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Thu 27 Sep
It’s 41 years since Elvis Presley’s untimely death and 15 years since I started performing a tribute to him, but both his legendary status and my passion for his music are stronger than ever. August 16th 1977 is one of those ‘remember where you were and what you were doing’ days. 41 years ago at the relatively young age of 42 the king of rock ‘n’ roll died suddenly. Music lovers of all ages mourned and reflected. I wasn’t born until 1984, so I’m a second generation fan – nevertheless Elvis would still become the defining musical influence in my life. My first memory of music came 30 years ago as a kid curiously thumbing through my mother’s record collection. I happened across an Elvis 40 Greatest Hits collection that caught my eye. Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, Blue Suede Shoes – whichever the rock classic, I found myself dancing around the room singing along; replaying the record over and over. Growing up, I was never told I looked or had Elvis’ mannerisms, but as soon as the music started I was possessed; I became him. Discovering Elvis at such a young age defined my taste in music. Elvis was music, everything else was imitation.
By 18 I was performing my favourite Elvis songs at karaoke nights and before I knew it had turned my personal tribute into a professional impersonation. I didn’t realise what a large and occasionally surreal world I was entering in to. Not counting pubs, restaurants and village halls, I’ve performed at a nudist camp, several Freemasons meetings, underground burlesque clubs and even secret celebrity parties – being an Elvis impersonator can (almost) take you anywhere. I have nothing against nudist colonies, but not being warned beforehand was a detail I think they should have mentioned. Thankfully some of the patrons put on clothes during the performance – never have I stared at a ceiling so much while singing – but what sticks most in my mind is the offer to join 16 of them after the show in an eight person hot tub. No bathing suits allowed! It’s possible Elvis could have indulged in something similar during his Las Vegas years – who knows? – but in this instance the bizarre reality far outweighed any fantasy I had of being the King. I politely declined the offer. But despite experiencing every type of booking in my early days, I was well aware of just how popular the most acclaimed tributes could be at the other end of the scale – selling out theatres and large music venues the world over. Now that I’m able to count myself among the artists who work at that level, I wanted to do more than just superficially represent the King. I wanted to tell the human side of Elvis’ story. My new show, ELVIS The Legend, is a journey through the eras featuring his most famous songs and costumes (as many other shows do) but what makes it stand out is the deeper exploration of Elvis’ personality. Through soundscapes, as well as improvised dialogue, I try to convey how Elvis may have felt at different stages of his life. Hopefully giving context to the profound changes in his music.
For me impersonating isn’t just about copying voice, look and movements. Those are the most obvious elements. It’s capturing the essence of a person and translating it in such a way that even though they never said or did a particular thing, it’s presented in such a way that it feels absolutely believable. Being a huge fan really helps you to see beyond the most obvious (yet still significant) details. Above all though, my highest priority is to be a conduit to bring us closer to him. On one occasion on a cruise where I was performing alongside pop acts and personalities of the 70s I was invited to join in a Q&A session about living with fame. As a sort of pretend famous person I was flummoxed: should I answer as myself, Jim, or on behalf of Elvis? At times it feels like I am a priest in the church of the King. We all have an intimate relationship with the music we love, but with Elvis it goes deeper that. There’s a mythos about the man. An intangible appeal that keeps going beyond the fashion of its time.
And what continues to inspire me is just how many people feel the same way. Never before have there been so many Elvis tributes – men, women, young, old and any race or faith you could name have representation among Elvis impersonators. While I’ve never had women throw their underwear at me while performing, or had to ensure recordings of my performances are filmed from the waist up for fear of my wiggling hips, when on stage I feel connected to the legendary man. as I prepare for the show I can pay tribute to him in my own unique way, I feel humbled that despite imitating him professionally for half of my life, I still feel just as excited as I did as a teenager, singing his songs at my local karaoke for the very first time. Elvis’ music may be old, but the genius appeal of his unique musical expression will be forever young.
Book your tickets now to watch Elvis The Legend!