Elvis Costello makes a Spectacle of himself chatting to the Police…
He is not the finest interviewer on the block but at least Costello doesn’t play boogie-woogie piano
It’s amazing that this hasn’t happened earlier, really. I mean, when you consider how many musicians have appeared on Later …with Jools Holland over the years, it seems unbelievable that it took until 2008 for one of them - in this case, Elvis Costello - to go “Hang on a minute. I’m a top respected musician yet I’m just about to sweat my balls off on a 44-date tour of Europe to support an album that’s probably going to shift only 15,000 copies.
“Old Honky Tonk Holland, on the other hand, is just the piano-player from Squeeze - yet all he has to do is a bit of left-hand roll while the Killers play live, and he gets a fat television contract, his name in the title, and first dibs to hang out with Bob Dylan, if and when the Bobster comes around. I need to get me one of these “Musicians-chatting-and-jamming-with-other-musicians” shows, too. I’m gonna pitch it to a network as soon as I get back to New York, where I now live with my wife, respected jazz singer Diana Krall, 44.”
And so Spectacle has appeared, made by the US arts cable channel Sundance. Jools - er, I mean Elvis - chats’n’jams with Elton John, Lou Reed, Herbie Hancock, Bill Clinton, James Taylor, Norah Jones and respected jazz singer Diana Krall, 44 - enjoying what is, astonishingly, the first-ever hour-long special dedicated to her jazziness, 44.
As some cunning graphics work in the title sequence makes clear, Spectacle has been called Spectacle because… Costello is famous for wearing glasses!!! Presumably, by this logic, Wogan should have been called Wig.
Puns or not, Spectacle is an odd programme. Kicking off with Costello chatting’n’jamming - “jatting”, perhaps, or “camming” - with the newly re-formed Police, it immediately reminds you that whenever musicians talk to each other, it’s not in unintelligible Jazz Age drug slang, about the electric majesty of the ether. They just chat about The Apprentice, like everyone else.
This is borne out by Stewart Copeland of the Police, who repeatedly shouts “YOU’RE FIRED!” at Andy Summers and Sting, while laughing uproariously. That Summers and Sting do not laugh with him - Sting, very firmly, says “No, you’re fired,” like a tired, tetchy mum - merely highlights the best thing about the Police, apart from Roxanne: Copeland and Sting used to fight a lot. Like hit each other and everything. After one fight with Sting, Copeland was legendarily supposed to have written “F***” “OFF” “YOU” “C***” on four of his drums, and then hit them particularly hard, while staring at Sting.
Perhaps mindful of this, Costello first interviews all three members of the band separately. When they do finally join each other on stage, and shake hands, it’s notable that Copeland has put on gloves. “We’re stuck with each other,” Copeland says, at the end of the hour. Copeland has a huge face. He looks like Donald Sutherland in a Scream mask. “Whatever I do, these guys will still be in my band.”
“YOUR band?” Sting boggles, leaving unspoken the presumed addendum: “You’re in MY band, you f***ing tom-tom-bashing monkey.”
Costello doesn’t make for a bad Jools Holland - given that Jools Holland is scientifically proven to be one of the worst interviewers in television history. Whereas 98 per cent of a Holland interview consists of him saying either a) “So, this lovely album - where did you record it?” or b) “So, without further ado, shall I now accompany you on the boogie-woogie piano?”, Costello makes a far greater effort. Indeed, the gigantic pile of notes on his lap - bigger, even, than the one the freaky bloke on In the Actor’s Studio has - belies the fact he is one of the most intelligent songwriters we’ve ever had; and one that’s certainly willing to do his homework. And he cuts a better jamming dash on ‘Walking on the Moon’ than Holland ever could.
On the minus side, the vibe is odd. Everyone sits on a stage, in front of a huge American audience - the kind that break into slightly self-righteous applause when anyone mentions Bob Marley (“Bob! Wooo!”). The cutting is brutally choppy. And Costello can’t help joining in and playing some of his own songs, too - which, despite his magnificent back-catalogue, does feel a little bit… totally wanky. This is, perhaps, why Channel 4 have buried it in the schedules after midnight.
But, you know. Next week he’s got Bill Clinton! And NO boogie-woogie! It’s a definite improvement on the original.
A suggestion for Music Commerce; STOP THE SNIVELING ABOUT FREE MUSIC DOWNLOADS
My name is Jack Ely and I’m the one whose voice is heard daily on The Kingsmen’s 1963 recording of Louie Louie, (may it rest in peace) so you know I have some music business experience.
First I’d like to express an opinion that probably will not be very popular but which oozes with truth. In the early ‘60’s when I was recording, records were thought of as a tool to help promote live performances. The live performances were the main revenue stream and the records were just promotional tools to get people to come see the shows. Somewhere this mode of thinking got turned upside down. Consequently in years hence, record companies, producers, et. all, have made recordings, hoping to profit from the sale of those recordings alone, regardless of whether or not the artist could ever pull it off live. This did some things to the music business that weren’t very healthy. First it made available to the general public, music of artists who may or may not be good live performers; almost anyone can make a good recording with enough cut-ins and loops. And… it made music by groups of players who never ever intended to perform that music live, and who may or may not have ever been able to get along with each other long enough to really sustain any kind of a road show.
Music is meant to be played for the enjoyment of the audiences. For instance, if I go into the studio with an acoustic guitar and simultaneously play and sing on a recording, people would come to see me perform in that same mode; I.e. playing guitar and singing as a solo act. I don’t think they would come to see me expecting a full band. Conversely, if I advertised a ‘Night with Louie Louie” people would come expecting to see a rock band that they could dance to, and would be quite disappointed if I showed up with just my acoustic guitar.
The suggestions that recordings are produced today just to sell recorded music is all backwards and the sooner the record companies and producers and artists figure this out the sooner they will all quit sniveling over the fact that the entire world is freely sharing their music digitally and isn’t willing to stop; and in fact will do anything to circumvent their efforts to get paid for the recordings alone.
The days of producers and musicians putting bands together just to get a recording deal so they can get paid by the record company for a product that usually never even gets released; those days are over. It’s time record companies went back to their roots and became what they started out to be; entities who record working acts in order to 1) capture the performance for posterity, and 2) make a promotional tool to get audiences to the next show.
The solution is to give the world all the free music it wants, but to give the recording entity, whether it be a record company or a producer, or whomever, a cut of every live performance. That will do at least two things and maybe more that I haven’t even thought about yet. First it will give everyone involved in the recordings a source of revenue (pay day) for all their hard work of producing and promoting the recordings. Second, it will weed out all the so-called “recording artists” who couldn’t, in a live venue, perform their way out of a paper bag. In a down economy the public craves live entertainment, so what better time to get back to basics. The timing couldn’t be better for a profitable turn around. So now is the time to get it going.
I send you these thoughts in hopes that just maybe a new/old perspective on the subject of recorded music can be presented to the entire recording world and they can all start making a real profit.