Melody Maker, January 3, 1981

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Melody Maker


I just wanna go to Clubland

Paolo Hewitt

Elvis Costello leads an all-star cast to Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre; Paulo Hewitt wishes they were all in Clubland. Tom Sheehan catches the sulks and smiles.

Like a group of ... [two sentences missing].
Saturday night at Birmingham's vast Exhibition Centre was a slap in the face for all of those who had hoped that the day of the New Wave Megagig would never come. It has.

Cold and impersonal, it came to life in Birmingham and forced people to pay over five quid to sit over 500 yards away from the stage, and applaud. Bouncers roamed the aisles, punters sat passively, and a succession of bands paraded before them, wondering why no one was keen to dance to the beat.

This kind of nonsense should have been buried years ago. More to the point, audiences should have stopped supporting them ages ago, but, then, there's no accounting for taste these days.

When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose?

Birmingham's massive Christmas festival began with the sight of John Cooper Clarke striding on stage to play MC.

The hall itself was only half full, and, backstage, people were dropping in like human puddles, after checking in at the hotel contained within the complex, which itself is about five miles outside Birmingham. If you saw it you'd think it a wonder too.

Cooper Clarke chomped characteristically through "Gaberdine Angus" and then introduced Squeeze to the freezing hall, and the massive stage. It's the first time they've played in ages, and with a new keyboard player Paul Carrack, but by any standards they failed dismally.

Only Glenn Tilbrook, in a snazzy white suit, seemed capable of injecting any energy or passion into the job at hand. The rest of the band were plain anonymous, perhaps too overawed and too anxious to please. Their stage rustiness showed, and their new songs sounded off-colour.

Apart from an occasional turn of phrase, their music plodded along dolefully and unimaginatively, failing to spark any real interest.

They were nothing more than a superior Chas 'n' Dave, and the Birmingham audience swallowed them with warm applause and approval.

Shrugging my shoulders, I went backstage and asked Jake Riviera if I could interview Elvis Costello. He greeted my suggestion with two minutes of verbal abuse: "If you could use words like Elvis you wouldn't be a hack would you?" etc etc etc. He used the word "we" a lot, ("We realise we're minimising our career") vindicating fully critics who point to the part he's played in manoeuvring Costello to the position of playing 11,000 seaters. He refused my request.

So who comes first? The singer and the songs? Or the manager and the muscle?

Rockpile followed. Edmunds in trousers that looked suspiciously like flares, Lowe with grey hair, and Bremner with a beer gut that pushed his guitar at least a foot in front of him.

And if Squeeze are an upper class Chas 'n' Dave, then Rockpile are the toffs above Status Quo. Variations on a theme based around drink, women and the Lowe Life of 12 bar blues.

For sure, it's expertly played, with touches of true class, but there's not enough true substance behind it. The riffs and the chords are ancient, the song forms predictable, and the people who play it are experts in the art of self mythology.

The "Look At Us / We Get Wasted And Drunk Every Day," sound. W-e-ll, that's fine for a Friday night, but Rockpile work on the theory that every night is Friday night, which is why they will always remain a cult in their own lurchtimes.

Their best moments aren't even theirs, a scintillating run through Costello's "Girls Talk," but their roguish charm is undeniable. There's not a lot wrong with Rockpile, but really! Would you pin their pictures on your wall? I thought not; They're far too harmless to really cut it.

First blood went to Madness, one of the true successes of the night, and the first band to generate some kind of atmosphere within these cold walls.

The reason for their success is simple. Madness understand and possess a sublime visual sense. No-one, but no-one, dances like Chas Smash in his baggy trousers. His arms jerk into weird shapes and sizes, his head tries to butt the microphone, his legs can't stand still, and his whole action provides the perfect counterpart for Suggsy's hunched shoulders and inane grins.

But it doesn't stop there. All seven of Madness actually look like they're enjoying themselves up there, and in fact probably couldn't think of a better place to be, thank you very much.

