Uncut, November 1999

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UK & Ireland magazines


Elvis has left the building

Allan Jones

July, 1980. I'm at the Montreux Jazz Festival, where for the first time they're holding a weekend of rock concerts in a break from whiskery tradition. Last night, The Specials rocked the house with a fantastic set featuring mostly new material like "International Jet Set." A couple of hours ago, Elvis Costello And The Attractions brought down the same house, their incendiary show closing a bill that had also included F-Beat labelmates Rockpile, Carlene Carter and Madness producer Clive Langer fronting a band called The Boxes.

The F-beat mafia had driven into Montreux late that afternoon. From the terrace of the festivals casino headquarters, you could see Costello's converted Greyhound bus pulling up outside. A small crowd gather around its doors, stepping back smartly as they swing open on a gush of hydraulics, Elvis' legendary manager, Jake Riviera, leading his people off the coach.

One by one, they scramble off the Greyhound: Nick Lowe and Carlene Carter; Dave Edmunds and Rockpile; The Attractions. Then F-beat tour manager Andy Cheeseman, burly and officious in a NYPD leather jacket, easily picked out from the casino terrace. Behind him, Costello and his personal security man, Patsy, a permanent fixture these days following death threats in America after an infamously cantankerous incident that has almost ruined his career there.

Jake, Patsy and Cheeseman force their way through the crowd, Costello in the centre of the huddle while directions to the backstage enclosure are sought. The mood in the F-Beat party is sour and edgy, full of ill-humour, bad vibes and the potential for violence.

Sure enough, there's a nasty scene at the soundcheck. Costello starts by ordering the hall cleared of spying journalists, but a French photographer has been overlooked in the security blitz and Elvis goes berserk when he starts taking pictures. "Get the film off him!" he screams at his road crew, who swarm all over the continental lensman, who's thrown out of the building in a flurry of Gallic indignation. Then a festival lighting crew, up there in one of the galleries, turns a spotlight on Costello. He goes nuts.

"Tell that motherfucker to stop now," he rants. But the lighting crew either fail to understand Costello's ultimatum or are simply wilfully foolhardy. The spotlight remains trained on Elvis.

"Get those bastards out of there," he's screaming now, the road crew sprinting for the gallery like they've scented blood. "Get them all out. All of them."

On stage, The Attractions keep their heads down, no telling who'll be the next target of Costello's jittery paranoid wrath.

That night, I walk back from the gig to the hotel where the F-Beat bands are staying with The Specials' Jerry Dammers, Suggs from Madness and his wife, Bette Bright. Bette's raving over Costello's performance, particularly a new number called "Clubland," played for the first time tonight. Back at the hotel, Dammers has assumed the role of master of ceremonies. He's busy organising an outing to somewhere called The Hazyland Disco when Elvis walks into the lobby, still wet from the show. He looks crumpled, damp and tense. In many ways, of course, he's still smarting, from the fall-out of his infamous set-to in America with Bonnie Bramiett when he made some drunkenly ill-judged remarks about Ray Charles for which the US press had crucified him. Always fraught, his relationship with the English music papers is also at an all-time low. He thinks we're hounding unmercifully and that any chance remark he makes now that might be overheard by a lurking hack is going to end up in the pages of something like NME or Melody Maker, who've sent me out here. He's not, therefore, too pleased to see me.

"You can fuck off, for a start," he says with a mirthless little grin. "Where's your notebooks" he goes on, verbally jogging my elbow, like a drunk at a bar looking for a fight. "Are you getting all this down?" he asks, grinning without humour.

Dammers, impatient, has already left for The Hazyland Disco. Elvis quickly follows. Jake Riviera now makes an appearance with The Attractions and Dave Edmunds and Rockpile drummer Terry Williams, and we all set off for The Hazyland Disco, which turns out to be predictably garish. When we arrive, a seven piece cabaret band's on stage. They're dressed in matching white silk costumes and play what they hope might pass for soul music.

"Ah!" Jake gleams. "Dexys Midnight Runners!"

The cabaret band's followed by a dancer who quickly starts cavorting around the stage wearing nothing more than a G-string and a toothy grin. A waitress takes our orders for drinks.

Costello is hunched over a table full of beers, deep in conversation with Dammers. For a moment, everyone seems in good humour, earlier tensions dissipating as the F-Beat party begin to relax. Then I feel a hand on my shoulder. It's Elvis.

"I hope you're taking all this down," he says, still apparently intent on making the evening as uncomfortable as possible. "Maybe you should be taping all this," he persists, his litany of provocation beginning to seem endless. "I'd hate you to forget any of this before you write it up for the paper," he goes on. He gives me a glowering outside-now kind of look and goes back to sit with Dammers.

"Good to see Elvis in one of his more cheerful moods," Dave Edmunds remarks, ordering another round.

The dancer on stage simultaneously relieves herself of her G-string.

"BRAVO!!" Attractions drummer Pete Thomas declares, applauding.

Two hours later, there are about 12 of us packed into Riviera's hotel room overlooking Lake Geneva. We've all been doing a fair amount of cocaine, but it's wearing off now and people are getting twitchy — especially Elvis, who' s on the prowl, walking the carpet deep into the night and early morning. Something I'm telling Dave Edmunds catches his attention, annoying him.

"You've been hanging around all night," he says to me. "Why don't you just fuck off?"

"Why don't you," Dave Edmunds tells him, "grow the fuck up?'

Costello, however, appears to be beyond listening to anyone. He now turns on Melody Maker photographer Adrian Boot, who's rummaging in his camera bag, looking for some cigarettes.

"If you get a camera out of that bag," Costello snarls threateningly, "I'll break your fingers."

Boot holds up the pack of cigarettes, smiles weakly. Costello looks disappointed, another opportunity for some sort of row or confrontation escaping him.

Jake's standing at the window. The sun's coming up over the lake. It's 6am, a cold grey dawn.

"Lake looks lovely this morning," Riviera says. "Yeah," says Elvis Costello, standing next to him, looking down at all that water. "I think I might go for a walk on it later."

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Uncut, No. 30, November 1999

Allan Jones recalls the Montreux Jazz Festival, July 1980.


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Page scan.

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