Melody Maker, March 7, 1981

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Melody Maker


Pumping up this green and pleasant land

Paolo Hewitt

Down the valley we go, the car bumping gently along the sticky clay ground, tight corners carefully negotiated. The road dips and we swerve, the green foliage flashing past the window as we descend, speed picking up.

Round a corner and suddenly, without warning, here's something so unexpected that we recheck our bearings.

That's right, we're still in St. Austell, Cornwall, an archetypal English seaside village with dainty shops, small old-fashioned brick houses and stone barriers to ward off the waves, set in acres and acres of green, fertile land.

Here, that peaceful atmosphere in which time seems to move at a gentler pace can still be savoured: the old men with pipes in mouths walk the dogs, old women stand chatting in doorways.

So what on earth is this huge, modern building, with its flashing neon lights above it, its garish Wimpy bar opposite and amusement arcade above, doing cutting into this last vestige of Old England?

Like a sore thumb, the Cornish Coliseum complex rises out of a rich verdant valley, the West Country's answer to Las Vegas, a blot on the landscape slumbering next to beach and roaring sea.

The harbour along the coast guards the fishing boats that provide the livelihoods; the Cornish Coliseum harbours the stages and machines that provide the entertainment.

For a radius of at least 30 miles it attracts the West Country's young and old with its varied shows. Petula Clark is about to open, Tommy Cooper's been and gone, and in five hours time one of rock's most enigmatic figures will arrive to start his British tour. But then straying off the beaten track is nothing new to Elvis Costello.

A figure, tall and lean, sporting Crass badges and red silk neckerchief, stands outside the hall's backstage door. He's just met Elvis Costello.

Elvis said "hello," Andy said "hi" ... and then couldn't think if anything else to say. Elvis disappeared back into the hail and that was that. Andy hoped he might see him after the show, but he wasn't too sure.

The bouncers could be right bastards if they wanted to, he reckoned, and anyway Elvis was a miserable sod, wasn't he? Made great music, but that was about all.

Last time Elvis played here there was nearly a riot because he wouldn't do an encore. "He smiled once on stage," Andy says in his West Country burr, a wry grin on his face.

Artistic Control is Andy's group, and standing outside the Coliseum trying to get into the soundcheck, that name seemed wholly appropriate.

There's only one way into the hall and that's through this small wooden door. On the other side of it two men made of muscle with evil looks to match stood guard, checking everyone as they walked in and out.

Andy squeezes open the door. They notice and walk menacingly towards him. He backs out into the gravel car park. The bouncers snarl and slam the door.

He's never going to get in. So he waits outside as the music rings clearly through the walls, the songs unrecognisable and unrecorded being aired for the first time on Cornish soil.

The first two songs arc pounding, sharp pop, Elvis's voice cutting through clearly. The third is loose, almost jazz-orientated, with large helpings of Steve Nieve's keyboards complementing Elvis's crooning vocals.

Then they break into "Possession" from Get Happy and a smile of recognition shoots across Andy's face. "My favourite song, this one."

According to Andy the worst band to visit the Coliseum were undoubtedly the Stranglers. "Jean-Jacques Burnel just stood there taking the piss, like, and no-one said anything 'cos they were too scared."

The best were undoubtedly Stiff Little Fingers. But it's due to the now defunct Sham 69 that bands play here now. It was Jimmy Pursey who came to the Coliseum first, nearly three years ago, blazing the trail for a steady flow of bands.

Now Slade, the Who, Rose Royce and Status Quo are either expected, or have already played for these quiet, forgotten villages. The locals don't mind because the Coliseum is out of the way and doesn't disturb them, while the kids have a hall to dance in and arcades to amuse them.

So in front of the backstage door Andy explains how he dyed his hair black and burnt his eyes in the process, and Elvis begins "Big Sister's Clothes."

"It's easy to say I love you," come the words through the wall, "but that sounds easy I suppose."

Outside Andy shifts his feet impatiently. Only two hours to go now.

Last October, Elvis Costello and the Attractions went to Sweden and played a gig in Stockholm, in a hall that held 5,000 people. They sold the place out and afterwards went to the Alexandria Club to celebrate.

There they saw a local band by the name of Dave and the Mistakes. Three days later, Jake Riviera, Elvis' manager, rang Dave and his Mistakes and offered them a gig supporting Rockpile in Scandinavia.

The band accepted, but unfortunately the gig was cancelled and the band kicked themselves with frustration.

In Sweden their popularity was increasing, but it was tough work. Sometimes they would find themselves setting up their gear in a backward hall to play for a group of drunken Swedes blitzed on illegal whisky, before setting off that very night to another gig 1100 kilometres away.

Three weeks after the Rockpile gig fell through, Riviera rang again. Elvis would be touring Britain in March. Did they want to support? DID THEY WANT TO SUPPORT?

In Cornwall, stomachs churning and a horror of freezing totally before their first foreign crowd, Dave and the Mistakes take the stage and acquit themselves perfectly.

Neither serious nor a total joke, their brand of hard, melodic rock, coupled with the visual attack of their overweight vocalist Dave, and attractive female counterpart, brought a lot of smiling faces, and a lot of dancing bodies to the floor.

