OF AUGUST AND ANNIVERSARIES……
With the 39th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death just around the corner (39 years!!!) I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without paying tribute. It remains one of those JFK moments, doesn’t it? Where were you when you heard? Quite why it should be so for me is a bit of a mystery because in August 1977 I was sixteen years old and not well disposed towards Elvis. After all he was the guy in the diamante encrusted jumpsuits playing to the well heeled blue rinse set in Las Vegas, of no relevance whatsoever to me or to most of my generation I’d suspect. The Clash were singing about “No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones in 1977” and I took that as something of a manifesto, a mission statement.
Sounds, one of the leading music papers of the day, was in the vanguard of the punk/new wave movement so I was more than surprised to see it feature Presley (Small pic) next to Elvis Costello (Big pic) on the front cover of the August 6th edition, although it’s obvious now what they were at, move over old Elvis the new Elvis is in town. Anyway, in the issue the week after his death they ran a piece reflecting upon the spookiness of him being on their cover that week of all weeks. What were the chances, eh? Back in Tramore on the morning of the 16th I arrived at my grandparents’ holiday chalet in Riverstown where my grandad announced rather breezily that “I see Elvis is dead”. I was indifferent then but as the years have passed I’ve come to appreciate Elvis, what he was and what he did. No less a person than John Lennon once said “Before Elvis there was nothing” and while there are many music historians who vehemently disagree with this idea I can see what he was getting at.
Of course there were many black artists playing rock’n’roll long before Elvis came along. Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, featuring a young Ike Turner, released Rocket 88 in early 1951. It’s widely regarded now as being one of first rock’n’roll records and still sounds great 65 years later – it’s on YouTube, check it out. Indeed, Fats Domino was doing his thing in Louisiana as far back as the mid 1940s but who knew? So much good music couldn’t be heard outside the ghettos of the deep south with the colour bar in operation. When Sam Phillips’ assistant at Sun Records asked the unknown truck driver from Tupelo “What kind of singer are you? Who do you sound like?” and he replied “I don’t sound like nobody” the torch was lit. That’s All Right Mama and Blue Moon of Kentucky followed in July 1954 and for a few short years, at least until he joined the army in ’58, Elvis led the way, the King, bringing black music to the white kids of America and the world. Things would never be the same.
So if you’re out there in the cosmos somewhere, Elvis, apologies on behalf of my sixteen year old self. We owe you. Big time.
*** *** *** *** *** *** ***
On an ever so slightly less celestial level there’s another August anniversary always guaranteed to make me misty eyed. Horslips came to town playing not one or two, but three nights in Tramore’s Atlantic Ballroom late that month in 1978. A friend had turned me on to the band the previous year when he got their Book of Invasions album. “CK, you’ve got to hear this” he said, and we listened to it religiously, analysing each song, who sang what part, who played what instrument and perhaps most importantly trying to discover the original traditional tunes used as the basis for a lot of their songs.Up to this point I couldn’t be bothered with Irish Trad, it was after all the stuff of the Clancy Brothers and their wooly jumpers, as well as any number of people you’d see on the telly who’d succeed in making the music seem anything but attractive.
Horslips showed that it could be otherwise and if they achieved nothing else in their careers then this would surely be enough. After exposure to The Book of Invasions I was off searching out their other albums so by August ’78 I was properly immersed, a real fan. I recall it being advertised in the local press as one show and that was exciting enough, but then when two extra dates were added in quick succession I couldn’t believe my luck. To see the band three times in one week, this was a very big deal indeed. I was at all three, stagefront, and it was a glorious experience. Hot and sweaty (The walls were wet to the touch), incredibly loud, those shows marked my first exposure to a proper rock band playing live in a fitting venue and they left quite an impression on me. Even now if I close my eyes I can still see it, hear it.
Rock’n’roll in all its many and varied forms, it won’t save your life but it can make it seem immeasurably better!
Until the next time……..