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My question for Elvis Costello

Not many people know that I’m a book about the musician Declan Macmanus, or as he’s better known, Elvis Costello. I was very proud of this about 20 years ago.

This stems from the fact that in the 1990s, when I was a fan of his, the British music magazine Q came up with its Cash for Questions slot.

You, the reader, could send a query to whomever they were due to interview and if they used it, they’d pay you. I think it was £20. As a way of crowdsourcing ideas, it was rather revolutionary concept.

It also preceded the internet age, so you had to submit your question on a postcard. As I recall, Costello was the second person to agree to it, after Paul McCartney.

Like Costello, I’m a speccy geek. I’ve never been an internationally lauded singer-songwriter, which is where the similarities end, but I’m told I can carry a tune and – whisper it – I’m a devil on the karaoke when you get me going.

Frustratingly, I’d never seen one of his songs come up at a karaoke night – though in the years since, I’ve performed Watching the Detectives rather badly.

So, I asked, somewhat cheekily: “Why do your songs never appear on karaoke machines?”

This duly turned up in Paul Du Noyer’s article for the February 1998 issue, which pleased me no end. Costello’s answer was: “Too many words. Can’t fit them on the scroll.”

Every day I write the book

Months later, as I idled away my lunch hour in Colchester’s Virgin Megastore, I spotted a hardback book by Tony Clayton-Lea entitled Elvis Costello: A Biography.

Flicking through it, I found my question on page 45, kicking off chapter three. The author or his editor had tightened up the phrasing slightly, too.

To say I was excited is putting it mildly. I’d always dreamed of making it to the shelves of the British Library and suddenly I’d achieved this, via a back door I had no idea I’d be entering.

I’ve been told – though I’ve never been able to confirm this – that around the same time, the chat show host Clive Anderson asked Costello a very similar question on his BBC show.

Maybe I should claim a royalty, backdated to take account of inflation.

In a misguided attempt to make myself appear more interesting, I even included my cameo appearance in Clayton-Lea’s book on my CV for a year or two. Occasionally a job interviewer would indulge me, although most probably thought I was a whimsical twit.

I’d like to say this episode spurred me on to write my own book, now searchable on the British Library online catalogue – and in a tiny way, it did. I mean, who wants to be a footnote in someone else’s life story?

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