New Musical Express, October 29, 1977

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We here at NME say Elvis is Declan and Ross is Day

Phil McNeill

So who the heck is Patrick?

"Excuse me a moment — I've got a baby in my arms."

Elvis Costello's father interrupts our Sunday morning telephone conversation to put the baby down. "There. We've just come back from church. What can I do for you?"

Elvis's dad is actually Ross MacManus — who, some of you may recall, was a singer with the Joe Loss Orchestra throughout the late '50s and the '60s.

The showbiz skeleton in the mystery punk's wardrobe came to light recently when the northern edition of the News Of The World ran a brief article on the true identity of "the singer who drives kids wild" — much, let be said, to the chagrin of Thrills, as we had also uncovered the Joe Loss connection by separate enquiries, and were even then preparing to splash our shock wor1d exclusive, etc.

Still, never mind. It seems the NOTW's revelations may have loosened up the net around the Costello enclave because when Thrills contacted Ross MacManus he was only too happy to give us the Costello scam. It makes an interesting saga.

So, Elvis's real name is Declan Patrick MacManus — though Costello, Ross tells us, is "a family name."

Indeed, he himself used the Costello monicker on more than one occasion — not least when he called himself Day Costello to cut "The Long And Winding Road" for Spark in 1970 (see Blackmail Corner 17.9.77).

Yes, we here at NME no longer think Elvis is Day. We know it was Ross, and he confirms the fact.

"That wasn't Elvis aged 16," Ross laughs. "That was me aged 42! I often used the name Day Costello for writing."

He explains how Joe Loss almost came to co-own the name Ross MacManus, so it made life easier for Ross (real name Ronnie MacManus) if he used his mother's name, Costello.

Ross MacManus joined the Joe Loss band in 1955, and enjoyed a fair amount of success. Not only did he place in the NME polls of the time, making 10th top big band vocalist in '55, but he stayed with Loss for 14 years.

Back in the '50s, of course, big bands were real hip, and the paper was full of them until rock 'n' roll came along. Thus Elvis — or rather, Declan — was brought up in a house full of jazz records, with a father who knew and worked with British jazz stars like Ronnie Scott, Phil Seamen, Joe Timperley, Tubby Hayes and Bill McGuffie.

On top of that, Ross used to take Elvis along to the studios in the early '60s, and there he met the likes of the Stones, Hollies, Mojos, Merseybeats, Beatles and so on when they recorded their spot for the Joe Loss Show.

Loss may latterly have slipped into full-time schmaltzerama, but in the early '60s rock and Tin Pan Alley still rubbed shoulders quite happily. "I'd be a bit pissed off if anyone suggested that Elvis's influence were only Come Dancing," Ross says fiercely.

In the late '60s Ross had a German hit with a song called "Patsy Girl," and in '69 he and Loss parted company. Nowadays he works the northern cabaret circuit, singing and playing trumpet and piano, and is apparently a big name still.

"The only time I see Elvis now is when we meet at Watford Gap service at six o'clock in the morning, on the way home from our gigs."

Declan, we had heard, took his name from a Ross MacManus album called Day Costello Sings Elvis Presley.

Not quite. There was an album called Ross MacManus Sings Elvis Presley's Greatest Hits, but Ross thinks Declan may have been calling himself Elvis before that. As for when he decided to use it as a stage name: "You'd have to ask Stiff Records.

"It's a difficult position," Ross muses. "Elvis wanted to keep his image to himself — not because there was any rift between us, but just because it was a slightly mysterious image. It went well."

He asserts repeatedly how proud he is of Elvis.

Furthermore, he insists that Elvis's image as the guy who gets sand kicked in his face is quite misleading. Elvis is tough, he tells us — and in this aspect he takes after his grandfather.

Patrick MacManus was a jazz player who left Ireland after the 1916 Rebellion and went to New York. There he became caught up on the fringe of the Prohibition era gang world. "It was all boxers, musicians and bootleggers," Ross says.

At one time, apparently, he went to stay with a boxer friend on the west side — and found himself sharing a house with Legs Diamond, the notorious gangster.

(It's interesting to note, looking down Brian Case's Young Person's Guide To The Mafia, that the Godfather at the end of prohibition in '31 was a guy called Francesco Castiglia, a.k.a. Frank Costello.)

Ross's father is also credited with helping to bring the blues to Britain. Ross makes a lot of the fact that both Elvis and his grandfather were born on the Leo/Virgo cusp, seven days apart, and that they look alike (as if he and Elvis don't!)

He also tells us Elvis had some great songs about his grandfather which have yet to be unveiled in public — especially one called "My Friend," about his grandad's New York experiences.

"I think Elvis has got a touch of the old 'Legs Diamond'," he chuckles.

