Elvis Costello has his finger in so many pies, it begs the question whether music is still the be-all-and-end-all.
But his excitement over Wednesday’s upcoming gig at the New Theatre in Oxford says it all.
To run a few of said fingers in said pies past you, Costello is best known as a singer/songwriter for which he has received two Ivor Novello Awards, a BAFTA and a Grammy.
Think "She" in Notting Hill to summon up an instant classic.
Then there’s his acting credentials with parts in Frasier and Two And A Half Men, his successful run as a chat show host and last but not least dad to twin boys.
That’s a lot by anybody’s standards.
So is the future on screen or stage for Costello?
“I think it’s safe to say that both Sir Ben Kingsley and George Clooney sleep safely in their beds,” he chuckles. “The Spectacle television show contained many unique moments and I’ve enjoyed the conversations and a third season is presently being planned, but I’ve never considered a career as a ‘talk show host’.”
Talk to the 55-year-old about music though and the flood gates open.
“Playing music in the presence of people has always been the beginning and end of it,” he sighs. “The items we get to take away, whether a record album or a blurred photo-camera snap, are either a signpost or a memento and their value is different to each person.”
And yet despite his passion Mr Costello has had some bad press recently about allegedly slagging off the Brits, a statement that clearly irritates this overtly amenable man.
“Here’s what I think you’re talking about. I came off stage after playing solo for 12,000 people on the Bob Dylan show and was asked to contrast that experience with a specific appearance in England.
“In the rush of the moment, my remarks were straight ahead but probably a little intemperate and the next thing I know people are calling my mother asking her why ‘I hate Britain’. I defy anyone to find those words in that interview. It was actually quite a thoughtful conversation. Someone was just creating mischief and trying to sell newspapers. I suppose that’s their job. Mine is to play the next show.”
Glad we got that sorted out then. So did the whole experience make Costello feel like an outsider? “It is true I haven’t lived exclusively in Britain for over 20 years, so I do feel a little less like part of the scenery. Then again I don’t actually live in America, although I spend time there, so I’m moving around a lot of the time.
“Playing these shows though is going to be a gas. That much I do know,” he says changing the subject.
So what can we expect from Wednesday’s gig? “The solo show allows me the most freedom to play everything from the best known tunes to a brand new song that isn't even on a record. It can also go from a ballad to a rock and roll song. You only need one loud guitar to get there. I have about 150 songs under my hands at any one time and a couple of hundred more in my bag, so I can change the set from night to night.”
That’s the genius of Costello – he’s so prolific, he's spoilt for choice. But while we know what our favourites are, what are his?
“My favourite song and albums change all the time but today I’d say This Year's Model, King of America, Painted From Memory, When I was Cruel and the new one that you haven’t heard yet.
“That’s a pretty good cross section of what I’ve done. I play songs from all of these records, so it’s the songs rather than the records that stay in my mind,” he explains.
So tell us about the one we haven't heard yet.
“A new recording will be released later this year,” he reveals. “The title was leaked, but oddly enough it was incorrect, so I think I’ll allow that to be a surprise,” he smiles.
Elvis Costello is good at surprises, but having twins with Canadian jazz star Diana Krall in 2006 must have been a bit of a shock?
“Dexter and Frank probably don’t need their dad telling tales on them at this age but they are joyful, musical, mischievous lads, which is as it should be. It is hard for Diana or myself to be apart from them when we go off to play shows but one of us is always home.
So touring some European festivals together this summer will be an adventure.
“Either that or like an episode of The Partridge Family, in which Diana is David Cassidy and I’m Shirley Jones,” he laughs.
Not a bitter man then?
Costello pauses for the first time... “I believe the best is yet to come,” he says seriously, “come to think of it, that sounds like an idea for a song.”
Elvis Costello plays Oxford’s New Theatre on Wednesday.