Where they succeed is in transmitting that feeling to the audience as well as delivering songs and tunes that are short, sharp, danceable pop. They've also added significantly to pop history, by restoring fun to music, something for which they've been sneered at viciously.

What their critics don't realise is that they're busy creating a soundtrack for a generation to grow up to, and that's something Madness and a lot of people (me!) never had. Don't knock it.

In Birmingham we got an abbreviated set from their recent tour with the singles, ("Embarrassment" being their best shot, this year, although "Baggy Trousers" got all the applause; not fair!) all tacked on an exhilarating climax, peaked with a fully blown up version of "Madness," dominated by Mike Barson's warm keyboards.

It was the proper way for them to finish 1980, and their reason for playing this gargantuan hall was just as genuine. In front of so many different kinds of people, perhaps now at last they'll be taken for what they want to be. A pure pop band (take that Lowe) and one of our best.

Afterwards Nick Lowe crashed their dressing room along with Rockpile drummer Terry Williams, with Lowe introducing Woody to Williams with, "I'm no good with names, but this is the Madness drummer."

Williams looked sheepish, opened up his autograph book and said, "Oh. Can I have your autograph please?"

A little further up the corridor Elvis Costello had finally arrived and outside his dressing room two bouncers threateningly took guard outside the room. I dropped my Hunter Thompson fantasies and retreated into the auditorium.

By now, the crowd had completely filled out the massive hall and thanks to that, and the Madness performance, a real atmosphere and sense of occasion slowly crept through the place.

With the Selecter due on next, hopes were rising. Hopes which the Selecter unfortunately killed.

In the year or so they've been away, the Selecter have hardened their position considerably. Their music, which has always carried a sense of lightness and fun, has now expanded fully to introduce a more guitar dominated sound.

Their lyrics have become much more radical and harsh, and consequently, with two new members, the Selecter who took the stage Saturday night were not the guests who were expected. Or maybe invited.

After the fun and games of Madness, you could hear the stadium shudder when Pauline introduced what will become the anthemic "Bristol And Miami," with: "this song is dedicated to the blacks who fought in the Bristol riots earlier this year as well as the blacks who fought in Miami".

Real radical eh?

Well Birmingham thought so, and as the Selecter intensely piled on their political visions to a backdrop of music that fitted perfectly the moods and designs of the songs, Birmingham withdrew its support and watered it down to lukewarm applause.

What was great about it was that the Selecter garnered a reaction just as extreme as Madness before them.

Only Birmingham didn't realise it. Personally, I thought that after such a sublime performance of vocal prowess and dance from Pauline the house should have been brought down. Instead everyone clapped once and then waited down the front for Costello.

Still when the band's new album comes out, Celebrate The Bullet, scheduled for release in February, they can undertake their own gigs, forget these massive halls, and their true worth will be seen.

Certainly, Selecter are most vividly experienced in a more sympathetic environment.

I just hope they remember that. These are still fragile days for them and it showed occasionally on Saturday night when they simply tried just that bit too hard.

My money's still on them as future contenders, though.

But who's this with the mumbo jumbo, national health specs and silk cravat?

Why it's Elvis Costello!

Let's give him a section all to himself.

1980 was the year that Elvis Costello finally broke all ties with the music business and went alone.

He recorded an album of 20 songs with no fuss, that drew strongly upon a rich Sixties soul heritage but he didn't let it show. His trademark was all over the place and the influences never got in the way. Soon after its release, he went and did what all those brave punk bands said they'd do: play small places which aren't usually played.

Then he disappeared, popping up only to play a Rainbow anniversary gig, release a superb single, "Clubland" (which is currently doing zilch sales wise) and play a massive gig like this one tonight.

It's exactly that kind of unpredictable behaviour which keeps the interest and adrenalin moving.

An infuriating blend of both good and bad. I love him when he’s upsetting all pre-conceptions including his snubbing of the music press, which didn't take full page ads to do, remaining completely unpredictable, and writing classics like "King Horse."

