Elvis Costello Sunderland Empire 3rd of March 2020

Wind back 40 odd years. Marie and I are in the upstairs bar in Newcastle Polytechnic Students Union. With us is Gary Chaplin of Penetration, Captain Sensible of the Damned and a young guy named Elvis Costello The occasion is, I think (my memory is hazy these days), the first Stiff Tour.ELVIS TIX The Captain is holding court, telling tales of the Damned on the road and how his favourite band is ABBA. He demolishes a packet of crisps in one go including the plastic pack itself! Elvis is quiet, drinking his pint. I’m not sure why the Captain was there, as he wasn’t appearing that night; I guess he must just have come along for the ride. This was the second time I had seen Elvis Costello live and I must admit I was very impressed, particularly by his second single “Alison”. I had seen him a few weeks earlier at Middlesbrough Town Hall, again on the Stiff tour. I think it must have been around November 5th and Guy Fawkes night, as I recall we were waiting outside the venue and some young kids had their “guy” against the wall and asked Elvis “Penny for the Guy?” as he passed them on his way into the Town Hall. I think he threw them a few coppers. “That Elvis Costello” I told my mates. At the time I wondered how a young guy dared call himself “Elvis”. I was soon to find out. He was soon to be in the charts with “Watching the Detectives”. A few years later, in 1980, I saw him in my home town of Sunderland, at the Mayfair. I’ve seen him a few times before and after that over the years, but I must admit I still prefer those early, rocking, concert performances by an angry young Elvis who spat out the lyrics.
Wind forward 40 years and Elvis is back in Sunderland, this time at the Empire Theatre; the venue where I saw my very first concert and where I have enjoyed many gigs over the years including those by Rory Gallagher in Taste, the Nice, T Rex, Slade, Chuck Berry, Kate Bush and many others. The support act was Ian Prowse and pretty good he was too, warming up the crowd well before our hero took to the stage.ELVIS 2
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Which Elvis would we get? The angry rocker, the middle-of-the-road crooner, or perhaps a mix? Well what we did get was a show that surpassed anything I could have expected. Elvis was backed by a great band; the Imposters, who included some old faces (Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas from the Attractions) and two excellent girl singers. For the next two hours plus we get a full selection of our favourites from throughout his career: some I am hearing for the first time but the majority I know very well. Elvis wears a silver lame jacket and is very much the rock star. The sound is loud, a little murky at first, but soon becomes clear. Elvis stands at the front, pointing his Fender Jaguar guitar at us and he spits out the lyrics as he always used to. He reminds us of that gig in Sunderland forty years ago, referring to the venue as Tiffany’s, rather than the Mayfair (but he wasn’t wrong, Tiffany’s was the sister club, next door to the Mayfair and a little more middle-of-the-road). Funnily enough I met with my friend Marianne a couple of weeks ago and she served behind the bar in Tiffany’s at the time and told me that Elvis was drinking in the club after the gig. He can’t resist dropping some names of his collaborators such as Bert Bacharach and Carole King (but who can blame him). The hits keep flowing: “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea”, “Watching the Detectives”, “A Good Year for the Roses” which has grown on me over the years, “I Can’t Stand up for Falling down”; then we are back to the very start and “Alison” and he finishes with “Pump It up”. He returns (this time the lame jacket is gold and very fetching) ELVIS 1 and sings a beautiful version of “Shipbuilding”, followed by “Oliver’s Army” with everyone standing up and singing along and finishing with an excellent version of “(What’s so Funny about) Please, Love and Understanding”. Excellent. A marathon of professionalism and much, much better than I had expected. A great night. I also ran into some old friends Ian, Pete, Mike, Maureen and John. Happy days can be here again. 🙂

Setlist: Strict Time; Clubland; Green Shirt; Accidents Will Happen; Watch Your Step; Tokyo Storm Warning; Little Triggers; (I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea; Unwanted Number; Watching the Detectives; Man Out of Time; A Good Year for the Roses; A Face in the Crowd; I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down; Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter; High Fidelity; From a Whisper to a Scream; Alison; Everyday I Write the Book; Pump It Up. Encore: Shipbuilding; Oliver’s Army; (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding

10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Hazel Barron -Cooper on March 8, 2020 at 7:13 pm

    Hi Pete great review. I was there as well and it was a really great performance.Especially loved Shipbuilding ..it was so emotional.Saw you outside the Empire at the end.We have said no more than hi to each other for years in Sainsburys of all places ..but that’s because we recognise each other from Mecca and Derry Days.Will now look out for your future reviews x Hazel

    Reply

    • Posted by vintagerock on March 8, 2020 at 8:05 pm

      Yes happy days Hazel hope to see you again soon Best wishes Peter

      Reply

      • Posted by Hazel Barron-Cooper on September 28, 2020 at 7:02 pm

        hello ,have just seen this months later , now nearly in October 2020.How lucky we were to see that gig just a week or so before our world changed and we were all in lock down!And now …back in semi lock down in our part of the country again! Oh to see a live band !

      • Posted by vintagerock on September 28, 2020 at 7:07 pm

        Hi Hazel great to hear from you. Yes it is a strange world that we live in now stay safe cheers Peter

  2. Posted by Mike Tulloch on March 8, 2020 at 7:28 pm

    Hi Peter,

    Another excellent review. Reading it, I sensed the atmosphere and could quite well experience the performance.

    Thanks , Mike

    Reply

  3. Posted by Steve Merchant on March 8, 2020 at 7:35 pm

    Cheers. Set me up for the Eventim Hammersmith Apollo next Friday nicely

    Reply

  4. I saw the tour in Sheffield on Saturday and it was as good as the show you reviewed.

    Reply

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