See the First Ever Video of Elvis Costello Performing, Summer 1974

The set­ting: Lon­don. In par­tic­u­lar, Step­ney, Lon­don E1. The year, a warm sum­mer in 1974, July 21 to be exact. And a very ear­ly video cam­era, only able to shoot in black and white, records the events of the E1 Fes­ti­val, a free day out for fam­i­lies, rest­less teens, and bell bot­tomed, long-haired youth enjoy­ing the sun. There’s Indi­an musi­cians, face paint­ing, car­ni­val games, jazz bands, folk danc­ing, and a “Wellie Boot Chuck­ing Com­pe­ti­tion”. You know, “the lot,” as the Eng­lish would say. But then, around 40 min­utes in, the video­g­ra­ph­er decides to shoot the pub rock band play­ing on the main stage.

If the bespec­ta­cled 19 year old looks and sounds a bit famil­iar, well luvvies, you’re not see­ing things. This is the first filmed appear­ance of a young Elvis Costel­lo, beclad in very fetch­ing dun­ga­rees and fronting his first band Flip City. This was their third ever gig, accord­ing to the Elvis Costel­lo fan site.

A full three years before Declan Mac­Manus would change his name and burst upon the scene with My Aim Is True, here he is pay­ing his dues.

Flip City was Costello’s sec­ond group, the first being a folk rock duo called Rusty that played John Prine, Jesse Win­ches­ter, and Van Mor­ri­son cov­ers in between their own songs. After Costel­lo split from Liv­er­pool and left for Lon­don, he jumped on the pub rock band­wag­on that was already formed around Nick Lowe, Dr. Feel­go­od, and Brins­ley Schwarz, mix­ing up Amer­i­cana and R’n’B cov­ers with very British orig­i­nals. They even record­ed demos a few years after this gig, which were wide­ly boot­legged until most of them appeared on bonus tracks on var­i­ous CD reis­sues. (You can lis­ten to them here.)

But back to 1974. We have no record of their full set, but the two songs on the video are from the Coast­ers’ “I’m a Hog for You” (the B‑side of “Char­lie Brown” but cov­ered by Scream­ing Lord Sutch in 1963) and from the Isley Broth­ers, “This Old Heart of Mine,” a Motown sta­ple. Despite Costello’s ency­clo­pe­di­ac knowl­edge of music, he nev­er again played these two songs live again.

It might be 20/20 hind­sight, but one can already hear the tal­ent and the con­fi­dence (or at least mock con­fi­dence) that would soon pro­pel the young man into the charts. The rest, as they say, is much bet­ter than win­ning the wellie chuck­ing con­test.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New Wave Music–DEVO, Talk­ing Heads, Blondie, Elvis Costello–Gets Intro­duced to Amer­i­ca by ABC’s TV Show, 20/20 (1979)

The Stunt That Got Elvis Costel­lo Banned From Sat­ur­day Night Live (1977)

Elvis Costel­lo Sings “Pen­ny Lane” for Sir Paul McCart­ney at The White House

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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