Rock singer Elvis Costello lives in a bus whenever he is on tour.
It is a converted American Silver Eagle, just over 40ft long, soundproofed and air-conditioned with thick carpets and curtains to provide a protected and insulated environment — "a life saver" during gruelling music tours.
"It provides a good hide-out," he says, "and makes life a little bit easier in places I don't want to be. There is a lot of inverted snobbery about rock, and some bands feel it is important that they arrive to perform in the right mode of transport. I've been under a lot of pressure to arrive:in a limousine, but I can't stand them."
The bus is also a place where he can relax. "Some days I feel terrible and think 'How can I do the show tonight?' but I can fall to pieces here for three hours or so and then I'm ready to go again. I can use it as a dressing room when there has been nowhere to change and, what I really like, I can lurk in here until it is time to goon stage, which protects me from journalists. journalists hound me, which is why I haven't given an interview for more than two years."
He stayed in the bus for two months when he last toured America. "Once," he remembers, "we drove 1,500 miles non-stop in it. I hired two drivers and at the end had an effect almost like jet lag. Mind you, the air-conditioning really came into its own as temperatures were changing from 27 below to 80 degrees. The bus was also wonderful when I was in Germany. It's a country I can't stand and it helped protect me from the atmosphere."
Elvis Costello is small and pale and was wearing a deliberately shabby suit when I met him. His distaste for being
interviewed was obvious — his forehead was wreathed in sweat and his manner tense and uncomfortable. But once he relaxed, he cracked joke after joke and hospitably opened every cupboard and drawer in the bus to show exactly what went where.
He has a house in London and bought the bus over a year ago when he was in the US. Although he wanted the decor to be "very tasteless. I wanted a lot of red leatherette", unfortunately there wasn't time and he had to be satisfied with the taste of the company that converted it.
The bus can sleep up to eight and is divided into sections, two lounge areas, a dining area, a galley kitchen and lavatory and wash basin. There is deep brown carpet throughout, lots of natural wood, and two televisions, two videos, and an electric piano, which all work off a generator.
At the far end — "I call it the opium den" — the seats and curtains are turquoise velvet and the ceiling a complementary paisley-type patterned velvet. And there is one television. "I spend a lot of time in here," he says. "When you pull the curtains you can really forget where you are." The inner lounge is less opulent: sandy-brown leatherette settee with matching button-backed ceiling. It contains the second television and the electric piano.
"The televisions are American," he explains, "and cannot pick up English stations. We can only use them for American films on video." The films are neatly labelled and include Barbarella, Dr Strangelove, Play It Again Sam and his favourite, Clockwork Orange. "I must have seen Clockwork Orange about 50 times. I can more or less recite it," Elvis says. When I was in Germany I kept playing Marathon Man, The Odessa File and The Boys from Brazil.
The electric piano — "which baffles me, as I am not the most technical musician. I am more used to the guitar" — is a "new avenue" for him. It proving quite successful and he claims, "I am coming up with more unusual tunes." He enjoys composing on the bus "because it is so relaxing. His days don't follow any special pattern. "Sometimes," he says, "there can be six or seven of us in the bus. Four in the band, the tour manager, one of the crew and a security guard. When I want to steep, I go to the back where the bunks are comfortable and well away from the driver. But other times we sit and talk and joke."
It is possible to cook in the gallery kitchen, but mostly Elvis admits use the microwave for heating sake". He prefers to eat out and has Michelin and Good Food Guides to hand on the dining table. "It always amuses me," he says, "when we pull in at a smart restaurant and someone rushes out and says, 'We don't take coach parties here'."
The microwave oven might actually be on its last wavelength as Elvis thinking of replacing it with a tumble dryer. "My biggest problem," he says "is getting my laundry done. I'm never in one place long enough, so I often tend to stink. There isn't a shower in the bus."
As the coach is longer than average and rather wide it can cause problems. "We have to go through country lanes inch by inch," he says, "and keep a Honda 70cc motorbike in the luggage container to use if it breaks down. I don't drive myself, so it is rather ironic that the first vehicle I own is this enormous thing."