Elvis Costello and Britain have abandoned each other. His songs have barely mentioned the old country since 2004’s “Needle Time” recalled “the time I started to tire of those sour English”.
Living abroad since 1989, unaccountably contemptuous of the once-adoring British music press, and furious at home crowds only wanting ancient hits, the connection with his public here snapped. His audiences are now mostly around his own age of 60, the replenishing, youthful fans who flock to inspect Dylan and other icons apparently ignorant of the most prodigious writer of fine songs in British history. Tonight shows it’s their loss.
This Brighton gig early in a 21-date solo UK tour continues Costello’s more frequent and friendly returns to British stages. There is great, mutual affection with his loyal old fans, the stubborn remnant of a different England to the one which docilely let the Tories back in. Costello himself is as kind and gentle as he’s ever been, even during his most acidic songs. There is enormous fondness in the room.
Brighton is the city of Max Miller, and Costello recalls the Cheeky Chappie as he offers hilarious anecdotes to “the weird sex capital of Sussex”. An imminent autobiography has sharpened yarns such as the Mexican infidelity which inspired the writing of “Accidents Will Happen”, with its guilty line “I know what I’ve done”. The song ends with the crowd whispering “I know” back at him, like some sweaty nightmare. A brand new song about a triangle of complex love transactions, sung in a voice of bitter female experience, has the telling simplicity much of his recent work lacks. “He has an awful lot of money,” the woman tells her old lover of his replacement. “The past can be bought/And then erased.” Costello can still swing a punch to the gut. On “When I Was Cruel”, strummed with deceptive gentleness while sitting cross-legged, he lets its lyrical blades about a hellish media party slip in almost too softly to feel.
10 best memoirs
10 best memoirs
1/10 Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine
For a candid insight into the British punk scene, this offering from the former Slits guitarist, who was mates with Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Malcom McLaren et al, is an affecting and honest view of her time in the influential all-girl punk band. £10.26, amazon.co.uk
2/10 A Curious Career by Lynn Barber
Driven by a self-confessed nosy streak, Lynn Barber has a just reputation for getting fascinating material from her interviewees. Here, she recounts memorable moments including her infamous four-day Salvador Dali interview, and when she was nearly charmed by “lost soul” Pete Doherty. £11.89, amazon.co.uk
3/10 Rock Stars Stole My Life! by Mark Ellen
The journalist shares anecdotes from his time on pop and rock’s frontline; from getting on the wrong side of Elvis Costello’s entourage to touring with Rihanna and the time Lady Gaga let him see her naked. Less a critical account, more an appreciation of an intoxicating industry. £17.47, amazon.co.uk
4/10 Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton
This offers 68-year-old Keaton’s musings on beauty and ageing in an industry that values youth and marginalises maturity. As well as the expected style advice, she tackles less glamorous issues from female baldness to death. £15.13, amazon.co.uk
5/10 Born To Manage by Terry Venables
Venables’ entertaining account of his career tells a home-grown success story. It maps his time playing and coaching, including his 23-match tenure managing England when the Three Lions only lost once – and of course that penalty defeat against Germany in Euro 96. £9, amazon.co.uk
6/10 Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton
Given the former First Lady is a likely 2016 presidential candidate, this was never going to be a candid tell-all. Instead, we learn about Clinton’s character through the passion and gravitas she gives to international affairs. £6.99, thebookpeople.co.uk
7/10 Carsick by John Waters
One day in 2012, the famously eccentric film-maker left his house in Baltimore and hitchhiked to San Francisco, holding a sign that read, “I’m not a pyscho”. This book, detailing his varied travelling companions, is a funny, subversive read. £16.99, amazon.co.uk
8/10 My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
When poet Joanna Rakoff joined a publishing company in New York, she was given the job of reading JD Salinger’s fan mail. With the enigmatic Catcher In The Rye author as the trigger, this is Rakoff’s own coming of age story. £11.89, amazon.co.uk
9/10 Take This Man by Brando Skyhorse
The award-winning author has penned a searingly honest account of his turbulent childhood and his path into writing. Not least, as captured in the title, his mother’s habit of bringing men home and presenting them as a new father figure. £13.62, amazon.co.uk
10/10 I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou Wise
Wise, empowering and perennial, this is the first stage in African-American writer Maya Angelou’s six-part memoirs detailing her struggle as a girl to overcome racism and trauma. First published in 1969, now is the time to read or rediscover this gem after the author's death in May. £7.19, thebookpeople.co.uk
“Shipbuilding” sounds McCartneyesque at the piano, as a scattered few stand to respect this perfect anti-Falklands War song, from a time when such sentiments seemed rock music’s point. Costello’s ageing crowd also understand as he sinks into deep showbiz memories of teenage Blackpool gigs with his father, who sang “If I Had A Hammer” on the Royal Variety Performance stolen by The Beatles.
By the time Sixties footage of his dad looking the very spit of Costello screens, as the singer’s brothers appear for harmonies freighted with fraternal emotion, this gig has become about more deep-rooted English feelings than punk. The GI Bride heartbreaker “American Without Tears” blurs into the clubland numbness of “Pump It Up”, into “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” Then “Oliver’s Army” treads again on live danger-lines of race, joblessness and false patriotism. Costello used to sneer with righteous rage. Now he is a profound showbiz veteran, from a country which should embrace him again.Reuse content