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"Expect the unexpected for Detour... it's not a show where I play the obvious choices in a predictable order," says Costello.

Sharing the stories behind the songs

Pop icon Elvis Costello is set to play both songsmith and storyteller in his latest concert Detour, which comes to Singapore in September.
Aug 26, 2016 5:50 AM

YOU can see why Elvis Costello loves fedoras - it might as well be a metaphor for his illustrious career where he has been donning countless musical hats for close to four decades now.

Since breaking on to the scene in 1977 with his debut album My Aim Is True - which yielded classics like Less Than Zero, Alison, (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes and Watching the Detectives - the English singer-songwriter has developed a reputation for being a walking music encyclopedia.

Although best known for playing rock and roll with his bands The Attractions - with which he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 - and The Imposters, the 62-year-old has refrained from just sticking to one particular genre and has a knack of hooking up with the least likely of collaborators in the recording studio.

Costello's last album Wise Up Ghost (2013) saw him playing with hip hop funk group The Roots; before that there were also sojourns into New Orleans R&B jazz (The River in Reverse, 2006) with Allen Toussaint and classical (The Juliet Letters, 1993; Il Sogno, 2004) with The Brodsky Quartet and the London Symphony Orchestra respectively, just to name a few.

He recollects his never-ending musical adventures in his memoir Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink released late last year with a companion soundtrack and audiobook; but you can hear them straight from the horse's mouth when Costello the songsmith and storyteller brings his Detour World Tour to Singapore in September.

It will be the third time he is playing here after shows in 2009 and 2011. The stripped-back one-man gig will feature Costello running through his extensive back catalogue and talking about the inspirations behind it instead of plugging a new record which most touring artistes tend to do.

"I don't think in terms of albums - I think in terms of songs - and over the last few years, I have been finding different ways of telling stories of songs I've written," explains Costello, who is of Irish descent and was born Declan Patrick MacManus before adopting his catchier stage moniker, over the phone earlier this week.

Previous retrospective tours include one that was first introduced in 1986 and revived in 2011 where Costello invited audience members to spin a giant wheel with 40 song titles before playing the tune the target landed on.

"Expect the unexpected for Detour (as the name suggests because) it's not a show where I play the obvious choices in a predictable order," he explains.

Long-time fans are in for a treat as the set list for the tour which kicked off in the United States last March changes every night and mixes the hits with B-sides and other rarities. To date, Costello has also performed 30 cover versions as well as debuted 21 unreleased new songs. "The best number of the night might even be something the audience doesn't know," he reveals.

Like in his memoir, Detour will also feature stories about Costello's own musical heroes which include his late father Ross McManus - who was also a singer and is such a big influence that the trademark horn-rimmed glasses Costello dons are a tribute to him - as well as fellow pop icons like Burt Bacharach and Paul McCartney.

"I've never in my wildest imagination dreamt I would work with (Bacharach and McCartney)," Costello shares. "When I started out, I never though I would have the skills necessary to communicate with musicians like them."

Costello and Bacharach's collaboration can be heard on their duet album Painted from Memory (1998) which features the hit God Give Me Strength.

Off-stage, the ex-computer programmer claims he is not keen on revealing too much of himself on social media on a day-to-day basis ("I'm not big on telling the world what flavour of cappuccino I'm having this morning.") but drops in from time to time: "You don't need to send a postcard everyday - you only do it when you have something to say."

  • Elvis Costello's Detour takes place at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Sept 11 at 8pm. Tickets from S$48 to S$218 available from Sistic and the venue's box office