Elvis Costello – Blenheim Palace
by Pete Clemons
On an overcast but, thankfully, rain free summers evening, set within the majestic surroundings of Blenheim Palace, Elvis Costello and his band The Imposters recently performed a diverse yet career defining selection of songs confirming his status as the main attraction of a series of events billed as the Nocturne Festival.
The stage they played upon had been constructed within the courtyard of this Oxfordshire country retreat. The positioning for the audience seating was arranged in such a way that you are surrounded, on three sides by the grandest of eighteenth century architecture, and on the fourth, to your left, by lush rolling fields, lakes and trees as far as the eye could see.
The event began with a solid performance’s firstly from Nick Lowe and then a band I admit to being unfamiliar with, The Waterboys. Given the nature of the gig and some of the songs played it passed my mind that Dave Edmunds may have been waiting in the wings for some kind of guest appearance. But my thoughts were, as suspected, fanciful and more in hope than expectation.
Soon after 9pm, and without any hesitancy, the band meandered onto the stage and went straight into ‘Wonder Woman’ recorded from his period with Allen Toussaint. This was followed by songs that included ‘Girls Talk’ and ‘Radio Radio’ and a reworked ‘Tears Before Bedtime’. Clearly, Elvis was very comfortable to be in the familiar company of Steve Nieve on a whole range of keyboards, Pete Thomas on drums and Davey Faragher on bass.
At one point, in between songs, Elvis mentioned that it had been very nice to be invited to perform in such a grand venue. He had had his toenails painted and had taken an afternoon nap in one of the four posters. He also pointed out that this would be the nearest he would ever get to playing at the palace. I assumed he meant the other one, 65 miles southeast.
The middle section of the gig was where Elvis played more stripped back and less frenetic tunes. Songs getting this treatment included ‘Watching the Detectives’, ‘You Shouldn’t Look at me That Way’, ‘(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea’, ‘Every day I Write the Book’, ‘Pump it Up’ and the ever wonderful ‘Alison’ where he was joined by backing singers Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee.
Not that I am guessing Elvis would have noticed, but during this time, the audience were also being treated to the most wonderful of sunsets where the sky was almost red in colour.
Gradually the band began to re-join Elvis on stage. Firstly Steve Nieve accompanied him on another re-worked classic ‘Accidents Will Happen’. By the time we had got into ‘Waiting for the End of the World’ and the finale of ‘(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Love, Peace and Understanding’, a song that Nick Lowe had also performed earlier, the full contingent had reappeared.
Overall the whole evening felt of one of contentment. There was not quite the fire, that had once been, when a lot of these songs were written. But then Elvis Costello is approaching his mid-60’s so why would there be. Let’s celebrate his achievements.
That said though, there was more than a certain irony, I guess, in hearing songs like, the ever thought provoking ‘Shipbuilding’ and ‘Oliver’s Army’, being played at this impressive venue which had once been frequented by Sir Winston Churchill.