Perhaps his most illuminating interview yet, Elvis Costello turned up on Radio 2 at midnight last Friday to be expertly grilled by Brian Matthew about his career and new country album, Almost Blue.
Kicking off with a track from the album, "Colour Of The Blues," Matthew immediately asked why Elvis used a stage name, as opposed to his proper name. "Well I think it's a question of getting people to think twice," revealed Elvis "There is a wealth and probably an excess of singers whose records are released every week and I can't take credit for the name, not entirely, but I think it served that purpose to make people think again."
Cool and relaxed, Costello talked amicably about his early days with Stiff: "They almost specialised in recording people who didn't fit in anywhere else with the scheme of things, most notably, I would say, Ian Dury," and punk rock: "In retrospect there's been a lot of praise heaped upon these pioneers. At the time it didn't feel like we were doing anything special. "Those groups which appeared from 1977 onwards did give it a bit of a kick which was what it needed."
Matthew then brought up Elvis's dad and his influence. "I think," replied Elvis, "that there was a time when I actively disliked music probably because that was what my dad did. It's the same way that my son tells me to turn my records down and I drive him round the twist."
So who influenced Elvis when he began writing? asked Matthew. "I think the biggest influence all along was Lennon and McCartney," replied Elvis. "There's no doubt about that. I'd grown up as a member of the Beatles fan club and I'd listened to all of those writers from 1964 onwards. And I always had a thing about songs and it was only later when I started to write songs myself that I realised how obsessed I was with songwriters and less with groups and images."
Matthew then played "Good Year For The Roses," and Elvis commented on how surprised he was at its success. Matthew asked why Elvis liked country music. What were its merits?
"Oh, I think it's like soul music or blues or any kind of very direct simple idea that's put over," came the answer. "It might sound mournful but it doesn't mean it's morbid."
Elvis went on to reveal that two types of tours are being planned at present. One just as Elvis and the Attractions. The other with an orchestra playing a country and ballads set!
"By Xmas I'm hoping," Elvis concluded, "we're going to have a whole load of people that have never listened to our records before, that want to come and see us."