There's a stranger in the town. No one has spoken — or so hoped London Weekend Television and Elvis Costello's management as Elvis and The Attractions appeared at Aberdeen's Country & Western Club in the Hotel Metro last Thursday. This secret one-off gig was set up for LWT to film them performing live, for the first time, material from Costello's forthcoming album of country cover versions, recorded with The Attractions last month in Nashville. Produced by Billy Sherrill, its title and release date haven't been fixed as yet.
The planning for this unique occasion had definitely been for the cameras, and no dancing was to be possible as the TV crew filled the front-of-stage space with tables and chairs to ensure the basic country and western audience remained in their places while they filmed the action for a South Bank Show special on Elvis.
Scanning the crowd, it was obvious that the presence of the mystery guest had remained a mystery to his more usual followers. The place was far from full, and the fashion-conscious in the audience were wearing stetsons, Brylcreem, fancy shirts, jeans and cowboy boots.
Elvis had also dressed for the occasion: red cowboy boots, lace tie and shades. His suit however seemed to have been bought from a weight-watchers' jumble and seemed a couple of sizes too big, even with the extra weight Elvis has gained. Bruce Thomas was also trying to keep up with the country Jones, with a shirt that was definitely not bought in Carnaby Street.
The authentic American look was however provided by pedal steel guitarist John McFee, courtesy of The Doobie Brothers, whose stetson was only matched in size by the Jimmy Carter type toothy smile.
The first set kicked off around ten, with the Attractions sound pretty rusty until they played "Stranger In The House," Elvis's principal previously recorded country and western song. The songs were a mix of originals and cover versions (Loretta Lynn, Charlie Rich, etc), and we were to discover that the next single is to be the George Jones classic-of-its-type (or so I'm told), "It's Been A Good Year For The Roses."
Someone else must have thought it wasn't quite right the first take — or maybe there was a shortage of suitable material — because at the outset of the second half Elvis apologised that every second song was to be a repeat of one they had already played. Ain't complaining though, as Elvis was now coming through loud and clear and creating more buzz than a queen bee. It's amazing what a dozen bottles of wine delivered to the dressing room can do at half-time. Ron Greenwood take note, that's your only hope of qualifying. lt must have been good stuff as the Attractions, steel guitarist and all, were coming out with a vintage performance, the highlight of which was a new song ironically titled "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down."
Elvis was in his element, now utterly confident, peering over his shades and characteristically posing for the camera... just after I unknowingly had run out of film — ever felt like a fool? Not to worry — on the basis of that second 25-minute performance, I'll be straight down to the record shop when the album is released.
I won't be the only one there either. A few traditional Elvis Costello fans (doesn't that make you feel old?) were still smiling and clapping well after the band had gone and it wasn't only because the scampi and chips had arrived. The new fans like William Basket with his stetson and sheriff badge will have good memories too — and something to tell the grandchildren next time they visit.