May 22, 2022

Elvis Costello at Flinders St Station

In 1984, an acclaimed musician came to Melbourne to film an unusual music video clip. This is Elvis Costello at Flinders Street Station.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Elvis Costello and the Attractions

In 1983 Elvis Costello and his band, 'The Attractions', had reached the peak of their early fame.

Their album of that year, 'Punch the Clock', was a critical and commercial success, and the lead single, 'Every Day I Write the Book', was the band's first Top 40 hit.

Costello had grown up in England in the 1970's, the age of punk, and his early recordings reflected that era. Many of the band's earlier songs had an edgy, raucous sound.

Punch the Clock album cover
Punch the Clock album cover

But 'Punch the Clock' was a more refined effort. The guitars and reverb had been toned down, and Costello's lyrics, were more at the forefront.

The smoother sound had helped contribute to the band's commercial success.

But, behind the scenes, all was not well.

Bruce Thomas, bass player in The Attractions
Bruce Thomas

Costello's marriage to Mary Burgoyne, who he had known since his teens, was faltering.

And tension between Costello and his band had been building for some time. In particular, the relationship between the singer and his bass player, Bruce Thomas, was on the slide, an issue exacerbated by the band's frustrations with the previous album.

While 'Punch the Clock' had been a hit, Thomas felt the group had drifted too far from their roots. The clean production and more accessible tunes were far removed from his taste in music, and he was unhappy with the band's direction.

Goodbye Cruel World, album cover
Goodbye Cruel World, album cover

With these different tensions in the background, in early 1984 the group gathered at Farm West Studios in London to record a new record. The album would be called, ominously, 'Goodbye Cruel World'.

The sessions were tense and unproductive. Differences between the band members were quick to surface, and resolved acrimoniously, in public.

This was exacerbated by the views of producer Clive Langer, who urged the group to continue polishing their sound.

Guest musicians were brought in, and Langer was replaced by a substitute producer for individual tracks. The result was an album that no one was happy with, a hodge podge of different musical styles and sounds.

Costello subsequently called the record, 'our worst album.'

I Wanna Be Loved, single
I Wanna Be Loved, single

One of the tracks recorded was a cover of an obscure 1950's song called, 'I Wanna be Loved'.

Originally recorded by the band Teacher's Edition, this slow tempo, moody love song was produced by Langer, and given a lush, commercial sound.  It was chosen by the band's label to be one of the singles off the record, and they had enough faith in it to arrange for a music video to be shot.

Enter Evan English.

Photo of Evan English
Evan English

Evan English was an iconoclastic young visual artist from Melbourne, Australia.

Studying film at Swinburne University in the late 1970's, English - in conjunction with his classmates Paul Goldman, John Hillcoat and Chris Kennedy - established a reputation for heavy drinking and wild behaviour. Together, they were dubbed 'The Gang of Four'.

Their group's antics were at least as well known as their unusual, experimental films. In one instance they dumped frozen chickens into a lecturer's swimming pool, in another they set a school office on fire.

'They were intelligent but dumb, optimistic but nihilistic, stressed out and driven by a creative urge.'

- Classmate of English's

They were, effectively, film making punks.

And they set about documenting Melbourne's punk music scene, recording a series of raw, energetic local bands. English became friendly with the scene's rising star, Nick Cave, and when Cave and his band 'The Birthday Party' decamped to England, he followed them.

The Birthday Party.
The Birthday Party

The Birthday Party's sojourn in England established them as one of the most significant band's of the era.

Their powerful, driving music, uninhibited live shows, and Cave's vivid lyrics, made an enormous impression wherever they played. English captured the band in full cry, in a series of black and white short films, that established his reputation.

The films were seen by Elvis Costello, and he decided he wanted this raw talent to produce his latest music video. English accepted the offer, and formed a production company, 'The Rich Kids', to manage the shoot.

But he had one demand; the video would have to be shot in Melbourne.

Flinders Street Station, early 1980s.
Flinders Street Station, early 1980s.

By this time, Costello's relationship with Thomas was beyond repair. The two had decided that they could no longer work together, and 'Goodbye Cruel World' would be the band's last record.

Costello's marriage had also continued to deteriorate, and he was headed for a divorce.

It was a bad time got the musician to travel half way around the world. Costello would later recall arriving in Melbourne, going to his hotel room, and staying there, gripped by anxiety.

Still image from 'I Wanna Be Loved'
Still image from 'I Wanna Be Loved'

English, meanwhile, had come up with an unusual conceit for the 'I Wanna Be Loved' clip.

Costello would sit in a photo booth at Flinders Street train station, with the camera positioned directly in front of him. As he sang, different people would join Costello in the booth, interact with him, have their photo taken, and depart.

To give it some edge, the director did not disclose to the singer who would join him in the booth, or what they would do.

'He also insisted that I stay up, the night before the video. What you see isn't actually acting, it's genuine emotion.

 

Maybe that sounds ridiculous, but it's true.'

- Elvis Costello

The emotion of the shoot is apparent, as Costello looks slightly dazed at times in the clip, and mutters half of his lines.

But the video is a clever, original piece of work, and provides terrific accompaniment to the song.

Costello was certainly pleased with the outcome, describing it as 'probably my favourite' from among the band's music videos.

The clip ends with a shot of the station's well known entry hall, as Costello collects his photos and walks away. You can watch the video below:

The song proved to be a hit, making the top ten in the UK. It was the last Attractions song to achieve this feat, with their original line up.

Costello would move on to an even more successful solo career.

His divorce finalised, he started a new relationship with Cait O'Riordin, bass player in the Irish folk-punk band 'The Pogues'. The two were married in 1986.

While 'The Rich Kids' didn't last, Evan English continued to work in the local film and music scene. Among his notable credits, he co-wrote and co-produced the acclaimed Australian prison drama 'Ghosts of the Civil Dead'.

The director of the film was his old uni mate, John Hillcoat, and it co-starred Nick Cave, in his first acting role.

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