Goodbye, cruel UK: Elvis Costello turns his back on his native land

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The Independent Online

Elvis Costello has always been edgy. A willingness to tell it like it is has defined one of the greatest singer-songwriting talents to emerge in post-punk Britain. Now, 25 years after emigrating to the United States, he is aiming his invective at the public which launched him all those years ago.

Costello, who lives in New York, has launched a furious attack on his native country, and derided British music fans for their naivety and ageism. In a brutally frank interview, the voice behind such popular classics as "Oliver's Army", "(I Don't Want to Go To) Chelsea", and "Watching The Detectives" pours scorn on those he left when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.

Interviewed in the latest edition of the music magazine Mojo, the 53-year-old singer says that one of his last gigs in the UK, at Glastonbury in 2005, was so "fucking dreadful" that he will almost certainly never play in his homeland again.

"I don't care if I ever play England again. That gig made up my mind I wouldn't come back. I don't get along with it. We lost touch. It's 25 years since I lived there. I don't dig it, they don't dig me", he said.

The singer, who was born Declan Patrick MacManus in Paddington, London, castigated British music fans for their lack of imagination and for refusing to listen to records produced by older musicians.

"A lot of good new bands still come out of England but I just don't feel part of it. British music fans don't have the same attitude to age as they do in America, where young people come to check out, say Willie Nelson. They feel some connection with him and find a role for that music in their lives", he said.

Costello did play at Liverpool's Picket Club in July alongside Allen Toussaint, the American songwriter, but said his treatment at the hands of the media in "what used to be my country" proved the final straw. "The BBC asked Allen and me to do an interview and they kept us waiting in reception for ages and then said they didn't want Allen on the show, they only wanted me", said Costello. "So I said, 'OK, I won't do it!'. Then they relented. This guy is a guest in what used to be my country."

It marks an angry final chapter in a decades-long affair between Costello and the British music scene. The singer, who took his stage name by merging that of his musical hero with his mother's maiden name, fired the minds of millions of disenchanted students with incendiary and political lyrics from the late Seventies onwards. His song "Tramp the Dirt Down" looked forward to the death of Baroness Thatcher.

Born into a middle-class and musical family – his mother worked at Selfridges and his father was a singer and jazz trumpet player – the young Costello moved from West London to Merseyside and worked for a time as a computer technician. Inspired by his father, he took to singing folk songs and toured pubs. It was only after he adopted his stage name in 1977 that he got his first record deal, signing to Stiff Records.

Costello married his third wife, the jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall, in 2003. His reputation in his adopted homeland received a huge boost last month with news that he was headlining at Hillary Clinton's 60th birthday party to help make it "younger, hipper, more fun". Revelations of the Clintons' love of Costello had even led to speculation that they named their only daughter, Chelsea, after Costello's hit.

His musical pedigree has never been in much doubt. Flitting effortlessly between different genres, he has been credited with creating the Eighties sound broadly described as New Wave, fusing punk influences with electronic, ska and funk sounds.

He has not been permanently based in the UK since around 1982, spending most of his time on the east coast of America.

He had to salvage his reputation in the US at the end of the Seventies after details of a drunken argument in a Holiday Inn in Ohio were leaked. Having apparently described the soul legend James Brown as "a jive-ass nigger", he summoned the New York media to a press conference to apologise, but for a short time his album sales in America were significantly hit.

He has been married three times, first to Mary Burgoyne in 1974, with whom he had a son, and then in 1986 to Cait O'Riordan, the bassist for The Pogues. The couple split at the end of 2002, and by May 2003 he was engaged to Krall. The birth last year of twin sons led to an uncharacteristically jovial declaration: "I'm definitely, unashamedly happy".

Other expats with attitude

Billy Connolly

Moved to Los Angeles with his wife Pamela in 1992. He briefly moved back to Aberdeenshire in 2005, but within a year decided to move to New York. The shaggy-haired comedian has relentlessly poured scorn on his native Scotland. Connolly, 64, offended fellow Glaswegians by announcing: "The great thing about Glasgow is that if there's a nuclear attack it'll look exactly the same afterwards".

Tina Brown

Moved to the US in May 1983 as an editorial adviser to Vanity Fair, and chose to stay after being offered the job of editor-in-chief in January 1984.

Brown, 53, says England in the Seventies was a deeply dispiriting place. "I was profoundly tired of being in an era where everything was going to hell in a handcart."

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York

Moved to US in 1996 to escape hounding by the British press. "I love the fact that Americans embrace me", she said. "They have given me my life back".

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