On the face of it, you couldn’t imagine two more different characters than Elvis Costello and BP Fallon.
Elvis is, of course, one of the best songwriters we have but when it comes to publicity he frequently adopts a reticence and manner which belies his verbal dexterity as a lyricist. Not that he’s incapable of intelligent and articulate conversation – he’s just not keen on doing press interviews or having his picture taken.
BP Fallon, on the other hand, is a relentless and often brilliant publicist, both for himself and for others. As a result, B P stories abound, and in certain music-biz circles he has assumed a near-legendary status, the lustre of former clients like Led Zeppelin, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, T. Rex and The Boomtown Rats having clearly rubbed off on Fallon himself. He’s also an inveterate ligger – even Bob Dylan had to be pictured with him when he played his Blackbushe gig in ’77.
It seems perversely apt that El would break his customary reticence on his recent visit to Dublin for a lengthy interview with Mr. Fallon. The pair spent over an hour talking, and the results can be heard in a programme entitled “Elvis Costello In Conversation With B P Fallon”, to be broadcast on Wednesday February 10th on RTE Radio 2.
The result is an amiable and leisurely chat covering a wide range of subjects casually, the conversation being interspersed with records of Elvis’ choosing.
Elvis has done this type of show in the past and seems at home with the format. In the context he comes across as much less suspicious and uptight than his image might previously have suggested – confirming the impression created by the good-timey aspect of his recent Dublin gig that he’s become more self-possessed and philosophical with time. An interesting light is cast on Elvis’ frequently hostile attitude to media exposure when he discusses the pressure exerted on him following the death of Elvis Presley.
“I remember the guy who was working with us at the time advised me to leave the country,” he recalls. “They really anticipated some aggravation and we had some papers back off and cool it down.” But that response was understandable alongside those who saw in the name fodder for exploitation. “We also got some very sick offers,” Elvis adds, “particularly from the States, of doing interviews. They were trying to spin out the story of Elvis’ death to a great extent, and any little angle, particularly with those massive newsprograms they have in the States where they pick up, like ‘and here’s somebody who’s got a dog that can whistle all of Elvis’ hits”. They obviously wanted to interview a guy who had the same name.” Of his choice of the name Elvis in the first instance, he comments, “There was no offence intended – it wasn’t intended either as an offence or as a tribute, taking the name Elvis. But of course at the time they were reading all kinds of interpretations into it and in the end we just had to decide to shut down all Press. On the one hand we had people beating down the door to make a bit of a cheap story out of it. “
Which certainly goes some way towards explaining Elvis’ negative attitude to doing press interviews (his only Hot Press interview took place shortly after Presley’s death), even if talking to music papers is hardly the same thing as being spread across the Daily Scandalsheet.
The same subject – Presley’s death – caused Costello a lot of concern on his first visit to the States, but looking back on it he reveals both a wry sense of humour and an ability to deflate his sense of his own importance.
“I was a little nervous the first time we went to America, because there was so much Elvis Presley memorabilia, particularly in the South, “ he explains. “It was almost like a religion – tea towels, glow-in-the-dark statues – and I walked around in disguise. Not that anyone knew who the hell we were anyway”! It didn’t make any difference – it was being over-paranoid, I don’t think anybody had ever heard of us.”
Among the records to be heard on the show are several of Costello’s own recordings – “Mystery Dance”, “Stranger In The House” (with George Jones), “I’m Your Toy”, “Girls Talk”, “I Stand Accused”, “Watch Your Step”, “Hoover Factory”, “Two Little Hitlers”, “Radio Radio”, “Alison” and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” – as well as tracks by Betty Everett (“You’re No Good”), Willie Mabon (“I’m Mad”), Bobby Tuggle (“$64,000 Question”), The Specials/Rhoda Dakar (“The Boiler”), Otis Redding (“Mr. Pitiful”), Jerry Byrne (“Lights Out”), Etta James (“The Same Rope”), Tony Colton, Bobby Parker and Dusty Springfield doing their respective versions of “I Stand Accused”, “Watch Your Step” and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” (all of them may not make the final edited version).
On the basis of the limited preview we were given, the show sounds like compulsive listening for any self-respecting Costello fan, and a minor triumph for B.P. Fallon, giving an all-too-rare opportunity to hear Elvis speak publicly other than through his lyrics.
The technical bit: the show goes our on RTE Radio 2 on Wednesday February 10th between 7 and 8 p.m. Listeners in Britain can pick it up on 490 meters on medium wave and also on VHF stereo in some areas, and the whole shebang was produced by Mark T. Story.