Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello's Orchestra

Elvis Costello and his Orchestra - hammersmith Palais 1981

This photo has to be the largest group of people that we ever shot. It was originally used on the inner bag of the Trust LP in 1981, the Orchestra comprises of all the people who worked for Elvis at the time, plus the Guest Artistes on the Record, Glenn Tilbrook and Martin Belmont. You will recognize Nick Lowe playing Sax in the front row and the incomparable Cynthia Lole sitting next to Glenn. Barney Bubbles designed the Music Stands especially for this photo.

It was taken at Hammersmith Palais as that was where EC had spent many hours watching his father, Ross, rehearse with the Joe Loss Orchestra. Instruments and Dinner Jackets were also rented for the occasion.

Given the size of the place it took every strobe pack that we could get our hands on, twelve Balcar packs were spread out under the balcony, even with that amount of power, 28,800 Watts at full power, the exposure was only F5.6 (for photo nerds only).

What was great about this shoot was that everyone did exactly what we asked and paid attention during the entire process. Given how hard it usually was just to get to get Bands to listen to instructions it was incredibly helpful that everyone did what we said. But, this was a special bunch of people who took the photo very seriously, and I thank them for that...

Elvis in the Yellow Coat

Elvis Costello Jumping 1986

If there is one thing Elvis Costello has in spades it's enthusiasm. No matter what it is he's doing he always puts his heart and soul into it.

Around the time of King of America we did a studio session together, all went pretty normally, we shot close portraits, half lengths, photos with a guitar, all the usual stuff.

I told him we had enough good photos and could call it a day, but he replied that he had one more thing he wanted to try. He disappeared into the dressing room and came out a few minutes later in this bright yellow coat.

On many people it would look ridiculous, but Elvis has this ability to carry clothes well and it actually suited him. It did not seem to me that you could do anything other than full length shots in this outfit, he even had these black watch plaid shoes to top off the outfit.

So I suggested he just jump up in the air a few times. He happily did this, doing his best Pete Townshend impersonations, but for the last couple of frames he flung his arms out wide creating the photo you see here.

It appeared first in the Face, we always offered Nick Logan out best work and he ran this photo across a spread. To me it sums up EC perfectly.

Elvis Costello - Trust

Elvis Costello - The Trust Sessions 1981

Elvis Costello was the first person I ever photographed in a Studio, it was March 1978. We did it at the same time as the two consecutive NME Cover stories, one with Nick Lowe, the other of him sitting on a bench. I never showed them to the paper, mainly because they were in color, but also because Studio Photography was not allowed yet, documentary, live, or while they were being interviewed was the norm back then. 

I set about changing that, but I had to wait until 1980 and the launch of the Face before anyone took me seriously, Pop Stars on White was simply not considered interesting, it was considered to be boring, the stuff for PR photos.

But in 1979 Jake Riviera asked me to shoot EC in the Studio for Armed Forces, he had a vision of Elvis smoking, I had a vision of him standing with his guitar, his feet awkwardly bent, but in the end a painting of a Herd of Charging Elephants was used, Jake's smoking photo was put on ice, and the full length shot was printed 70 feet high above the Dominion in Tottenham Court Road.

Trust was our next venture into the Studio, this time it was somber, dark hat, coat and suit, a cigarette in hand, it got proofed, but in the end it lost out to a frame from Barney Bubbles Video for New Lace Sleeves, a color shot of EC looking over his glasses, it became somewhat Iconic.

The pose was something we came up with in the Studio, weeks before the video. That image had a Frank Sinatra vibe to it, his hand making the perfect wave, I loved it but it was not part of the brief, so it appears here for the first time.

Next up was something that was the ultimate photographic honor, the chance to use the giant 20x24 Polaroid camera, that produced an instant print two feet high, there were only five of these cameras in the world.

I called EC and asked him if he would sit for me, he eagerly agreed, the camera was incredibly slow to use, and you only got ten sheets of film, I shot nine frames, with only three decent photos, one of which appeared on the cover of the Face, the last frame however was something completely different. He looked away from the lens, I asked him to look down, wearing his black beret Jake joked that it was his Laurence Olivier pose, in retrospect that was quite a compliment.

We shot more pictures to go with the Face story, but it was 1982 and from his bag he produced a blue sweater, and matching blue glasses. I documented it, but kept it hidden, if Jake had seen that I would be in trouble, no way would he want EC to be photographed in that outfit. I thought it was cute, but it remained under wraps for 32 years.

In 1986 we worked again, around the time of King of America, as well as some Django Reinhardt looking ones, EC suddenly appeared in a bright yellow coat, and black watch tartan shoes, I made him jump up and down, jumping for joy was the Fleet Street name for it.

In 1991 he teamed up with the Brodsky Quartet and I got to shoot him with Classical Musicians, they were about to go on tour, I warned the musicians of the perils to come. You are going to get screamed at, way more than the polite applause you get at Classical a concerts, it will change you forever, you will never be the same again, I was right.

Although I had given up photographing people by the mid nineties, I did agree in 1996 to do one last session in New York, to promote North, his latest disc, I used a large format 4x5 camera this time, the results were simple, but stunning. I used my favorite trick, the black turtle neck sweater, cover up the neck, hide few pounds, it worked as advertised.

I always had fun in the studio with him, he enjoyed dressing up, and throwing a few shapes for the camera, we never failed to produce good work, the chemistry between us had been there since the first time we met, it's still there now 35 years later.

Being friends and shooting stars is the best way to work, I had similar chemistry with Phil Lynott and Pete Townshend, but I enjoyed working with Elvis the best of all...

Elvis at The El Mocambo

Elvis Costello at The El Mocambo - Toronto 1978

My philosophy regarding live photography was simple, instead of wasting film, study the show on the first night, see where the best opportunities occur, then concentrate on getting the best photographs during those numbers the following night.

Given that Elvis was playing the El Mocambo, a small club in Toronto,it meant using flash, and that meant taking as few pictures as possible.

I saw that during Less than Zero and Watching the Detectives EC gave his most animated and manic performances. Not only that, he dropped to his knees in Detectives just after singing "she's painting her nails as they're dragging the lake" and my aim was true, it was to catch that particular moment.

I waited patiently and caught him right on cue, I was mighty happy with myself, but his manager was not happy with me.

Whilst accepting that Elvis did this every night Jake did not want the public to know, he wanted each audience to think it was spontaneous, so he told me quite bluntly that I could not use the photo.

I reluctantly agreed, because I could see the logic behind this decision, it was strategic in nature and I respected that. Jake respected me for agreeing and from that day on gave me total access to EC whenever I needed it.

So I waited thirty five years before making it available, to me it sums up those early years perfectly.