It’s the mid 90s and Everything Must Go has just been released by the Manic Street Preachers. An album full of Spectorish bombast and tunes for van drivers to whistle, it’s light years away from their previous album, the Richey Edwards-enhanced The Holy Bible, an album so difficult to digest in one sitting that Everything Must Go sounded like S Club 7 in comparison. And whilst the hardcore MSP fans point to The Holy Bible as ‘the one’, the million+ sales and ubiquity of Everything Must Go (despite half the songs featuring Edwards’ oblique lyrics) made chart stars (and millionaires) out of the Manics.
At this time, I was fighting in the trenches of the Britpop wars, working in music retail. Now, speak to anyone in retail and they’ll tell you unbelievable-but-true stories about the regulars who frequent their shops. Our shop was no different. We had a regular customer, an older guy with a cracking quiff, complete with an electric blue streak up the front, who wore the Elvis aviator shades in November and the ’68 Comeback leather jacket in July. He spoke in a hokey hillbilly American accent and gave his address as Dundonald whenever he ordered something. Dundonald, in case you need to ask, is about as near to America as Mars. People in Dundonald tend to speak in broad Ayrshire, though with a slightly posher accent, given that the village (?)/town (?) is located just inside the environs of the beautiful South of Ayrshire, and a couple of generous Colin Montgomerie drives from the fourth tee at Royal Troon. He always gave his name as Jesse Garon, which just so happens to be the name of Elvis’ twin brother who died at birth. “Je-huss-ay Gar’n, suh,” he’d drawl, without the slightest hint of irony. Local lunatic, eccentric and Elvis freak, I thought he was great. Jesse, it turned out, was highly thought of and sought-after in the world of tribute acts, and had a regular gig in Blackpool, doing a kinda Scottish McElvis tribute. Which is ironic really, given that off-stage he spoke cod-Elvis, yet on-stage he celebrated his Scottishness, wearing a white cape with a saltire emblazonned across the back and whatever else have you. Every Summer he’d head off for the season and do his well-polished Elvis act for the stags ‘n hens’ n’ steamers ‘n stoaters who stumbled into the music hall at the end of the pier. (If you’re an MSP fan, by now you may have worked out where this is going).
One day, Jesse popped in to order something. “Ahm lookin’ fur sumthin’ swampee. S’gotta be swampee. Y’know like when thu Deep South mists roll across them swamps? Ah need music ta soun’track that. S’for ma show, y’see. Intra music ta make tha folks sit up an notice that ol’ Elvis here is ’bout ta enter tha building.” A long while later, after having exhausted my general knowledge of all things swampy, he settled on a since-forgotten bit of Ry Cooder slide blues. This, he assured me, was just what he was after. And, with a wee Elvisy point of his index finger in my direction, and a tip of the gold-framed aviators, off he went.
I’ve hunted high and low and googled near and far for a qualifying quote to back me up here, but to no avail. So you’ll just have to believe the next bit. James Dean Bradfield, talking about the Everything Must Go album mentioned that opening track Elvis Impersonator, Blackpool Pier was written after him and Richey Edwards had watched an Elvis impersonator do his act at the end of Blackpool Pier. Bradfield mentioned that the impersonator was (and I’m paraphrasing here) “crap and Scottish” – two things yer actual Elvis wasn’t. Now, I know there are approximately more Elvis impersonators than there are people in China, but when you add ‘crap’, ‘Scottish’ and ‘Blackpool’ into the mix, well, all the signs pointed to the one Elvis impersonator I knew. The next time Jesse was in the shop, probably about a year later, when preparing ‘intra music‘ for his next set of shows, I told him about the Manic Street Preachers and their massive-selling album and about the first track on it and how the band had written it after seeing a Scottish Elvis impersonator in Blackpool (though missed out the part about him being crap) and let him hear the song. You could tell he was quietly pleased at the thought of someone writing a song about him, especially as it was the opening track on such a successful LP, even if he did think the song itself was “a crocka sheeeit, sonny! Crocka sheeeit!”, a phrase everyone and their mother heard as he bawled it across the counter whilst wearing the big headphones perched on top of his blue-streaked quiff.
During his fat Vegas years, ol’ Elvis Himselvis used to come on stage to this, Richard Strauss‘s Also Sprach Zarathustra. You might know it better as the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey. My favourite version is Deodato‘s outrageously eeeeelongated funkified version, Fender Rhodes, clipped guitar ‘n all. Jazz funk? Funk jazz? Prog soul? Who knows, who cares? This is the sound of afros jammin’. Extraordinary!
For reasons I have never quite fathomed, Also Sprach Zarathustra also makes an appearance several times in the lyrics of The Fall‘s Free Range, where Mark E Smith battles over synthesized beats and too-low-in-the-mix guitars to sound like a demented steamer arguing with himself at a bus stop. I’ve got this on one of those supposedly limited 7″s, where the sleeve was spray painted by yer actual band. You probably have it too.