Ross regales Thrills with a cavalcade of characters out of his own past — like Pat McCormick, the Irish big band singer who used to take a lion on the road with him — and then flashes on the future.

"You know, Elvis has got three more little brothers, I'm not sure whether they're going to be altar boys or punk rockers!"

Thrills sincerely hopes that Ross won't catch hell from Elvis for talking so freely to us.

Meanwhile, we've deliberately saved the best bit till last.

The real secret in this most secretive of families is this: Ross MacManus is The Secret Lemonade Drinker!

Don't say you don't get your 18 pees' worth.

Tags: Ross MacManusWatching The DetectivesNick LoweFlip CityJoe Loss OrchestraBlackmail CornerThe Rolling StonesThe HolliesThe MerseybeatsThe BeatlesStiff RecordsPat MacManusSecret Lemonade DrinkerBlame It On CainMystery DancePub rockEggs Over EasyBrinsley SchwarzThe BrecknockThe Lord NelsonHope And AnchorThe GreyhoundThe NashvilleDr. FeelgoodKilburn & The High RoadsRoogalatorChilli Willi & the Red Hot PeppersHammersmith OdeonThe ClashJoe StrummerMartin BelmontAndrew BodnarSteve GouldingBob AndrewsBrinsley Schwarz (musician)Graham ParkerThe RumourIan DuryFlip CityThe DamnedThe Sex PistolsThe JamPhilip Rambow

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New Musical Express, October 29, 1977

Phil McNeill talks to Ross MacManus.

Roy Carr reviews the single for "Watching The Detectives"; a half-page ad for "Watching The Detectives" and Nick Lowe's "Halfway To Paradise" runs on page 28.

Roy Carr's feature on Pub Rock includes a brief mention of Flip City.


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Page scan and photo.

From pub rock to dub rock

Roy Carr

Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Watching The Detectives

1977-10-29 New Musical Express page 28.jpg

Single Of The Week! Wins hands down, no contest. Single Of The Year! ... definitely on the short list. This record comes at a crucial juncture in Costello's career. From obscurity to fast-approaching media overkill in less than a year place's Costello in the unenviable position of having to qualify his success or bear the full brunt of a backlash. "Watching The Detectives" both affirms his credentials and silences those waiting in the wings for the kill.

With the ubiquitous Nick Lowe at the production controls, this is innovative stuff, for Costello and Lowe have perfected what an best be described as dub rock — not a blatant rip-off of ethnic mores, but a highly personalised adaptation. The stylus catches the run-in groove, drums rattle like a stack of half-filled oil drums being kicked over in an underground car park, and all four musicians are transmogrified into a sinister dub maelstrom. Against the throb of the bass the organ pipes and guitar deviates from a chucka-chucka and James Bondian twang, while the drums carry the same hefty clout that Bowie attained on Sound And Vision. Other comparisons are meaningless.

"Watching The Detectives" is like nothing you've heard before. Instruments and voices zoom in an out of focus and reappear without warning as, with menace in his heart, Costello narrates a bizarre scenario about a boy desperately trying to attract his girl's attention away from the television, to no avail. She gazes at one cop show after another. The situation becomes blurred, the tension unbearable, roles are exchanged and you're not certain that if the girl who gets wasted is in the teleplay or watching it.

Powerful stuff. I don't think I'm going over the top when I state that "Watching The Detectives" is one of the most important singles of the '70s. I'd be interested to hear some of the out-takes. Live versions of "Blame It On Cain" and "Mystery Dance" make up the flip.

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Ad for "Watching The Detectives" single.

Pub Rock

Roy Carr

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Pub rock was the '70s first megastar backlash.

Some regarded it as a welcome return to tap roots for an audience confused by '70s androgynous overkill. For most, it was no more than a cheap night out with friends.

Mainstream rock had from the start of the decade escalated into a spectator sport, with Glam Rock, Heavy Metal Panzers, Techno-flash and dry ice machines dominating the international arena to the exclusion of almost everything else. Image, theatrics and box office grosses were of prime importance.

The local club scene that had once flourished (often on licensed premises) throughout Britain during the mid-'60s had almost become non-existent, partly because bands had priced themselves into the theatres. Aspiring bands without the record company backing that had become customary, had little chance to build up from grass-roots venues. The saloon bar proved to be a temporary salvation.

Pub Rock was primarily a traditionalist movement restricted to Greater London with some overspill into the Home Counties, and, as its genesis, a means of sporadic employment for musicians beached by loser '60s bands.

Later it became evident that pub rock was a geographical reality rather than an artistic one and, with few exceptions, proved to be the downfall of most bands working the circuit.

