Friday, 12 September 2014

Elvis 1, Kate Bush 0?

In the course of my post about seeing Kate Bush a few days ago, I made a disparaging comment about Elvis Presley (why is there no Middle-Earth tribute act, obviously called Elvish?). This incurred the humorous wrath of a friend and eminent historian with a lot of time on his hands. It's so good that I feel obligated to post his defence of Elvis (with added links and video) and Kate Bush-naysaying for the entertainment of my readers. It's made me revise my Elvis-denialism. He's completely wrong about Kate though and deserves to be horse-whipped through the streets until his quiff droops.

It is not very often that I disagree with views expressed by the Plashing Vole but on this occasion I'm afraid I have to take up the pen in defence of Elvis Presley. In your review of Kate Bush (more on this later) you claim the Elvis's Vegas years were notable because he was 'washed-up creatively and physically"' It seems to me that you have swallowed the mythology of the NME and the rhetoric of punk far too easily. In fact, the years 1970-77 witnessed Elvis at his creative peak. In these years his recorded output was eclectic and experimental, covering blues, gospel, slave spirituals, civil rights protest songs, rockabilly, counter-cultural anthems, jazz, folk, country and pop. All this backed the best backing band on the planet (the great James Burton on guitar! Sweet Inspirations on vocals!). Unlike Kate Bush his voice showed no weakness through to as late as the final concerts in 1977 (check out the 70s Masters Box Set and especially his version of Dylan's Don't Think Twice Its Alright).

Moreover, this period was not just 'Vegas'. Elvis was touring constantly in these years criss-crossing America from East to West and North to South (see Elvis on Tour DVD, which by the way has a great version of American Trilogy). 

The physical decline also comes later than you suggest. Check out That's The Way It Is (1970 Vegas concert film) and Elvis looks great. 

He's declining slightly by the 1973 Hawaii concert but still looks good. I could write more but I will point you in the direction of Careless Lovethe second volume of Peter Gulranick's magisterial biography of Elvis for a revisionist account of the 70s years. 

And now dear Kate. I've been a casual fan of Kate Bush since I heard Wuthering Heights in car journey from Leigh to North Wales in 1978. 

I loved the early albums and dipped in and out of her career ever since. I was tempted to take in one of the shows but had my suspicions re set list etc. Once I saw what was on offer I'm glad I kept my money. 

[At this point our esteemed correspondent loses touch with reality. Ed].

Kate has not released a decent album for near on thirty years yet remains critic proof. 

[Nurse! The screens! Ed.]

She then performs a concert without five of her best songs: Wuthering Heights, Wow, Man With The Child In His Eyes, Army Dreamers and Babooshka (and nothing from the first four albums). 

[No disagreement here: they are amazing songs but the current performance isn't a greatest hits set]

From what I can see the 'fans' were treated to obscure album tracks, a puppet show and some amateur dramatics. But whatever she did the critics would love it. But I suppose if you charge that much for a ticket and generate demand through absence then this is the outcome. I'm not being a cynic here but there's no way she can keep that set list if she wants to continue to tour. The 'greatest hits' set on the pyramid stage at Glasto beckons! I have some friends who went and all said it was sublime. But it reminded me of people who visit Australia and say its wonderful… because they paid that much and travelled so far they have to believe its great. 

[At this point the sedatives kicked in and our correspondent embarked on a detailed and highly amusing comparison of Sydney and Wigan over which I shall draw a veil for fear of annoying the inhabitants of both teeming metropolis. Ed.]

I think if I would have been in the audience for Kate I would have pissed people off by intermittently shouting 'do a good one'! I've adopted this strategy at over 60 Van Morrison gigs over the years (you can hear me on a few bootlegs!).

[Funnily enough, the colleague with whom I saw Kate Bush also went to Portishead with me a few years back, on a free ticket. He hurled the foulest abuse at the band for the entire set. Next day I asked him why he'd been so horrid. 'Was I?' he said. 'I loved it. They were great!'. The fault was the venue's for serving Guinness in 2-pint containers. I cast no aspersions on my correspondent's myriad defects. Ed. ]. 

I was going to start writing one of 3 book reviews that are pending but this has been much more fun.

[Yes. Yes it has been]. 


Historian on the Edge said...

Talking of tribute acts, I had the idea of hip-swinging rock and roll with a gloomy northern twist: Elvis Priestly.

The Plashing Vole said...

I like it. He could play at Dudley JB's.

Dyddgu said...

You know, of course, that the 'Elvish' joke was done a long time ago in the Discworld book 'Soul Music'...? The singer was of the Druids, called Imp y Celyn (the latter part of which indeed means 'of the Holly,' though where Sir Pterry got Imp = Bud from, goodness only knows). People kept telling him he 'looked a little Elvish'...

The Plashing Vole said...

Ha! I read Soul Music when it came out, but don't recall much of it. Must go back to it.