They've obviously been listening to early Cheap Trick and Meatloaf, which may sound horrendous, but actually proved quite enjoyable as they energetically shake the crowd up with a distinctive brand of pop and rock.

After each number Dave clowns as the applause rolls in, heightening the comedy level. The rest of the band play solidly with verve and expertise, creating an appealing wall of sound with ringing guitars and sturdy rhythms.

They're not the best band in the world, but provide perfect support for the bespectacled one. And they left the hall in the perfect mood for Elvis.

Half an hour later Costello bounds onstage with the Attractions and the "Tour To Trust" is underway with what may be either a new song or some obscure oldie. It's that hard to tell.

Elvis, of course, never tells us, finishing sharply and leading the band straight into "Accidents Will Happen." At once a great swirling sound is created as the band catch hold of the song and take it for all they're worth.

Nieve, as he would do through much of the night, dominates the song on keyboards, leading it with great flourishes while the Attractions keep pace.

The song finishes, and already Bruce Thomas is moving on, smashing out the distinctive opening to "The Beat," the only song to come from the Model album.

Bass and guitar lock together as Nieve adds the twisting melody; Costello's words of warning take hold and start shaking us up.

Not that anyone in Cornwall is doing much listening. The one-two opener has the crowd exploding into action, jumping, pogoing, crashing into each other like we did all those summers ago.

Elvis smiles and relaxes down to his silver shoes — the worst I've seen this year (and have I seen some shoes this year).

Engulfed in the boisterous optimism of this crowd it's impossible not to smile with him. "Seeing as we finished our last tour here," he bellows, "we thought we'd start our new one here. How are you going? (massive cheers). This is a new song for you from our next album called Don't Trust Us ... 'Human Hands!'"

A killer bass line from Pete Thomas, a smack of the drums and the band are away as Costello sings a song of love — or is it? When he sings: "All I want to do is fall into your human hands," is he sneering or pleading? Neither voice nor pen give anything away.

But that's the attraction of the man, and live he can't be doubted. This band are razor sharp. They switch styles at the click of a finger.

Pete Thomas's fingers blur as they push up and down his fretboard. Bruce Thomas can be either the most primitive drummer alive or the most sensitive, while Nieve is inspired, adding colour and shape in just the right places.

Thus words mesh with music to create the total power of Elvis on stage: on "Strict Time," an urgent rhythm, coupled with a rolling piano riff, fits perfectly with the heady chorus of "toughen up toughen up, keep your lip buttoned up," and there's a passion and spirit that's missed in the studio.

Elvis himself is fascinating and unpredictable, a man who is his own man. Only a few, John Rotten for one, have that aura, and it's watching the road they take that keeps so many eyes peeled and ears turned.

What do Costello's obscure lyrics mean? Finding out is the challenge.

Tonight in Cornwall it's like passion never went out of fashion. The songs come in a torrent of emotion, anger and fury follow warnings and cries.

It's a beautifully-paced set, leaning heavily on the last two albums. "Clowntime Is Over" is one peak, Costello publicly baring his soul, screaming out the lyrics in a manner that sends icy shivers down the spine. Another high comes as the band start a stomping piece of music that fools everyone, it's a new number, but turns into a pulsating, vibrant "King Horse."

"Secondary Modern" and "Watch Your Step" slow the pace, "Luxembourg" and "From A Whisper To A Scream" bring us back to our feet.

Three encores are called for and delivered, among them "Watching The Detectives," superbly incorporating Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster," Costello's nightmare vision juxtaposing with Wonder's sunny optimism; "I Can't Stand Up" and, a little disappointingly, a finale of "Pump It Up." (I'd have thought he'd have written a song especially for encores by now.)

Then they're gone, a triumphant first gig under their belts. Costello's restless, magical talent remains unscathed; his ability to provide music that provokes, antagonises, caresses, seduces and finally hypnotises is undiminished in its strength and power.

Outside the gig an hour later, the sea roars restlessly and the neon lights advertise the next attractions.

But something special hovers in the air as the lights, flickering around the darkened countryside, finally go out, the working week about to begin.

From a hotel window, somebody was doubtlessly watching where the others didn't.

<< >>

Melody Maker, March 7, 1981

Paolo Hewitt reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions and opening act Dave & The Mistakes, Sunday, March 1, 1981, Cornwall Coliseum, St. Austell, England.

Gig guide (pg 28) lists concerts in Wolverhampton (March 5), Bradford (7), Manchester (8), Edinburgh (9), Glasgow (10), and Newcastle (11).


1981-03-07 Melody Maker page 14 clipping 01.jpg

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1981-03-07 Melody Maker page 35 clipping 01.jpg

Photos by Jon Blackmore and Nick Pawlack.
1981-03-07 Melody Maker photo 02 jb np.jpg

1981-03-07 Melody Maker photo 03 jb np.jpg

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Photos by Jon Blackmore and Nick Pawlack.

Cover inset photo by Jon Blackmore.
1981-03-07 Melody Maker photo 01 jb.jpg

Cover and page scans.
1981-03-07 Melody Maker cover.jpg 1981-03-07 Melody Maker page 28.jpg

1981-03-07 Melody Maker pages 14-15.jpg


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