American country-rock band Eggs Over Easy were the precursors of the movement when sometime in late '71/early '72 they broke the jazz-only policy of The Tally Ho pub in Kentish Town, North London. They were quickly joined by another country-rock outfit Bees Make Honey. Aussie expatriates Max Merritt & The Meteors, and the nomadic Brinsley Schwarz, who had suffered from precisely the big venue hype-a-star style which Pub Rock was a reaction.

At the peak of popularity (1973-75), it seemed that nearly every large pub in London, especially north of Regents Park where the supply of unspoiled Victorian pubs was plentiful, was supplying live music along with hot snacks and the occasional stripper. Following the Tally Ho came The Cock, The Brecknock, The Lord Nelson, The Hope and Anchor, The Greyhound, The Red Lion, The Rochester Castle and more. (Later the Albion Agency took over the bookings for The Hope, The Red Lion, and The Nashville.)

The whole premise of Pub Rock was to inject an atmosphere of "good-time" into a music scene that had begun to take itself far too seriously for its own health.

Except for a few mavericks, most pub bands chose to mine three motherlodes.

Hard-nosed R & B revivalism (Dr. Feelgood, Kilburn & The Highroads, Ace, Ducks Deluxe, The Winkies, Roogalator, Michigan Flyers); Fatback Funk (Kokomo, Clancy, FBI, Moon, Cado Belle, G.T. Moore & His Reggae Guitars, Palm Beach Express); Country Rock (The Brinsleys, Kursaal Flyers, Byzantium, Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers).

Fundamentally, the pub circuit was (and is) a training ground where only the very strong survived. Bands proliferated by the score, many disbanding and reforming under different names between gigs. It was music for bellying-up-to-the-bar, but aggressive enough to make itself heard over chit-chat, pulling birds, rumbles and throwing up.

In reality, after a few pints even the most mediocre and derivative bands sounded much better than they really were (Depends whether you can take your drink squire — Ed) while with few exceptions, most pub bands were visually dull. That didn't prevent the copy-hungry media latching onto Pub Rock and promoting it as The Next Big Thing.

Few pub bands transcended the gap between performing for 300 half-pissed punters sweating profusely in the public bar and 3,000 seated non-drinkers in the Hammersmith Odeon. Even fewer came remotely close to recapturing the ethos in a recording studio.

Nevertheless, record companies chose to believe what they read instead of what they heard and promptly started signing up anything that reeked of best bitter, shoving them in the nearest studio before the band was ready. To aggravate matters, there seemed to be a lack of producers who knew how to transfer the music from pub to tape; a malady currently afflicting new wave groups.

As a result, most pub rock releases died the death.

Ace were a prime example. That one good song, "How Long," may have been a transatlantic chart-topper but they had little with which to follow it. Kokomo's recording career was as shortlived as the band itself, and the same applied to Clancy, The Kilburns, The Winkies and Chilli Willi.

The Brinsleys and Ducks Deluxe were just unlucky, and their records deserved a better response than they received.

The only band that appeared to be able to operate on all levels was Dr. Feelgood, yet it wasn't until they released their third album, their concert souvenir Stupidity, that they fulfilled their potential.

As quickly as bands like the Brinsleys and Ducks Deluxe folded, they were replaced by much younger aggregations such as The Count Bishops, Eddie & The Hot Rods and the 101'ers — the latter spawning Clash-man Joe Strummer.

Despite the demise of many pub bands, many of their musicians went on to achieve greater success elsewhere.

A prime example was when ex-Ducks Deluxer Martin Belmont, ex-Bontemps Roulets' Andrew Bodnar and Steve Goulding, and Brinsley Schwarz himself, assisted by former employee Bob Andrews, amalgamated behind Graham Parker to form The Rumour.

Ducks Deluxe bar-room bully Sean Tyla re-appeared with the Tyla Gang, while his former cohorts Nick Garvey and Andy McMaster went on to mastermind The Motors.

Recently ex-Kilburn Ian Dury staged a spectacular comeback, while The Winkies' Phil Rambow looks like being a favourite in the current list of runners.

One person who certainly made good was Brinsley stalwart Nick Lowe, who, apart from establishing a reputation as Stiff Records' house producer, has also become a solo artist to be reckoned with. Flip City may have been one of the more obscure pub attractions, but their singer, Elvis Costello has also done quite well for himself.

What was originally typecast as being pub rock may have, in many instances, promised much more than it delivered, but as an assault course for young groups the circuit has by no means outlived its initial purpose.

And though the music may have undergone a change, the venues have remained. Pubs like The Nashville and The Hope & Anchor have been instrumental in helping the careers of acts like The Damned, The Sex Pistols, The Stranglers, The Boomtown Rats, 999, The Jam and Elvis Costello.

To paraphrase a brewery commercial: There's more going on at your local than you think!

Cover and clipping.
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