Behind every succesful Elvis enterprise in these isles is an amiable chap in a Hawaiian shirt. His name is Peter Phillips and he has it well wrapped up in Wales. Wales, with its natural resource pool of Elvis fans is just so, well, Elvisy.
So it was that an unwitting photographer from Brockley ended up driving me to Cardiff one July day on the (as it happens unfulfilled) promise that we might get to see the sea. In the week preceeding, Tredegar, Porthcawl, Cardiff and Bridgend had hosted various Elvii performances. The day before, an open-top bus toured Cardiff with an awful lot of Elvis wigs, aviators and jump-suits.We arrived for the final. St David's Hall wasn't full exactly full - Wales is suffering from the recession - but a jolly crowd of the usual suspects for this kind of thing. Yes, the Welsh women in abundance - home territory.
There were supposed to be twelve Elvii, but Simon 'The Rebel' Patrick, mysteriously representing Spain, was a no-show. Perhaps their success in the football World Cup had waylaid him somewhere. Or perhaps he just wasn't Spanish.
Each Elvis gets two songs on each, there's already been a gospel heat and an 'own song' heat. They're judged on movement, stage performance, singing, and their overall tribute. Then the judges - led by Executive Judge, Terri Grant, 'the most respected Elvis judge in the business' - narrow it down to three. They get another chance and then we have a winner. 'Elvis is gone,' says Terri in the programme notes, 'We are not looking for perfection, but someone who has put together a respectful tribute to Elvis'. Terri has been judging Elvis competitions independently for ten years now so she should know. Your compere for the evening is after-dinner speaker, Brian Voyle-Morgan.
Dean Mack, representing Wales, isn't there either - but you couldn't have the home nation Elvis-less, so Darren 'Graceland' Jones of Cymbran steps into the breach. Darren 'Graceland' Jones isn't very mobile. But those jumpsuits can be difficult customers. [Nevertheless, Terri says 'getting the moves right and relevant is important'.]
USA: James Wages. 47, from Texas. Up first, 'from the home of the brave and the land of the free' says, Voyle-Morgan, it's the 4th of July after all. Wages has been Elvising in Wales and sees some similiarities with Afghanistan, Merthyr Tydfil is a bit like Helmand province. This quip doesn't stop someone shouting "Sexy!" which is funny since my notes say "good but not sexy". There's no accounting dor taste. He wishes all his Elvis brothers luck and sings Polk Salad Annie and I'll Remember You. He's in a red jump suit and is older than Elvis ever was. He does the old scarf ritual to the detriment of the mental health of two young boys, one of whom gets a scarf while the other is stuck in a spotlight as Wages retreats, having run out of scarves.
Australia: Mark Andrew. Age 43 of Melbourne. 12,500 miles to sing Elvis in Cardiff. Not the worst trip in the world, said Brian Voyle-Morgan. Now, Polk Salad Annie, by Tony Joe White, was a staple Elvis number in the live shows of the 1970s and it is a staple of the Cardiff World Cuppers. As is Mark's other offering You've Lost That Loving Feeling.
Canada: James Gibb. Age 39, from Ontario. James has a great voice but he makes an odd Elvis.
England: Paul Molloy. 39 from Lancashire, currently residing in Manchester. Elvis got Paul back on track according to the notes, so the sinister shout, and the even more sinister way it silently sinks in, of (Welsh accent) 'David Cameron!', is a bit cruel. 'I think you came to the wrong theatre', he sweetly comes back. But never mind, the England flags are up and he does a rousing Heartbreak Hotel and Houndog. If I were Terri (who has big hair, big glasses and looks fierce) I wouldn't think he was mobile enough.
Germany: Oliver Steinhoff. Age, nevermind age, height: GIANT. The woman behind me, who is large herself, sighs, as Oliver does a gravitationally challenging pelvic thrust, 'Oh yes'. He's in a white suit and when he does the hackneyed 'I hope this suit don't tear up baby' during Suspicious Minds, I hope not too; I don't expect High & Mighty stock too many. And in case you're interested, he's also 39.
|Oliver Steinhoff: Lichtburg Essen 25.01.2010|
South Africa: James Marais. 37 from Kraaifontein, Cape Town. What does Elvis mean to James? "Everything! He is why I am, and what I am, today." James does serious leg-jiggling and has purpose. He's in a white tassly suit and is big. He sings That's Alright and Lovin' You.
