Melody Maker, May 14, 1988

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Melody Maker

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Shetland jumpers

Elvis Costello / Shetland Folk Festival

Tom Morton

I can't believe I'm seeing this. Can this really be Elvis Costello, the manic, mayhem merchant who snarled and spat in the Glasgow Apollo in 1978, was nervous but cool solo at the Edinburgh Playhouse in 1985 and completely bananas last year at the same venue? Why is he tap dancing? Why is he doing children's concerts, getting them to shout "Miaow" at him during "Leave My Kitten Alone"? Why does he keep saying things like "sing along if you know the chorus" without a trace of irony? You'd almost think he was enjoying himself.

Britain's most northerly folk festival erupts in dozens of country halls and other tiny venues throughout the 100-odd bits of rock which make the Shetland Islands. Over four days, Costello played at nine events, ranging from an aptly hungover one-song set of "The Big Light" just after he got off the boat, to a full hour at Lerwick's Garrison Theatre on Friday night.

The songbook for the weekend varied, but was based solidly on new songs like "Let Him Dangle," a stark anti-hanging song dealing with the Craig/Bentley case, the astonishing "Comical Priest" with its jagged insights into plastic religiosity and "Another King's Shilling," a very moving tale of departure to war, which he described as a sequel to "Shipbuilding."

Among all these were the reworked "New Amsterdam" incorporating "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," "Shipbuilding" itself and a host of others.

The Friday gig in Lerwick illustrated the strangeness of the whole event. Preceded by a mass of local fiddlers, Costello came on and shook the crammed, tiny theatre with an almost overwhelming amount of charisma. We're talking showmanship here, a certainty and sureness in performance which brooked no obstacle. Not even the many elderly locals there to see Irish fiddle legend Sean McGuire. The jokes, the timing, the "I looked like Johnny Cash . . . I looked like his sock" intro to "The Big Light," the shifts in mood from humour to political comment... it was impeccable. Then, of course, the Big Surprise. On he comes for the vociferously demanded encore. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce... Mr Nick Lowe!" Dear God, what's he doing here? It turns out auld Nick flew in for the day just to play one song with Elv. And it's their joint classic, "(What's So Funny `Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding." Everlies, eat your hearts out. The place just about explodes.

What else can I tell you? About Costello's three gigs in one night on Sunday? About him accompanying a local country singer at a guitar workshop? It would be unfair not to mention some of the other artists - the folk roots experimentation and fire of Newcastle's Spektacle Cases, ex-Fairporter Simon Nicol's relaxed virtuosity. Ashley Hutchings of The Albion Band's patronising attitude to punters ("oh look - they're wearing modern clothes") and the astonishing Sean McGuire's incandescent fiddle playing.

The weather was good too. A singer nearly gave birth on stage. A concert ground to a halt because the hall's electricity meter ran out of 50 pence pieces. Punks slam danced to acoustic Costello. You really should have been there.

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Melody Maker, May 14, 1988


Tom Morton reports on the Shetland Folk Festival, April 28, 29, 30 and May 1, 1988, Lerwick, Scotland. (page 23)


Melody Maker reports on EC at the National Union of Seamen benefit, May 4, 1988, Music Hall, Aberdeen, Scotland. (page 3)

Images

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Elvis Costello

Aberdeen Music Hall

Melody Maker

Elvis Costello played a benefit concert for striking seamen last week, after making a deal with unofficial pickets who were threatening to hold up musicians on their way to the Shetland Folk Festival.

Costello, who was appearing at the festival, was due to travel with other artists from Aberdeen to Lerwick on the St Clair. However, the sailing was delayed when two members of the crew walked off and joined an unofficial picket line organised by oil-supply boat crews in sympathy for NUS colleagues on the Channel ferries.

An NUS spokesman said Costello approached the picket line in Aberdeen and promised to play a benefit concert for the seamen if the crew would make sure the musicians going to the festival were not held up.

The two St Clair crewmen who had joined the line returned to the ferry which finally arrived on time in Lerwick.

Costello returned to the mainland and played the benefit at the Aberdeen Music Hall.

He said at the time: "I agree with the NUS side of things and anything we can do to get publicity for them that is not written from the point of view of showing them as bloodthirsty pickets must be good. I spoke to the pickets and they are just ordinary blokes trying to protect their jobs.

"They were good enough to allow the boat to sail so we could get up here, and I think it only respectful to do something for them. All you read in the Tory press is that they are madmen, but they're not. The Government are the swine not these men."



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