Newcastle Evening Chronicle, October 6, 2003

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Newcastle Evening Chronicle

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Music for every mood


David Whetstone

From east to west, from New York to Japan, Elvis Costello certainly notches up some air miles to entertain his army of fans. On Wednesday he will be in the North-East for a concert at Newcastle Opera House before joining Janice Long at Foundation for a late night Radio 2 session.

"Tokyo to Newcastle... that's the way they organise these things," he says wryly.

So what time is it in Tokyo at the moment?

"I've no idea."

But by the time the tour to promote new album North brings him to Newcastle — along with piano accompanist Steve Nieve — he will be all clued up. A small advance party will have checked the layout and acoustics of the Westgate Road venue.

"In the past when I've come to Newcastle I've played the City Hall but this is a new thing and I think it may suit the intimate nature of some of the songs.

"You know, we could take people a bit by surprise. I think people were surprised in New York. The record we've just released contains a lot of quiet instrumental stuff and there are some songs with just piano.

"If the hall is good acoustically you can get away from the whoosh of sound and give your performance a very human touch. It means people are getting the real thing. They are having to listen."

The thing that is often said about Elvis Costello is that he is constantly reinventing himself. He came out of punk and new wave and moved on to collaborate with a string quartet and even an orchestra.

The name changed years ago. He was born Declan MacManus in London in 1954 but moved to Liverpool with his mother after the break-up of his parents' marriage. His father was a musician.

He first performed in public in 1969 and has seldom been out of the spotlight since. You could say that the product of punk — the first album was produced at its height — has matured into versatile middle age.

But if his career appears to have gone through distinct phases, he says there's a common thread.

"It's me. I've never tried to reinvent myself. I've never given myself any label at all. It's you people who do that, trying to compare everything to something else.

"I've never really believed in pigeonholes but my record company rang me up recently and said the new album has gone to number one in the jazz chart.

"I don't really know why that should be although there are a few jazz musicians playing on the album. Maybe that's why.

"Some people would have me just play 'Oliver's Army' over and over again and that's fine — it's a good song — but time does move on.

"We now have about 90 songs in the repertoire so we can pick and choose what we do. It's often to do with how we feel on the night."

North, the new album, again demonstrates Elvis Costello's prowess as a songwriter. Away from the rumpus of rock and roll, it celebrates the more tranquil emotions.

The songs were all written during an intense period of creativity between last September and New Year's Day, he says. They were recorded in the spring.

"They were all written at the piano. They don't have any real precedent.

"They are very, very quiet and slow. They are all concerned with different aspects of love. I didn't realise until I had finished them that they all had any sort of theme but we don't necessarily perform them in the same sequence."

A truly global performer, Elvis Costello says he knows pretty much what will appeal in different countries.

In New York they like the rockier stuff, in Japan the ballads go down well. In Newcastle it seems we will see the quieter side of a songwriting master — at Newcastle Opera House at least.

What he will be doing with Janice Long at Foundation even he wasn't quite sure when we spoke at the end of last week.

The one sure thing you can say about Elvis Costello is that he will have a song for every mood, every occasion.

Catch him at Newcastle Opera House on Wednesday (doors open 6.30pm) and hear him later on Janice Long's show on Radio 2 from midnight to 3am.

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Evening Chronicle, October 6, 2003


David Whetstone interviews EC ahead of his concert with Steve Nieve, Wednesday, October 8, 2003, Opera House, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England.


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