Elvis Costello’s Musician Father (and Doppelgänger) Performing in 1963

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Elvis Costello's Musician Father (and Doppelgänger) Performing in 1963

If you were an English boy who grew up in the 1960s and your father met the Queen’s mother, you would come from there with some pretty heavy duties to brag about.

What if your father did not just do it meet her, but forced her attention for a full three minutes … an event you witnessed on television along with 21.2 million others?

That’s what happened to young Declan Patrick McManus, or Elvis Costello as he is more commonly known these days.

Unfortunately, his musician father Ross’ calypso-bent, Trini Lopez-inspired rendition of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer” at the Queen’s annual Royal Variety appearance was overshadowed by another action in tonight’s line-up: The Beatles.

This was the performance where John Lennon famously asked for the audience’s participation in “Twist and Shout”:

For our last issue I would like to ask for your help. The people in the cheaper seats clap their hands. And the rest of you, if you just wanted to rattle your jewelry.

If you were an English boy who grew up in the 1960s and your father met the Queen’s mother, you would come from there with some pretty heavy duties to brag about.

What if your father did not just do it meet her, but forced her attention for a full three minutes … an event you witnessed on television along with 21.2 million others?

That’s what happened to young Declan Patrick McManus, or Elvis Costello as he is more commonly known these days.

Unfortunately, his musician father Ross’ calypso-bent, Trini Lopez-inspired rendition of Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer” at the Queen’s annual Royal Variety appearance was overshadowed by another action in tonight’s line-up: The Beatles.

This was the performance where John Lennon famously asked for the audience’s participation in “Twist and Shout”:

For our last issue I would like to ask for your help. The people in the cheaper seats clap their hands. And the rest of you, if you just wanted to rattle your jewelry.

So Ross McManus played for the Queen’s mother (and Princess Margaret), and all that little Declan got was a great anecdote to his memories from 2016 Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink and a thoughtful souvenir:

In the end, I could not pretend that I really did not care if he had … shaken hands with the Queen Mother. I exclaimed:

“Did you actually meet The Beatles?”

It had obviously been a long night or an early morning when my father was not so talkative. He mumbled something about them being very cute boys. Then he reached out in a jacket tossed over the back of the chair and pulled out a sheet of thin airmail paper and handed it to me.

I unfolded it and there were the signatures of all four of the Beatles on one page. I had seen reproductions of their signatures in enough magazines and fan club literature to know that these seemed to be the real thing.

The ink seemed barely dry.

What I did then will bring tears to the eyes of those who make a fetish of such objects, but I had only a small autograph book and the paper was too large to be mounted in it.

I carefully, if not so carefully, cut around each of the signatures, cut the e of “The” in “The Beatles,” and pasted the four irregular pieces of paper into my album.

McManus the Elder took another crack at “If I Had a Hammer” when he and other members of the Joe Loss Orchestra were invited to repeat their royal performance in the 1965 short film The mood man, excerpt at the top of this page.

It is clear that acorns did not fall far from this tree!

Father and son seem more like twins here:

the angular specifications …

Vibratoen…

The vintage style!

“Speaking of which, Costello confides that his father was required to wear long underpants under his off-white suit,” after the TV director claimed that his flesh could be detected through the thin material … under the TV light, which would be bound to scandalize the Royal Party. ”)

The two also shared a willingness to experiment with supposed names. Ross McManus’s success in Australia with a cover of The Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road” as “Day Costello” – last name compliments to his grandmother’s maiden name. (Other handles include “Hal Prince” and “Frank Bacon and the Baconeers.”)

Elvis Costello spent enough time in his old man’s circuit recognizing the disembodied hands playing the conga drums in the opening shot of McManus’ “If I Had a Hammer” – Bill Browns, where he took a bit of a busman vacation from the baritone saxophone.

And he acknowledges his own person’s debt to his father, quoting the passage in which he “lip-syncs the number of hell and mimics the ‘hammer of justice’ for all it’s worth”:

The close-ups that come on the repeated line, “It’s a song about love between my brothers and my sisters” are eerie to see for the similarity in our facial expressions at around this age, and especially when singing certain words.

Where my father has the advantage over me is in his dance moves.

These are steps that I have yet to master.

Costello also notes that his father gave him a bit of a professional leg up in 1973 when he hired him for backing vocals in a music ad for R. White’s Lemonade:

For some reason, the producer asked my dad to deliver the song with a fake Elvis Presley voice, while for the background part they wanted “R. Whites” punched out so it sounded like “All right” on a Swinging Blue Jeans record. I suppose the advertisers thought the kids would dig it … considering my dad and I could easily compute a suitable nasal Mersey sound, we cut the parts into a few footage. It was not exactly the big time, but there was still a thrill to hear your voice come back from the tape, even though you were singing something farcical.

The ad made a lasting impression. If there’s a club for Brits watching TV in the ’70s, “secret lemonade drinks” may well be the watchword. (Costello was understandably not happy when a tabloid’s brass decided to make an appropriate headline for his talented, well – known father’s obituary: “Secret lemonade drinker dies.”)

The popularity of the first Secret Lemonade Drinker ad justified various sequels over the years, especially as fans became hip over the 19-year-old Costello’s involvement.

He was actually more involved than many would realize.

As he recalls in his memoirs, the original recording session became an impromptu casting session for an alternative, albeit far harder to find online, take:

The advertisers took a look around the studio and decided to cast this second version of the commercial from the musicians at the session. The drummer and hippie guitarist certainly looked, but the pianist and bassist were older more conservatively dressed and did not fit properly. Considering our then more fashionable hairstyles, my dad and I were recruited to mime the keyboard and bass parts, and we spent the day taking and repeating the thirty-second clip and lip-syncing “R. Whites / Okay” background part with so much animation , which we could manage by taking forty-six.

See!

Costello’s relationship with his father – also the only son of a musician – is a major theme in his 688-page memoirs.

It’s not only easy but also worthwhile to find online evidence of Ross’s record career. There’s even a rare, early 80’s duet between father and son …

For a little information on Costello’s mother Lilian’s influence, read his touching tribute from earlier this year, written shortly after her death.

h / t to reader Greg Kotis.

Related content:

Watch the first ever video of Elvis Costello performing in the summer of 1974

The stunt that got Elvis Costello banned from Saturday Night Live (1977)

Elvis Costello’s list of 500 albums that will enhance your life

Ayun Halliday is chief prima for East Village Inky zine and author, most recently by Creative, not famous: The little potato manifesto. follow her @AyunHalliday.

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