Merseyside had a major part to play in the early career of singer-songwriter Elvis Costello, who burst into prominence in the late 1970s.
Born in Paddington in August 1954, Costello moved to Birkenhead with his mother when he was 16 and went to school in Liverpool.
His parents – jazz trumpeter Ross McManus and Lilian Ablett – were Merseysiders through and through. MacManus was born in Birkenhead in Ablett in Liverpool, both in 1927.
Music was in Costello’s blood as his father sang with the Joe Loss Orchestra and later started his own solo cabaret act.
MacManus even had a hit in 1970 in Australia with a cover version of the Paul McCartney composition The Long and Winding Road, performing under the name of Day Costello.
Costello junior started his own band after arriving in Birkenhead in 1971. He formed a folk duo called Rusty with his friend Allan Mayes while studying at St Francis Xavier’s College in Liverpool.
After leaving school, Costello took on a number of jobs on Merseyside. These included working as a computer operator at the Midland Bank in Bootle.
He was also a data entry clerk at Elizabeth Arden – an episode later immortalised on the track I’m Not Angry from the 1977 album My Aim Is True. Costello writes about spending all his time in ‘the vanity factory’.
Costello’s musical career started to take off after he returned to London in 1974. He formed a band called Flip City which performed in pubs and clubs until 1976.
His first broadcast recording was actually an advertising classic – and he made it with his father. It was the well-known sound track for R. Whites Lemonade.
Many will remember a Dad sneaking down to the fridge in the middle of the night to the tune of ‘I’m a Secret Lemonade Drinker’. Costello senior sung the lyrics while Elvis provided backing vocals.
Costello junior won his first recording contract in 1976 when he signed for Stiff Records. His manager at the time, Jake Riviera, suggested that he should change his name from D.P. Costello – as he had been calling himself – to Elvis.
His first single, Less Than Zero, was released in March 1977 followed by his debut album My Aim Is True.
After moving to CBS Records later in 1977, Costello went to No. 15 in the UK charts with his single Watching the Detectives later the same year.
On piano for the track was Steve Nieve, who would later form Costello’s backing group the Attractions with Bruce Thomas on bass guitar and Pete Thomas on drums.
At the end of a momentous year, Costello and the Attractions appeared on the NBC programme Saturday Night Live on December 17th as a replacement for the Sex Pistols.
They were due to perform the track Less Than Zero, but Costello stopped the song during the introduction to play Radio Radio instead. The track was critical of commercial radio and had been banned by NB C.
Costello, in turn, was banned from the show but his popularity soared in the USA as a result. The ban was only lifted in 1989.
After recording the Burt Bacharach and Hal David tune I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself, Costello released the album This Year’s Model in 1978. It included the familiar hits Pump It Up and I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea.
By 1979, Costello was writing for other performers, including Dave Edmunds. Later in his career he collaborated extensively with former Beatle Paul McCartney.
He said one of his major influences was country singer George Jones and even appeared on the latter’s duet album My Very Special Guests in 1977.
It was Costello’s third album, Armed Forces, that really cemented his fame in 1979. Both the album and its main single, Oliver’s Army, went to No. 2 in the UK charts.
The one-time Bootle computer operator had truly arrived.
*Hundreds of pictures from an unforgettable decade are packed into Clive Hardy’s fascinating book Around Merseyside in the 1960s. It’s available from our online shop or from our order hotline on 01928 503777.