Thursday, October 30, 2014

Elvis Costello/Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames

30 October 2014

Growing up in Manchester, Leigh-born Georgie Fame was a local musical hero, frequently appearing as a guest soloist with some of the local youth bands and orchestras. Last time I saw Georgie Fame, he was playing in Van Morrison's band at a concert at the Royal Albert Hall some years ago. This week he was again accompanying Van Morrison at the Albert Hall on Tuesday but I saw him there on Wednesday, with his band The Blue Flames, as part of the London Blues Fest, sharing the bill with Elvis Costello. Georgie Fame's band included Alec Dankworth on bass (who I performed with many years ago – but that's another story) and the excellent Guy Barker on trumpet. Georgie Fame is now 71 years old but his distinctive voice is still fantastic – a mellow vocal trumpet.

I'm a big fan of Elvis Costello but this was the first time I had seen him live. Rock stars who have been around for decades typically face the dilemma, in their concerts, of whether to play the old familiar favourites or to try out their new material. Too often, these days, technology allows bands to reproduce the precise sound of their recordings in live performance, leaving you wondering why you didn't just stay at home and listen to the album. Refreshingly, in his live performances, Elvis Costello explores his extensive back catalogue, including his biggest hits, in new ways, never sounding like the original recording. This was a mostly solo performance, Elvis accompanying himself on guitar but being joined by his long-time collaborator Steve Nieve on the grand piano for some almost classical re-workings of songs including 'Accidents Will Happen' and 'Pills and Soap'. Elvis Costello was an enthusiastic performer, an entertaining raconteur and a dapper figure in dark grey three-piece suit, white trilby and pointed purple shoes. He said he had intended to choose a programme on the themes of love, lies, deceit and infidelity but then realised he had written more than 400 songs about love, lies, deceit and infidelity so that hadn't helped to narrow down his choice! It was fascinating to hear Elvis singing songs he originally wrote for other people, such as 'Almost Bue' (written for Chet Baker) and 'The Comedians' (for Roy Orbison). And to hear his interpretations of other people's songs, including 'She' (by Charles Aznavour and Herbert Kretzmer), 'Walking My Baby Back Home' (written in 1930 by Roy Turk and Fred E. Ahlert) and a Mose Allison song (for which he was joined on stage by Georgie Fame). It says something about the depth of his repertoire that Elvis Costello could perform for almost two hours and still manage to save for the encore 'Shipbuilding', 'Oliver's Army' and '(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding'. He finished the evening with the microphones switched off for an unamplified performance of 'Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4', a beautifully haunting song from his 1991 album 'Mighty Like a Rose' (which Costello and Richard Harvey adapted for Alan Bleasdale's epic TV drama serial 'GBH'). It was a brilliant concert and a real privilege to be there.

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