ELVIS COSTELLO has always been a bit of a hero to me, although I have only seen him twice. The first time was a bit special. It was at a party thrown to mark the departure of Jools Holland from Squeeze.
This happened so long ago that sometimes I have wondered if it can have happened at all. The leaving of Jools tied in with the closure of a community arts venue in Deptford, south east London, where I was training to be a reporter. The Albany Empire was moving round the corner to a new building, and the old place hosted the party for Jools.
I searched online for proof that this wasn’t just a mental mirage, something wished into being through a hole in my mind. It took a while but I found the reassurance I sought on the Elvis Costello home page, where an excerpt from the New Musical Express of August 23, 1980, read: “Squeeze said goodbye to Jools Holland last week and there to send him laughing on his way was one Elvis Costello, that famous flashing smile spreading light all around him.”
And that is exactly how I remember Costello that night, and his appearance was a surprise of the sort you don’t usually stumble across. But then those were the Deptford days, when Squeeze once played on the roof of a pub in the high street, echoing The Beatles, and Dire Straits headlined a festival on a local council estate, called the Crossfield Estate, unless there really are holes in my memory.
The other time I saw Costello was at the York Barbican in 1994, so even that was an age ago, while that surprise concert was 35 years ago. Tonight will make it a third time as I’m off to see Costello at the Harrogate International Centre. This Year’s Model from 1978 was the album that played out my final year as a student. And ever since then, Costello has reinvented himself many times, and tried many different genres, some more successful than others, but he has never been more than thoroughly committed to his music and always interesting.
Incidentally, three years after Jools left, the Albany Empire staged a musical called Labelled With Love, inspired by their album East Side Story. As a young reviewer I was a little sniffy about this show, something which seems a shame now, but there you go. Incidentally mark two: Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze asked me to help him organise a Run The World run on Blackheath, which I did through the now defunct pages of the South East London Mercury, a once mighty local newspaper. The race was a success and I ran it too.