-old computer network designer from Reading, spent £350 to get to Lerwick, and had already attended five performances in the "Come back in a million years" tour. " I wouldn't miss this for the world," he said. "It's so weird!"

When the gig started it was these sooth-moothers – outsiders who arrive by ferry through the south mouth of Lerwick harbour – who got the dancing going to "Accidents Will Happen." A couple of songs later a Shetland contingent stood up, politely stacked away some chairs from the front rows, and got dancing over the painted lines of the sports hall's goalmouth. But the bulk of the audience remained sedate, clapping with sober enthusiasm.

"Very good," and "I'm not a fan but I enjoyed it," said Heather and Sylvia, young women from the fishing town of Scalloway. The sooth-moothers were more forthcoming: "Incredible! Amazing!" said Christie, a 27-year-old environmental health officer from Derby. And how had Elvis's evening been? Mr Brailli, the expert, pronounced: "Brilliant. He was enjoying it a hell of a lot more than Hammersmith."

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The Independent, July 1991 - exact date unknown

Alex Renton reviews Elvis Costello and The Rude 5, Tuesday, July 16, 1991, Clickimin Centre, Lerwick, Scotland.


1991-07-xx London Independent clipping 01.jpg
Clipping from ECIS, No 59, October 1991.


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