Interview with the South Wales Evening Post

Kate Clarke: South Wales Evening Post: 24.06.10 YOU might call Elvis Costello the ultimate magpie. He made venomous, tongue-twisting rock his calling card, before easing into sophisticated modern standards, smouldering through neglected R'n'B gems, teaming up with 1960s Bossa-pop maestro Burt Bacharach and exercising his classical ear. But his love of all the colours of music remains a committed romance, rather than a flirtation to hold an audience's wandering eye. He talks to Kate Clarke ahead of his show tonight at St David's Hall, Cardiff. Does a solo tour flex different musical muscles? "I probably have the greatest freedom to sing songs from every year and for every occasion, even numbers I've overlooked or just occur to me in the moment or are tunes yet to be heard on record. There are obviously songs that announced you to the stage in the first place and that people would still like to hear. "Time changes them in interesting ways and playing solo makes takes them out of any routine or ritual and gives them back to you like a prize." You occupy an unusual space in music — you're a household name, your face on an album is a mark of quality, but many would consider your most recent albums niche. "If I am really a 'household name' I hope it is a delicious one like Vimto and not something that stings the eyes like Vim. "I've always thought of a niche summoning up an alcove in which you might place a Grecian vase." You exercise your freedom to follow all musical routes. Having the freedom of the backbenches means also that when you remind listeners about Jesse Winchester and George Jones you can open up new audiences for those artists? "Sounds as if I've aspired to be the Anthony Wedgewood-Benn of musical advocacy. Or perhaps the Dennis Skinner. "Then again, it is always a surprise when people thank me for making them aware of, say, George Jones. Then I have to remind myself someone else had to make that introduction for me." "The television programme Spectacle probably remains obscure to your readers but viewers in Canada and America seem to be looking forward to the proposed season three. If the show had achieved nothing else, one performance by Jesse Winchester, in the last series, would have made it all worthwhile." Having said that you can fill the Royal Festival Hall. How was it playing in front of dad last week? "The best possible way to spend Father's Day, other than being with all of my sons." "Watching both my parents listen to new recordings remains one of the most interesting and important responses I can receive. They both immediately hear details that are intended to reward repeated listening." Your skill for shoehorning phrases into lyrics, in odd, thrilling alliances is a Costello hallmark. "Along with skills as parliamentarian, you seem to imply that the rest of the work is a load of cobbling. "I credit Sister Mary Ninian (and my ma) for teaching me how to read and after that, everything else was easy." I have to ask about North. If Chuck Berry had only written the one song in his lifetime — Nadine — he would still be a musical giant. You could hold North up to the same light. "You might be in a minority there. Those songs mean a lot to me and some records have to wait a while for their time to come. "If Chuck had only known one woman named Nadine and not another called Maybelline, we'd be stuck for a name for mascara." I hear you often write with particular singers in mind — even if you don't tout them. Do you have one that got away? Would you like to have heard Dinah Washington cut Heart Shaped Bruise? Dion should certainly cut Alison. "I could possibly imagine Dinah Washington singing Poisoned Rose. Dion writes some pretty good songs, so I don't think he needs my help." Anything else we should know? "I recently played a little loud electric guitar on someone's record but I can't say her name."