After-dinner speaker, Brian Voyle-Morgan introduces the band, Red Alert. "They don't play period instruments," says the photographer. It's true they don't, and maybe they should. He introduces the backing singers, "The two finest white backing singers", which doesn't sound as good as he intended. Mills & Boon hoist up their boobs and roll up the sleeves of their cardigans, and say "We are in fact black." They are in fact splendid. Is there a fan club? I may join. He compounds my dislike at this point by making a hilarious joke about how you couldn't possibly have lady Elvii. Possibly Terri would combust and St David's mightn't be the place, but by that token, can we really have 47-year old Elvii, or giant Elvii? Just throwing it out there, along with this from Elvis Herselvis: "Straight men are very intimidated by a woman impersonating Elvis. It is one of the last bastions of masculinity - the right to 'do' Elvis. ... I personally think he was very queeny, in the 1950’s he wore make-up and pink, on stage when that was unheard of behaviour for a straight man."
Italy: Ricky Rogers. 25 from Abergavenny. Yes Abergavenny, now living in Rhymney. Not Rimini, Rhymney. What to tell you about Ricky? He's in Comeback leathers, and occasionally there are flashes of Elvisy rrrrrr from Ricky, but then he loses his nerve and pulls his jacket down as if he's worried his belly's showing. Viva! Says Ricky, who does have a lot of home (Welsh) support here. Mills & Boon - you remember them from Bundoran too don't you? - are having fun. Yes, despite the ill-fitting leathers, Ricky is popular. Hound Dog and All Shook Up. Earlier, Ricky sang Heartbreak Hotel off the top of a bus. In the daytime he works in Ebbw Vale cash'n'carry. He's second generation Italian and was turned on to Elvis after watching Jailhouse Rock. He's rocked ever since really.
Malta: Gordon Elvis. 26 from Naxxar, now living in Tamworth. For Gordon, Elvis was a 'great loving man' and for Cardiff, Gordon appears to be the popular underdog. He is certainly the skinniest Elvis I've seen; in his white jumpsuit there's nothing to him, it might all slide down his non-existant snakehips if he keeps moving (tick) like that. He sings Walk a Mile in my Shoes and Bridge Over Troubled Waters and my companion says, 'here's the funny thing, I've got goosebumps'. Gordon has a fabulous voice. You can hear it and see him dancing here.
Scotland: Johnny Lee Memphis. 35, from Coalsnaughton, where he runs a health and fitness centre. We've met him before, downing gin before winning over Donegal. Johnny has a fanatical aunt Helen who introduced him to the music of Elvis, and Elvis is like the uncle he's never met, that he respects, loves and follows in the footsteps of. So Johnny Lee Memphis is in a tiger jump-suit, grr. He delivers a Big Boss Man and a My Way that do put him top of the league, if not in a league of his own.
We have a little break and Mike Nova - Bossa Nova Elvis - does a little turn. And then the judges are ready. Terri has spoken. We are down to three. Brian lines up the boys. It's not a suprise that Johnny Lee makes the break, and then Tom Gilson, who really has the monopoly on rock'n'roll Elvis. And here, Terri seems to have gone for ol' snake-hips - Maltese Elvis! It's a popular choice. He does have a terrific voice. They all get another number, and the pressure's on, they all pull a little extra out of the hat. Tom does a splendid Jailhouse Rock. Gordon Elvis gives us Polk Salad Annie (again), and his tassly belt slips off, "Come on you Malteser!!" someone screams. But Johnny, arrogant and catlike in his total self-belief delivers a flawless I Got a Woman with plenty of movement, stage performance (playing the crowd and the band), great singing and therefore his overall tribute is by far and away the best. Yes, you guessed it. Scotland has won the World Cup! "I can't believe I won. To come top in such a class field of Tribute artists is amazing", he said to his local rag. I don't believe he can't believe it, and am pleased he likes his trophy. It's like a real World Cup.
|Johnny Lee Memphis: Scotland conquers Wales|
Thanks: Matthew Bookshelves and Angie.
Pics: Oliver Steinhoff: http://www.oliver-steinhoff.de/Elvis_Imitator,Double,Show/Bilder/Seiten/Lichtburg_Essen_25.01.2010.html#26; Johnny Lee Memphis: http://web.absoluteelvis.com/