Northern Echo, June 6, 2013

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Northern Echo

UK & Ireland newspapers


Wheeling back the years

Andy Welch

Elvis Costello and The Imposters are in the North-East next week with live shows in which the audience use his unique Spectacular Spinning Songbook device to select the songs. Andy Welch reports

Elvis Costello is doing one of his favourite things — relaxing in New York. "The vibe is very mellow," explains the 58-year-old rocker.

The city has been a sort of home to British-born Costello for the past nine years. He stays there when he's working, while the rest of his time is spent at home in Vancouver with his Canadian singer wife Diana Krall and their twin sons Henry and Frank.

Now the boys are primary school age, Costello and Krall have had to become a little more settled.

"‘Having both your parents as working musicians will mean a lot of travelling, but we have to be considerate. They'll still get to come on the tour bus with me.

That's got to be better than taking geography, right?" It's a busy time for Costello, who's currently writing and recording songs for an album due for release before the end of the year, while again working with Burt Bacharach on a stage adaptation of Painted From Memory, their 1998 album.

I'm also working long-term on a book of my own," says Costello.

"I'm not writing an autobiography.

Everyone knows that story, everyone's an expert, so I can only tell people what they don't know." He and his band The Imposters — essentially the backing band of his 1980s heyday, The Attractions, with one or two different members — have brought the Spectacular Spinning Songbook tour to the UK once again.

"The shows were brilliant last time around, the atmosphere at each really special, so we can't wait to do it again." There is a special feature to the Spinning Songbook gigs — a giant wheel loaded with the names of 50 of Costello's songs.

A member of the audience is invited up to spin the wheel, and the band have to play whichever song it lands on.

"The wheel's fair, too, until we lean on it a bit when someone tells us it's their wedding anniversary or something. Mostly we let it be true and the wheel decides.

Some songs have come up twice or even three times in a night." Naturally, there are gasps when the wheel approaches any of Costello's biggest hits — "Oliver's Army," "Alison," "Watching The Detectives," "Everyday I Write The Book" or "Pump It Up." Often what would normally be a finale song, or form part of an encore, will be chosen right at the top of a show.

"The wheel has made us play the older songs better, and we never know what to expect," says Costello. "You have to drop into the darkest, most emotional songs without any preparation, and one of your favourites might not get chosen for five shows." He does, however, insist on playing "Shipbuilding" and "Tramp The Dirt Down." The latter featured on 1989 album Spike, and finds Costello hoping he lives long enough to see the death of Margaret Thatcher so he can find her grave and stamp on it.

Now that she has died, he feels differently. "I have difficulty with this one," he says. "Two of my family had dementia-related demises, so I would never wish that on my worst enemies. I have difficulty wishing ill on people, despite having written that song.

I can't celebrate.

"I could if it meant the death of her ideas, but they're alive and well. That's the difference here.

There are few people in history you would wish death on, but there would be something pathetic, and beneath us, in celebrating the death of anyone." He adds that it's easy for songwriters to get very self-important about their work but, with time, he's come to accept that whatever he writes will only affect certain people — normally the people who are listening anyway.

"There's an argument that rich musicians don't have the right to express what they feel. But yes, yes we do; we're allowed to express ourselves.

"We're not asking anything of anybody, and there are contradictions in songs that are about complicated issues.

“I wanted them to be there, because it wasn't black and white. Nothing ever is."

Elvis Costello and The Imposters
2013 Revolvers Tour
Wednesday at the Sage, Gateshead.
June 17 at York Barbican.

Tags: The SageGatesheadBarbican CentreYorkThe ImpostersSpectacular Spinning Songbook Burt BacharachPainted From MemoryVancouverDiana KrallThe AttractionsAlisonOliver's ArmyWatching The DetectivesEveryday I Write The BookPump It UpShipbuildingTramp The Dirt DownMargaret ThatcherThe Revolver Tour


Northern Echo, June 6, 2013

Andy Welch profiles Elvis Costello ahead of concerts Wednesday, June 12, Sage, Gateshead, and Monday, June 17, Barbican Centre, York, England.

(Parts of this article also appeared in the Edinburgh Scotsman.)


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