London Daily Express, November 7, 1981

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London Daily Express

UK & Ireland newspapers

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Costello has the studio boss baffled


Judith Simons

Pop stars seem to have a passion for making records in Nashville.

Singers a million strobe-light years away from the Dolly Parton style flock to the studios of Tennessee's country music capital for the magic touch of the master record-producers.

You might begin to wonder just how sure that touch really is if you watch tomorrow night's South Bank Show (ITV, 10.30).

In it, British pop star Elvis Costello, a New Wave intellectual who once described country music as "whining, sentimental rubbish" goes to Nashville to record — you've guessed it — country music.

And the man he chooses to put his record on the track to success clearly isn't really tuned into artistic Elvis at all.

Blandly smiling Billy Sherrill, writer of hits like "Stand by Your Man," who began his career in the fifties at the Sun Studios, training ground of Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison and Presley himself, confesses:

"I wasn't into his music that much. If this record works out I'll buy another boat. I think his record is good. But commercial? That will have to be seen. The definition of 'good' in the music business is 'commercial'."

Sherrill's reactions to Costello and his band as they play in the studio makes amusing viewing.

We see him sitting with his eyes closed, flicking a finger across his lashes. Had Costello's voice sent him to sleep, or made him cry?

No wonder Costello's keyboards player Steve Nieve exploded: "He hasn't shown any interest in what we're doing. He doesn't give a shit about what we do!"

Well Costello has — to quote the show's researcher David Hinton — "found precious gems among the sequins." He brings a new dimension to the works of Charlie Rich, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons.

And whatever Sherrill thinks, the album Almost Blue and single "Good Year for the Roses" are hits.

Costello — born Declan MacManus — has devoted his life to words and music. His father, Ross MacManus, sang with Joe Loss. Costello is the son of a broken marriage, but his own romantic life has not been complicated. At 18 he married his teenage sweetheart, Mary, and they have a six-year-old son Matthew.

Costello said: "It's odd to be singing these sad songs when I am a happily married man. There's a sadness that comes out of the past rather than the present. There is an element of self-destruction. I can't work out in my head if I am flirting with it, or it is starting to take over."

Poor Costello. Like Sherrill, he will be torturing himself all the way to the bank.

Next month Costello will play British dates, including December 21 at Guildford, Surrey and December 23 and 24 at London's Rainbow Theatre.

On January 7 comes a prestige event at London's Albert Hall which will be filmed and recorded — a two-part concert of Costello's own compositions and also country music, backed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.


Tags: Almost BlueGood Year For The RosesThe AttractionsSteve NieveThe South Bank ShowITVBilly SherrillDolly PartonCharlie RichRoy OrbisonElvis PresleyHank WilliamsJohnny CashGram ParsonsDeclan MacManusRoss MacManusJoe Loss OrchestraMatthew MacManusGuildfordRainbow TheatreRoyal Albert HallRoyal Philharmonic Orchestra

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Daily Express, November 7, 1981


Judith Simons previews The South Bank Show.

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1981-11-07 London Daily Express clipping 01.jpg
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