Sydney Daily Telegraph, April 5, 2014

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Still full of surprises


Kathy McCabe

After more than 30 albums since 1977, Elvis Costello is busier than ever an headed here again, writes Kathy McCabe

If you were a songwriter and musician who perused the wildly eclectic and dizzily profilic discography of Elvis Costello you might be tempted to simply throw up your hands and pack it in.

There have been more than 30 studio records - solo, with bands or with surprising collaborators - since his 1977 debut My Aim Is True.

In the past five years alone, Costello has produced four records: Momofuku, with the Imposters, two solo efforts, Secret, Profane and Sugarcane and National Ransom; and then last year's wonderful Wise Up Ghost with The Roots.

A catch-up chat ahead of his impending Australian tour reveals this creative dynamo has myriad projects on the go, including composing original music to go with Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes lyrics from the late '60s.

"I have been writing quite a bit and working on a lot of different writing," he says.

One project is adapting his stunning 1998 album Painted From Memory with the equally legendary composer Burt Bacharach for a Broadway production.

"A lot of people have come to me over the years and told me it meant a lot to them," he says of that record. "The story has been written to plot a line through these songs and we have since written another group of songs to help the story along."

Oh, and by the way, Costello and Bacharach are also working on another recording project.

"It's amazing to be working with him as such speed," he says.

The Englishman, who will turn 60 in August, has arrived at the creative life he imagined as an aspiring songwriter in the mid 1970s. "When I started, my ambition was to be a songwriter. I never thought I would be a performer," he says.

"The rest of my career is a complete fluke. I would say the last 10 or 15 years have been as rich as certainly the first five were, in terms of experiences."

Costello has been one of those rare artists whose fans - and to a great extent, the critics - have been there for the long haul, genuinely interested in his many different musical faces.

Like other enduring songwriters and performers such as Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, people have been keen to know what comes next, even if they haven't particularly loved it.

"Obviously when you first start out, you have the benefit of the surprise of youth, and after a while you have to persuade people, some of whom have fallen away from having music in their lives, that music can possibly matter as much as it did," he says, "I don't expect everyone to share the enthusiasm for everything I do and everything I have done, and there is a discrete audience for certain of the records."

That vast catalogue is proving an inspirational device for his live persona. Recent solo shows have seen him create a themed set-list to create a bigger picture. Songs about family history one night, songs about love another night. Songs from the spectrum of his 40-year career could suddenly sit next to each other without it sounding strange or like some nostalgia trip.

Costello makes his return to Australia with his trusty Imposters mates - drummer Pete Thomas and keyboard player Steve Nieve. They are a tight outfit, probably more so than his other long-time band The Attractions.

He isn't quite sure how many times they have toured here, but hazards a guess at 15 since their first in 1978. " The few times I have played solo would be the only ones when Pete didn't come with me, Costello says. "The Imposters have now existed longer than the Attractions existed in their original incarnation from 1978 to 1984."

His long association with Thomas and Nieve is both a blessing and a curse. They know each other intuitively as players, allowing for that magic to happen when a band locks in.

But audiences comes with high expectations because of their awareness of the players' musicianship.

"People who come to the concerts demand of me that you play at the highest level," he says.

"And they want a surprise, whether it's from deep in the catalogue or something brand new. Hopefully that's what we'll do and have a lot of good company while we're down there."

Elvis Costello and the Imposters play Deni Blues & Roots Festival, Deniliquin on April 19, Bluesfest, Byron Bay on April 21 and State Theatre, April 23.

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The Daily Telegraph, April 5, 2014


Kathy McCabe profiles Elvis Costello ahead of his concert with The Imposters, Wednesday April 23, 2014, State Theatre, Sydney, Australia.

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