Elvis Costello and his band The Imposters return to York later this month for a show in which the audience use his Spectacular Spinning Songbook device to select the songs

YORK awaits Elvis Costello and his Spectacular Spinning Songbook on June 17. In the meantime, Elvis has been doing one of his favourite things: relaxing in New York.

“The vibe is very mellow,” reasons the 58-year-old singer-songwriter.

The city he first addressed in his 1980 song New Amsterdam – New York’s former name – has been a sort of home to British-born Costello for the past nine years. He stays there when he is working, while the rest of his time is spent at home in Vancouver with his Canadian singer wife Diana Krall and their twin sons, Henry and Frank.

Now the boys, born at the end of 2006, are of primary school age, Costello and Krall have had to become a little more settled.

“They start first grade in September, so we can’t be pulling them out of school to go wherever,” he says. “Having both your parents as working musicians will mean a lot of travelling, but we have to be considerate. They’ll still get to come on the tour bus with me when I’m out and about. That’s got to be better than taking geography, right?”

Costello is typically busy in 2013, writing and recording songs for a new album, while once again working with master songwriter Burt Bacharach on a stage adaptation of Painted From Memory, their 1998 album. He hopes it will develop over the next 12 months and end up on stage in “the next few years”.

“We’re writing new songs, so it would nice to write songs for that. I’m also working long-term on a book of my own,” says Costello. “It’s not fiction, but it’s not non-fiction either. I’m not writing an autobiography. Everyone knows that story, everyone’s an expert, so I can only tell people what they don’t know.”

Before all that, Costello and his band The Imposters – the old Attractions’ drummer Pete Thomas and keyboard player Steve Nieve, plus Davey Faragher on bass – have been on the road since May 31 with his Spectacular Spinning Songbook.

They did the same last year, when the reception to the shows surprised everyone – especially Costello himself – so Elvis and band are back for a bigger trip that will last all of June and into July.

“We thought we’d just be able to go to the places we missed last spring,” says Costello. “We’re doing that, but the cities we played want to see us again too. The shows were brilliant last time around, the atmosphere at each really special, so we can’t wait to do it again.”

As the tour name would indicate, the Spinning Songbook concerts have a special feature: a giant wheel loaded with the names of 50 of Costello’s songs.

Each time a member of the audience is invited to spin the wheel, the band have to play whichever song it lands on.

There are showgirls on stage, and the lucky audience member can either stay up there in a cage to dance alongside the band – many do – or sit in a more relaxed area at the back and drink cocktails.

This has more in common with oldfashioned vaudeville than a standard rock concert, while the wheel serves up interesting combinations of songs, jettisoning the normal pacing of a planned set list.

“We have to be well-rehearsed, we have to have 50 songs in the pocket to even play the game,” says Costello.

“We’ve delved into the back catalogue a bit so I think we have about 150 we can choose from.

“The wheel’s fair, too, until we lean on it a bit when someone tells us it’s their wedding anniversary or something.

Mostly we let it be true and the wheel decides. Some songs have come up twice or even three times in a night.”

Naturally, there are gasps of anticipation when the wheel approaches any of Costello’s biggest hits – Oliver’s Army, Alison, Watching The Detectives, Everyday I Write The Book or Pump It Up. Often what would normally be a finale song or form part of an encore will be chosen at the top of a show.

“The wheel has made us play the older songs better, and we never know what to expect,” says Costello. “You have to drop into the darkest, most emotional songs without any preparation, and one of your favourites might not get chosen for five shows.”

He does, however, insist on playing Shipbuilding and Tramp The Dirt Down, the splenetic “prayer” from 1989’s album Spike that found Costello hoping he lived long enough to see the death of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher so that he could stamp on her grave.

Now that the Baroness has passed away, he feels slightly differently. “I have difficulty with this one,” he says. “Two of my family had dementia-related demises, so I would never wish that on my worst enemies. I have difficulty wishing ill on people, despite having written that song. I can’t celebrate.

“I could if it meant the death of her ideas, but they’re alive and well. That’s the difference here. There are few people in history you would wish death on, but there would be something pathetic, and beneath us, in celebrating the death of anyone.”

It is easy, he suggests, for songwriters to become self-important about their work but, with time, he has come to accept that whatever he writes will only affect certain people – normally the people who are listening anyway.

“Tramp The Dirt Down was never going to affect Norman Tebbit,” he says of the former Employment Secretary, who once told the unemployed to get on their bikes, as his father had done, and look for work. “It was never going to affect him because he was never going to listen to it. It wasn’t going to sway him and make him change his mind, and he’s still out there today, pontificating,” says Costello.

“There’s always this argument that these rich musicians don’t have the right to express what they feel. But yes, yes we do, we’re allowed to express ourselves.

