8.00 January 18 and aren't we the lucky buggers. There's about 400 here crammed upstairs in the Clarendon Ballroom, Hammersmith, a stones throw from the Palais (where tonight you can slip into your flares, splash on your Brut and Disco the night away). But here we are in this monstrosity of a hall at the showcase gig for Elvis' latest "Avoid-the-Towns-and find-a-label" Tour, and the special party atmosphere lasts well past midnight with the Attractions playing on a stage that makes the Pompey Rotary's look like the Guildhall.
Tonight its strictly "Fans Only." Drums, Vox organ, guitars and amps are cramped tight on the stage and you start wondering if some little local combo is gonna be playing instead of the Famous Sneer, but tonight he's out to put that image to rest. Mingling with our plates of macrobiotic carrots and celery (rrrretch!) we queue for the bar, a pain in itself because there's only one and its never less than 50 yards long. Halfway there the DJ mercifully brings his bit to an end as the lights fade and the band are on stage and into "I Stand Accused," catchy end insistent from the new album Get Happy, the title which reflects this evenings mood. There's none of the forced audience-pleasing of his last Pompey gig.
"The Beat" sets the pace and Elvis welcomes everyone to "The Paul McCartney is Innocent (surely it's Innocuous? - Ed)" Party before launching into "Accidents Will Happen" with Bruce Thomas trading fragile harmonies. Another new song "5 Gears in Reverse" follows and as he introduces it he shows his obvious delight at being able to play to an audience again. The songs supposedly about his recent contractual problems which are now evidently settled.
They proceed to murder "Girls Talk," well under-rehearsed, stilted and needing Bruce 'QPR Rools' Thomas to prompt any enthusiasm out of the lanky Pete Thomas on drums. It suffers from its rearrangement. A bit of a mess. It's a mystery why he should play it. But now we've managed to crawl to the bar after an hour and from now on its all vintage Elvis, turning in a superb rare performance of "Green Shirt" with Steve Naive draining every possible sound out of his Vox (the only keyboards he uses tonight) and later "Alison," the opening bars drowned by cheers of recognition.
The new single "I Can't Stand Up" points to a new direction of simplicity evident also on other numbers he played like the best of the new stuff, the ska-tinged "I Need I Need I Need," "Possession," "High Fidelity" and the subtly titled "Love for Tender," introduced as the Presley song. Funny Elvis, Funny. They're fast, catchy pop songs with Naive adding more impressive work behind the melody. Still there are the caustic "Lipstick Vogue," "Oliver's Army" (OK Kev?) and "Watching The Detectives" with his deceptively simple but effective guitar (as on "5 Gears") and ending with "You Belong To Me."
After several minutes of encouragement they're back for "Mystery Dance" which gets the place jumping and tonight Elvis is Mr. Natural. They climax with Lowe's "What's So Funny" and the reaction is nothing short of over-enthusiastic. Martin Belmont steps in for "Pump It Up" and that's it.
After 10 minutes, as a final treat the band comes out to meet their public, sign countless autographs and pose along with Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe (The ugly half of Rockpile, whose next tour we're informed takes them to Bournemouth in March, hard luck Pompey). Oh — Elvis remained tight-lipped. What more did you expect? Get it on to the F-Beat.