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Image by Stephen Done

Concluding the interview with the man who has been known as DP Costello, Declan Patrick Aloysius McManus, Little Hands Of Concrete, Hank - or was it Howard? - Coward and, in a former bandmate’s roman a clef, The Singer, as he marks the release of his new album with The Imposter, Look Now (find parts 1-3 of the interview here), today we learn of the perils of telephone lines, hear about another stage musical in the works, and leave with a note to self: enunciate.


International phone lines still can provide comi-tragic moments of miscommunication. And sidetracks into sibling rivalries.

Shortly after he came on the line, I asked Elvis Costello if you believed in omens and portents. There was a pause. “I beg your pardon?”

I repeated the question. There was a longer pause. “In vermin?” he said querulously. “I’m a believer in vermin, but I don’t know what you are saying. There is a plane flying over here.”

After the plane has gone, I’m thinking his time, and more importantly - as there’s a few people waiting after me – my time is being lost in this foolish exercise. But not wanting to just abandon this foray it in case that looks even sillier, I try one more time. Success.

“Well, let’s put it this way: I turned on the radio this morning and they were playing Jimmy Dorsey playing Arkansas Traveler, and we’re going to see another workshop that I’m working on, A Face In The Crowd, later,” says Costello. “And as you know the original title of Budd Schulberg’s story on which that was based, was Arkansas Traveler.

[I should note here that no, I didn’t know that the musical Costello is writing, came from a set of short stories originally named after one of the pieces, Arkansas Traveler. But I’m not going to interrupt him to admit to that.]

“So I took that to be an omen. What are the chances of that record playing on the radio? You don’t hear a lot of Jimmy Dorsey on the radio these days. Tommy Dorsey, he’s always on the radio, but Jimmy Dorsey, that’s a different matter.”

Jimmy was the nicer of the two apparently, I offer, grateful for the massive two-book Frank Sinatra biography I’ve been reading on and off for months to help me sound knowledgeable.

“Oh I don’t know about that,” he says. “I didn’t know either of the gentlemen. I never go on rumour or innuendo. But that’s what they say.”

But where, he asks – with a question no doubt also on the mind of anyone reading this now – was this omen/vermin thing leading?

The reason is for the 22 hours since I was told I was interviewing Costello I had had the same four lines repeating in my head. All day. Before I went to bed. As soon as I woke. Right this bloody second!

The same four lines from a Costello song I know all the words to but yet I could not get past this verse.

They're making heroes out of fall guys

They say it's good for business

From Singapore to Widnes

You better watch your step

Omen? Portent? He laughs and laughs. Is that a tinge of evil glee in there too? Hmm.

“You know there’ll take you away if you listen to those voices going on in your head,” Costello says. “You want to be very careful who you share that with.”

Don’t worry, this is between you and me buddy. I’m not stupid.

Half an hour later, as we wrap up the conversation, he reminds me of the clumsy opening to the call.

“We started out in trouble with the vermin question. ‘Do you believe in vermin?’ Well, maybe I do, maybe I don’t. But it was obviously a good portent of the coming conversation.”

Phew! May have just got away with that one.

Don't say a word

Don't say anything

Don't say a word

I'm not even listening

I read in the papers about their escape

They be two bitter kids from a bunch of sour grapes

You better watch your step

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