When Elvis Costello conquered the UK and America in 1977 with his album My Aim Is True, I was seven and crooning to Nana Mouskouri, The Beatles and Neil Diamond.
In my late teens I stumbled upon the music of a man other people already knew and revered.
In my own ignorance I enjoyed what I thought was Costello's cover version of Linda Ronstadt’s Alison until a little research for his September 7 appearance in Canberra revealed it was originally his own composition.
The more I read and discovered about Elvis Costello, the more I was impressed. almost dazzled — my first real icon.
The last time Elvis Costello visited Australia was in January 1989 to promote his album Spike.
His interviews during the last visit with rock journalists from two metropolitan dailies were discordant and although history had told us that Costello’s “angry young man" stage passed in the 1970s he came across as acerbic, . down –to-earth to a fault and deprecating towards rock journalists.
Hence when he rang from Japan recently to talk about his Come Back In A Million Years Tour with the four-piece band The Rude 5 I spoke to him with a little trepidation expecting to be caught out.
And to some extent I was.
Asking Costello how he felt about playing in front of non-English speaking audiences he replied, "They speak English in Canberra don't they?
“What is I Want You about?," I asked later.
"I should think that's pretty obvious”, he said.
In any case he does not tell people what the songs are about.
"I would be reluctant to shut out the listener's imagination because that's after all what music should be stimulating and it shouldn't be just telling you something so emphatically that your own imagination doesn't have room to move around."
But Declan Mc Mannus (Elvis Costello is a stage name) was never really, patronising instead using words to craft in impression of someone just like you or I, part of the real world except with vast talent and a mission to create music as an art form.
Costello attributed his previous quite cutting interviews in Australia to the reputation that Elvis Costello and the Attractions had gained during the punk era and also to his few visits to Australia.
I think initially they'd (the media) made up their minds about us before we came on our first trip in 1978.
"We were a very volatile bunch then and given the rather idiotic expectation they had of us we just decided we were going to live up to it. . which got things off to a bang and coloured everything since.
"It was spontaneous and it was one section of the tabloid press that came out to see something sensational and try to provoke us in various ways and put a construction on everything we said.
“That set the tone of things and I suppose also if you don’t come to a place for a couple of years at a time and it gives a chance for a lot of the signals to get confused for people to really make up their own mind about you. “
Declan McMannus who was a computer operator until he pushed his way into the music industry lives in Ireland but does not miss his home country.
He has his British passport but that’s about as far as it goes” but he does not call himself Irish either.
If he’s abroad, particularly in Europe, he might say he’s Irish “because the English conduct is embarrassing, especially in Europe that it’s less embarrassing to be Irish than English.”
I could say I’m not terribly want to be human, let alone a personality”, he said.
He intends to keep making music as long as it remains a stimulating process.
“It’s my job, it’s what I do. You’ve always a hope to continue to love your job.”
“I get paid for it, but I’m by no means in a position to stop working and just live the rest of my life on the fruits of what I’ve done already.”
“I continue to try and find ways of making my music a stimulating process for myself and hopefully myself out of fashion and trends and .,, not everyone will agree with you on this but there will always be enough people ….
Elvis Costello’s musical biography has traversed a range of musical styles and emotions with a musical highlight being his Nashville album and the single Good Year For The Roses.
I keep trying to find ways of taking new approaches to my music to prevent it from being repetitive” he said.
That might include travelling to different locations and making arrangements from “the very the indigenous sound of that town” as the traveller songs written elsewhere.
The approach to Mighty Like A Rose was not that dissimilar to Spike – some arrangements have sounds from a string orchestra of a woodwind section dubbed over the top of the song played by a band.
Mr McMannus reminded Canberra audiences that they might hear radically different versions of songs from Mighty Like A Rose because there would be no string orchestra – just five guys.
Yes, he would play some old songs during the concert.
“Everything is a rearrangement”.
“Hopefully it’s not just a rearrangement for the sake of it. It’s rearrangement to get to the nut of the song, get to the heart of the matter and play with some feeling, that’s what we are trying to do.”
Elvis Costello will be performing at the Royal Theatre on September 7. Tickets from Bass.