London Times, January 23, 2022

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London Times

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A Life In The Day

Elvis Costello

Interview by Jeremy Taylor

The singer-songwriter on serenading his neighbours and keeping the Pogues in check

Costello, 67, was born Declan McManus in London. His father, Ross, was a successful singer and trumpeter. Costello’s debut album, My Aim Is True, was released in 1977 and he has since become one of the UK’s most enduring and versatile singer-songwriters. He has an adult son, Matthew, from his first marriage, and 15-year-old twins, Dexter and Frank, from his current marriage to the Canadian musician Diana Krall.

I like to wake up at 6am to the sound of Graceful Ghost Rag by William Bolcom. I don’t have a clock — they tick-tock and keep me awake, so that wonderful piano piece is the perfect phone alarm.

We live in New York City during the winter, then on Vancouver Island for the summer. I was lucky to get back to Canada before the first lockdown in 2020. Playing on stage [ in March ]at the Hammersmith Apollo, it suddenly dawned on me that things didn’t look too good. I just made it home. I don’t eat meat, so breakfast might be fruit, muesli and coffee. There is often no structure to my day, especially if I’ve been performing the night before. I rise in the afternoon and slob around in pyjamas. I’m also prone to waking in the middle of the night with a song in my head, so I’ve taught myself to write in the dark instead of disturbing Diana.

During the morning I like to work on new songs. I managed to keep my voice in trim over the past year by performing in the garden. That must have freaked out the neighbours. I don’t have a studio at home, just a computer. It’s very easy to bang on about the old days being better, but I can compose on a laptop just as easily. Back in the 1970s we were recording albums in poky London studios using a tape machine. If I dreamt up a song then I had to keep humming the tune until I was close enough to a guitar to write the chords down.

Thanks to Covid, life hasn’t been very rock’n’roll lately. I produced the 1985 album Rum Sodomy & the Lash for the Pogues and I used to drink quite enthusiastically myself, but Shane [MacGowan] was in a different league. I was responsible for coherent versions of those songs, so each time Shane opened another bottle in the morning, I knew I only had a certain amount of time left.

Diana has an upstairs office where she likes to work. We meet in the kitchen at lunchtime and discuss the day — a hot bowl of soup is perfect at this time of year.

My life has always been music. Mum got me hooked on Frank Sinatra aged two. Dad was a talented singer with Joe Loss, performing solo with his orchestra at the Royal Variety Performance in 1963. That year he shared the bill with Burt Bacharach, the Beatles and Marlene Dietrich. I played the Royal Variety last year, mainly because of my dad, who died ten years ago.

When my parents separated, Mum and I spent a lot of time in Liverpool with my gran. It’s hard to get emotional about Twickenham, where we lived, but I had a real connection with Liverpool. In 1940, aged 12, Mum was booked on the evacuee ship SS City of Benares, taking children from Liverpool to Canada. My grandfather removed her name from the passenger list at the last minute. A few days later the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat while crossing. Most of the children died.

Often I work on songs into the early evening. I can be quite selfish and need to remind myself to stop. I like to cook fish for supper. We try to eat as a family and then watch television. I’ve seen every Marvel Universe film at least three times with the boys, so Diana and I have tried to educate them with a few classics instead. We almost got them to watch Casablanca.

Chance has played a big part in my life, from sending my first demo tape to Stiff Records in 1976, to my mum not getting on that ship. She passed away last January, which was tough. Despite having had a stroke, she had determinedly managed to come and see my show in Liverpool the year before.

Music is a constant for me. I really hope things get back to some sort of normal this year because performing live is special. Otherwise the only place anyone will hear me wailing is in my back garden.

Elvis Costello & the Imposters’ new album, The Boy Named If, is out now

Tags: Ross MacManusMy Aim Is TrueDiana KrallHammersmith ApolloRum, Sodomy & The LashThe PoguesShane MacGowanFrank SinatraJoe Loss OrchestraRoyal Variety PerformanceBurt BacharachThe BeatlesLiverpoolStiffThe Boy Named IfRay Brown

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Sunday Times, January 23, 2022

Interview by Jeremy Taylor .


2022-01-12 Sydney Morning Herald photo 01 ms.jpg
Photo credit: Mark Seliger

2022-01-23 London Times page 58.jpg
Page scan

Words of wisdom

Best advice I was given
Just before I recorded with jazz bassist Ray Brown, he whispered into the mike: “Nobody play any ideas” — don’t over-conceive
Advice I’d give
Decide before climbing the high wall, because it’s a long way down
What I wish I’d known
Life is short and very precious


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