His name is Declan MacManus and he is probably the most innovative and creative musician when it comes to the experimental process of music. But you know that and know him as Elvis Costello. If you haven’t learned it from his music, you’ve probably discovered it by watching Spectacle: Elvis Costello With…. on CTV, every Saturday night, when he gathers a most eclectic group of the top musicians and actors of the day. It’s clear he loves music and it’s very clear that he has the ‘gift of the gab’. He showcases that on the show – one of the most intelligent and entertaining on television.

And very giving on the part of its host, “I’ve got to be able to hold my own in the collaborations, but it’s really about the performances from the guests.” When I interviewed him for Showtime, I was warned by his publicist that he had a tendency to go on a bit. That was an understatement! All I had to do is feed him one question and off he’d go – it was a bit like sitting in a pub over a lager and lime. What a delight!

This seasons Spectacle was taped in Toronto at The Masonic Temple and in Harlem at The Apollo Theater. And the shows promise the usual high wattage performances that include the best of the best: this seasons luminaries include Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, Bono and The Edge. He’ll also be interviewed on his show by actress, Mary Louise Parker, who fills in for an ailing Elton John (one of the producers of the show).

Born in London to a British/Irish couple, Costello grew up with his mother in Liverpool and was surrounded with music from the start. His father was Ross MacManus, a musician and bandleader. During our interview, he told me “I couldn’t avoid music if I wanted to. My Dad’s life was music and my Mum was a manager of a record store (records are discs of vinyl with a hole in the center in case you’ve forgotten…). I was surrounded by it.” So it was music from a very young age for the man who is more than proficient in playing the bass, guitar, drums, piano, mandolin, harmonica, glockenspiel, ukulele – and the list goes on and on.

Costello’s first broadcast recording was alongside his dad in a television commercial for White’s Lemonade. His father wrote and sang the song; Costello provided support vocals. (The ad won an award at the 1974 International Advertising Festival.) Many websites say the first record he bought was Please, Please Me. He clarified that it was Twist and Shout. And he remembers the excitement of listening to it in the store and then, taking it home to play.

When asked where the name-change came from, he told me that Costello was his grandmother’s name and that his dad had used the moniker Day Costello at one point during his career. He switched to Costello in tribute to his father. ‘Elvis’ came shortly after he was signed to independent label Stiff Records – his manager thought it would be a good move. (It was a time, I guess, when Irish names weren’t all that popular.)

I commented on his rise from Hard Rock, New Wave, Country (loved Secret, Profane & Sugarcane), leaping from one to the other and, finally, to host one of the highest rated television shows: “…It all flows into the show. It’s very emotional. I’m doing what I love: singing, making music with friends (he said if he didn’t know them, their music or be curious enough about someone’s career, he wouldn’t have them on the show) and talking with them about anything from music to their personal lives”. So far, he’s had no requests from any of his guests to steer clear of any topic. And while there is a loose script to keep him on track, it’s basically ad-libbed.

During the interview, I could hear the occasional squeals from children, which drew me from the professional side of the man into his home life. Costello has been married three times. The latest is with Canadian jazz icon, Diana Krall, with whom he has three-year old twin boys. He was insistent that music and the arts are very important to the emotional up-bringing of children. “It simply feeds their well-being. My little boys love to sing and are very proud when they finish a song”, he told me. He was also certain that one had to keep up with the gadgets of the day. “When they grow up, Ipods and such will be a thing of the past”. Although he admitted that he loved playing his old records on an old fashioned turntable.

Costello’s life is made easier by the fact that both he and Diana have the same manager, so it’s not difficult to plan anything. He even thinks being a parent isn’t all that difficult. When I spoke with him, he had just come back from taking the little boys home to his family in England and had a great time. “It’s all in the planning”. (I forgot to ask him if he had a Nanny. Bet he does.) The man has an incredibly hectic schedule: he tapes Spectacle, he goes on tour from early April until the end of July, and all the while is thinking about writing that next song.

His last album titled Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, leans heavily on the Blue Grass/Country genre and features acoustic instrumentation. It has been a significant chart success for Elvis in both the USA and Canada, reaching #13 on each nation’s album chart. Part of his popularity is that he shares an amazing variety of sound and lyrics with his fans.

Editor’s Note: CTV’s top-ranked show, Spectacle: Elvis Costello With…. is broadcast Saturday evenings at 10pm. (Canadiens hockey games are usually over by then.) High profile entertainers and politicians are happy to visit. Bill Clinton played saxophone and gave a most engaging interview about his love for music last season. A recent heartfelt performance by Jesse Winchester brought tears to fellow guests; and Elvis was so choked with emotion that he cut to a commercial. He creates an atmosphere conducive to artists giving their best performances. In the meantime, you can hear Sharman’s full interview with Elvis Costello on Showtime on www.CJAD.com.

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