I hate him when he's perpetuating big gigs like these and riding about in flash Greyhound buses which contributes and encourages the whole Chelsea scene he once reviled so viciously.

Obviously, with Elvis you can't have your cake and eat it, one side has to balance out the other, and to be perfectly honest when he took the stage Saturday night I petulantly hated his guts for not talking to me and encouraging backward gigs like these.

After he left the stage Saturday night, I thought him one of the most marvellous things I'd seen all year.

Steve Nieve with dramatically short hair and shades, took the stage first and hit some dramatic piano chords to introduce Elvis and a new song called "Shot By His Own Gun," a typical Costello composition, with flashing imagery and dominant theme to hold it all together.

Elvis himself looked chuffed and happy at the reception he received, letting out a quick smug smile before the rest of the band joined him and launched into "Hi Fidelity," one of the best neo-Motown songs of the Seventies.

After that it was new material, some of which was announced, and a lot more that wasn't. With new material, of course, it's hard to make snap judgements, but one comment from a rare interview of his kept coming back.

"I won't be around to watch my own decline," I remember him once sneering, and by the quality on show he's definitely keeping to his word.

One number, based around a sparse drum-beat and the simplest of riffs, matched easily such achievements as "Green Shirt," whilst the marvellous "Clubland" came over with archetypal venom and intensity.

Standing there watching Elvis Costello, though is half the fun of it all. Costello's movements are so awkward, his jerky, awkward guitar playing never looks so sync with the music; his head bobbing constantly, it seems impossible for him to be actually playing.

And how he gets so worked up delivering some of his more obscure lyrics is beyond me, but as always it's up to the listener to make of it what they will.

Tonight his set was largely occupied by material from Get Happy!! and the forthcoming album, Trust interspersed with such inspired choices as "Big Tears," a classic B-side, and an abbreviated "Detectives," which was so much the better for its brevity.

As always, the Attractions themselves provided perfect backings for the horn-rimmed one, though how they manage to remain so miserable onstage whilst pumping out such exciting material will always be a mystery.

By the time they'd finished, Costello's aim to warm up the hall had been fulfilled, the crowd was ecstatic, and also worried that UB40 weren't going to play, so Costello wished us home safely and then disappeared into nowhere. The only thing wrong with Costello at present is his increasing weight.

But then a good healthy British tour will put that right.

For the time being I'm on his side.

Last train to London was half past midnight. UB40 finally made it onstage at ten minutes before midnight. I caught a sensuous "Come Over," and a warming "King" before I kicked my way out of the door, still dancing.

My apologies for not staying, it's more my loss than theirs. But then I never did want to go to the Birmingham Super Bowl anyway. It was too big, too much like the Old Days of rock, and too tiring.

I'd rather be had in Clubland thank you.

<< >>

Melody Maker, January 3, 1981

Paolo Hewitt reports on the Christmas Show, December 27, 1980, National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, England.

Melody Maker reports on tour plans and the upcoming release of Trust.

Get Happy!! is No. 31 on the Charts Of The Year (page 2).


1981-01-03 Melody Maker cover.jpg 1981-01-03 Melody Maker pages 04-05 clipping 01.jpg
Cover and clipping.

Trust in Elvis...

Melody Maker

1981-01-03 Melody Maker page 01 clipping.jpg

Elvis Costello, who teamed up with the Selecter and UB40 for a massive Christmas show at Birmingham's Exhibition Centre (review: pages 4 and 5), will be back on the road in March to follow his new album.

The album, recorded with the Attractions, is called Trust and is set for release in the third week of January. The album includes 14 new Costello songs.

After the release of the album, Costello and the Attractions start preparing for a British tour that runs through March, with confirmed dates currently being finalised.

Photo by Tom Sheehan.
1981-01-03 Melody Maker photo 01 ts.jpg

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Chart page.


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