“We’re not asking anything of anybody, and there are contradictions in songs that are about complicated issues. I wanted them to be there, because it wasn’t black and white. Nothing ever is.”

• Elvis Costello’s The Revolver Tour visits Sheffield City Hall on Saturday and York Barbican on June 17, 8pm. York tickets: £42.50 on 0844 854 2757 or yorkbarbican.co.uk


• AFTER Elvis Costello & The Attractions, then Elvis and The Brodski Quartet, The Confederates and The Imposters, here comes another Costello collaboration.

News has come from New York that Elvis Costello and Philadelphia hip-hop combo The Roots are to release the album Wise Up Ghost on the Blue Note Records label on Monday, September 16.

The existence of the record was revealed first by The Roots’ Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson as an aside during an interview with Billboard Magazine in January. A small number of test pressings were distributed as white labels on Record Store Day on April 20, paving the way for the full release later this year.

Most of the sessions took place in secret at Feliz Habitat Studios in the dead of night, while others were in plain sight at Costello’s Hookery Crookery Studios.

Elvis has described the record as “the shortest distance between here and there”, revealing it contains “both rhythm and what is read”. “?uestlove” says, only slightly less cryptically: “It’s a moody, brooding affair, cathartic rhythms and dissonant lullabies. I went stark and dark on the music, Elvis went ‘ham’ on some ole Ezra Pound s**t.”

No wonder the album’s British publicists, MBC, are settling for predicting “it promises to be one of the most unexpected and surprising releases of 2013”.

What is certain is the lineup of those involved in making Wise Up Ghost: Costello, the Roots Crew and friends, plus a guest vocal appearance on Cinco Minutos Con Vos by La Marisoul, lead singer of the Los Angeles group La Santa Cecilia.

The album was produced by long-time Roots associate, Steven Mandel together with Costello and “?uestlove”.


Fact File

• Elvis Costello was born Declan Patrick MacManus on August 25 1954 in Paddington, London.

• His father, Ross McManus, sang the theme to the Secret Lemonade Drinker adverts for R White’s Lemonade in the 1970s, while a teenage Costello provided the backing vocals.

• His father also was a trumpeter and bandleader and performed under the name Day Costello. Along with Elvis Presley, this provided the inspiration for Costello’s stage name.

• He has been married three times, and wed Grammy-winning Canadian singer and jazz pianist Diana Krall in 2003.

• He supports Liverpool FC, living in the city for most of the 1970s.


Charles Hutchinson charts his long relationship with Elvis

IT began with Red Shoes, thick Buddy Holly specs and a sneer. He wasn’t punk, he was New Wave, and he recorded his first album with a pick-up country band. It was instant attraction, and Elvis has never left the Hutchinson house since.

In a cupboard, to avoid the much-mocked alphabetical filing system, Hutchinson decided on a whim to file Elvis with Elvis, American Presley with Anglo-Irish Costello. They shared a propensity for weight increase and that cupboard shelf now groans under the weighty increase of ever more Elvis and Elvis albums.

One has been exploited with endless reissues since his untimely passing; the other has overseen the most comprehensive resurrection of any back catalogue, not once, not twice, but three times now with the most astute, acerbic sleeve notes to boot – and there is still room for further versions with DVDs.

The paths of the two Elvi pretty much crossed over when Presley died in 1977 and Elvis Lives was plastered across city walls as the Stiff Elvis became the living one on that insouciant record label.

Hutchinson has acquired every release since then, wherever Costello’s path his taken him, from Costello to Declan McManus to Napoleon Dynamite; from country covers to The Juliet Letters; from The Coward Brothers with T-Bone Burnett to Swedish mezzosoprano Anne Sofie Von Otter; from The Attractions and The Confederates to The Imposters and now Philadelphia hip-hop alchemists The Roots.

The melodic strike rate has dimmed since 1986’s double whammy of King Of America and Blood And Chocolate, but not one British post-punk musician, not even the new polymath Damon Albarn, can rival Costello for diversity and a desire to experiment.

Love songs, punk bile, soul ballads, drones, collaborations galore, he has done them all, and he has written the most potent political anthems – Pills And Soap, Peace In Our Time, Shipbuilding, Tramp The Dirt Down – of our times. He has even turned his hand to being a witty, insightful TV show host in America, as easily as he will spin his Spectacular Spinning Songbook at York Barbican on June 17.

Ironically, the one disappointment in Hutchinson’s long love affair with our Elvis – as well as Elvis over there – was Costello’s last appearance in York on November 12 1994, a Barbican night when he pumped it up way too loud.

Here’s to this year’s model. It’s great to have Elvis back in the building.