"Live and direct from the CCCP," said the advert, "The Pope Of Pop." With such respect for the niceties of the Secret Gig, did Elvis Costello choose to publicise his appearance at the niterie run under the curious name of The Choka-Doobie Club. Outside the club at 11, it was hell; journalists fought each other with promotional beer mugs for tickets, while minor pop stars were reduced to performing selections from their repertoire to gain entry. Eventually, over the bloodied corpse of Mat Snow, David Swift and I tossed for the spare show ticket: I won (bastard! — DS).
Inside swarmed the nearly-famous. Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt talked to each other; Roddy Frame talked to his girlfriend; Zeke Manyika talked to me; and Shane MacGowan of The Pogues contented himself with his harmonica. The atmosphere was not crackling with tension; oh, where are those halcyon days of secret gigs, when a two-minute set by Plastic Bertrand would have them talking for days? In best tradition, the support band, a Scottish lot called The Screaming Nobodies went down very well, which was odd because they were rotten. I thought I saw one of The Pretenders. Cait of The Pogues played with Shane MacGowan's harmonica.
And then! A man in absolutely huge blue-tint framed glasses, wearing a jacket made out of the entire cloth ration of the Swiss Guard, took the stage. One thing was sure: it wasn't the Pope. He was very good, too. In a small space, Elvis can use the differing warbles and runways of his voice, be a bit more subtle with the inflections, and generally do all those things one cannot do in the Hammersmith Palais. Songs were either newies or covers (i.e. no-one had heard 'em before); all slow or medium-paced, perhaps country-tinged, and all, thank God, very good. "The Big Light," "Brilliant Mistake" (which starts with the line "Ronnie was the King of America"), "Poisoned Road," "We Don't Even Try Anymore" (with aforesaid gear warble) ... not a turkey in town.
And after that, one danced the night away, my dear. Andy Kershaw asked me if I wanted to meet Ivor Cutler; or maybe Ivor Cutler asked me if I wanted to meet Andy Kershaw. I played with Shane MacGowan's harmonica, and wended my way home, my dancing shoes in my hand, a dream in my eyes, a song in my heart, and a lasting impression of a Pope who is shit-hot at acoustic numbers.