A Cornish tidal wave

11 Aug

Above: Now disused, the former parish hall in the Cornish village of Davidstow.

A sleepy Cornish village was rudely awoken in the summer of 1977 when the sound of the oncoming new wave came booming from the parish hall.

‘Pump It Up’ Had yet to be written and Elvis Costello and his newly-assembled musicians were still getting to know each other when they decamped to north Cornwall to rehearse and do a couple of low-key gigs, including a wedding. A girlfriend of co-Stiff owner Jake Riviera’s had a place in Camelford where Elvis, keyboard player Steve Nieve, bass player Bruce Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas could stay. Arrangements had also been put in place for them to rehearse, probably for free, at the parish hall in nearby Davidstow, situated beside a former RAF base.

Attractions drummer Pete Thomas recalled: “It was Jake’s girlfriend’s country house. Sue Barber, I think was her name. It was great because no one would think like that now. You know, ‘We’ll go to this town in Cornwall and then we’ll find this village hall, which was on an old Second World War airfield. It had a stage and we went in there and rehearsed and that is where we got ’Lipstick Vogue’ together, and we had scrumpy and we all got tanked up.”

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A raucous party including staff from Stiff’s offices at 32 Alexander Street in west London made the long road trip to see this smouldering new group perform at the parish hall. Their reward was to see a red-hot group led by one of the most eloquent songwriters of his generation – before they became one of the hottest tickets around.*

“I got to Alexander Street and they loaded the office furniture in the back, which was the seating on the way down there,” said Paul ‘Bassman’ Riley, who had played with Pete Thomas in pub rock band Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers. “The swivel chair on wheels was probably not such a good idea. There was probably the odd couch and odd thing that was slung in there.

“The next thing I remember is Nick thought it would be a good idea to stop at a cider farm. They had a Quasimodo kind of character with a leer and a drunken stoop. He had a half pint measure for everybody who came in and he encouraged them to drink as much of whatever they liked. Cider was the drink of choice at Alexander Street, so everybody did.”

Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ landmark live debut at The Garden in Penzance on Thursday 14 July, with the band providing the support for American trash punk outfit Wayne County & The Electric Chairs. On the Friday night, they performed at Plymouth Woods Leisure Centre and despite the distance of the venue from the London-based music press, Record Mirror sent Chris Rushton to review the show.

While in Cornwall, according to Costello’s own website, they also went into a small studio and re-recorded ‘My Aim Is True’, the debut album he had made with US country group Clover. Jake and Dave Robinson wanted to release this version of the record once copies of the original version had sold out, although this plan was later abandoned, possibly because by the close of 1977 Elvis had followed Jake to Radar. To this day, this recording has never been released, and few beside those involved have heard it.

*According to the Elvis Costello Wiki site, the group performed at the parish hall on 16 July 1977.

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