Wonder if you’d had a chance to watch the Elvis Costello interview show called Spectacle? It’s on Friday nights on ABC 2, repeated the following Thursday.

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I first heard about it a while back and mentioned it to a mate who said he doubted he could be bothered given that he could barely stand Elvis, that he hated his voice and thought Costello’s adventures and dabbling in various musical genres was the worst sort of dilettantism.

It’s a view I tend to agree with as I still nurse this irrational view of Costello as some sort of interloper in the British New Wave of the 70s–don’t ask me why–but it has something to do with deciding where we filed him in the shop I worked in then.  I was never sure.  Such things can give you headaches, and cause grudges apparently.

Anyway, two episodes in and the same mate rang me to say that he had changed his mind, that Spectacle was turning out to be pretty good and that Costello was acquitting himself well.

I’m even more enthusiastic than that.  I’ve really enjoyed the shows I’ve seen, clips from which you can watch on this site.

I mean, what’s not to like?  Elvis, a well-connected, articulate bloke with a genuinely deep knowledge of music, asks questions of a bunch of interesting guests and sings the odd the song with them, or, better still lets them sing their songs by themselves.

So far I’ve seen Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright, Smokey Robinson, Tony Bennett, The Police, Herbie Hancock, Dianne Krall (aka Elvis’ wife), and last week’s show where he spoke to Kris Kristofferson, Roseanne Cash, John Mellencamp and Nora Jones.

Sure, it’s all a bit back-slappy and pee-in-the-pocket, and I reckon EC does have a tendency to insert himself into the questions a bit too much, but they are forgivable excesses. It is worth those slight transgression to see the extent to which Sting is a total wanker and clearly hates his fellow Policemen; or to see someone I didn’t think much of–Dianna Krall–come across as very likable and self-effacing musician who has more talent than I’d given her credit for.  That was a real eye-opener to me.

And then there is the occasional killer story, such as the one Smokey Robinson told of his first appearance at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem (the venue where the program is filmed). It was one of his first professional gigs, certainly his biggest break, to be on a mixed bill with the likes of Ray Charles and other established stars. What he found when he got there, however, was that he was meant to have his songs scored for the house orchestra, to provide the actual music, something he had no idea about and thus didn’t have.

No score, no gig, the event manager told him, and Smokey and the band were about to walk out the door, probably into oblivion. However, Ray Charles had overheard the conversation and called the young band over. He got them to play the songs and as they did, he composed the various accompaniments, sang them out and got one of the other musicians to write them down and, bingo, Smokey had his orchestrations.

Career rescued, and all hail to the genius of Ray Charles.

As I say, what’s not to like?  There’s a few more episodes in this series and another series already happening in the US. I’m looking forward to it. Might even have moved on from my 70s filing issue.

Related links:

Elvis Costello
Dianna Krall
Smokey Robinson
Ray Charles

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