Declan Patrick MacManus (born 25 August 1954), known by the stage name Elvis Costello, is an English singer-songwriter of Irish heritage. He came to prominence as an early participant in London’s pub rock scene in the mid-1970s and later became associated with the New Wave musical genre. Steeped in word play, the vocabulary of Costello’s lyrics is broader than that of most popular songs. His music has drawn on many diverse genres; the critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine describes him as a “pop encyclopedia,” able to “reinvent the past in his own image”.
Costello was born Declan Patrick MacManusin St Mary’s Hospital, London, the son of Lillian (née Ablett) and Ross MacManus, a musician and bandleader. He is of Irish heritage. Costello lived in Twickenham, attending what is now St Mark’s Catholic Secondary School in neighbouring Hounslow. With a musically inclined father (his father sang with The Joe Loss Orchestra), Costello’s first broadcast recording was alongside his dad in a television commercial for R. White’s Lemonade (“I’m a Secret Lemonade Drinker”). His father wrote and sang the song; Costello provided backing vocals. The ad won a silver award at the 1974 International Advertising Festival. On the basis of a demo tape, he was signed to independent label Stiff Records. His manager at Stiff, Jake Riviera, suggested a name change, combining Elvis Presley’s first name and Costello, his paternal grandmother’s maiden name.
Costello’s first single for Stiff was “Less Than Zero”, released on 25 March 1977. Two months later, his debut album, My Aim Is True (1977), was released to moderate commercial success (No. 14 in the UK and, later, Top 40 in the US) with Costello appearing on the cover in what became his trademark oversize glasses, bearing a striking resemblance to a menacing Buddy Holly. Stiff’s records were initially distributed only in the UK, which meant that Costello’s first album and singles were initially available in the US as imports only. In an attempt to change this, Costello was arrested for busking outside a London convention of CBS Records executives, “protesting” that no US record company had yet seen fit to release Costello records in the United States. Costello signed to CBS’ Columbia Records label in the US a few months later.
Costello’s backing on the debut album was provided by American West Coast band Clover, a roots/country outfit living in England whose members would later go on to join Huey Lewis and the News and The Doobie Brothers. Later in 1977, Costello formed his own permanent backing band, The Attractions, consisting of Steve Nieve (born Steve Nason; piano), Bruce Thomas (bass guitar), and Pete Thomas (drums; unrelated to Bruce Thomas). He released his first major hit single, “Watching the Detectives”, which was recorded with Nieve and the pair of Steve Goulding (drums) and Andrew Bodnar (bass), both members of Graham Parker’s backing band The Rumour (whom he had used to audition for The Attractions).
That is enough for now on the biography. We will follow up later with Costello’s more recent years.
Right now, please enjoy Elvis Costello‘s first ever television appearance performing “Allison”
Please also enjoy this great clip from the film Austin Powers 2 with Elvis Costello performing with Burt Bacherach.