Brian lee - elvis tribute

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The 24 Seven Guide: Always on my mind

(The Independent Friday, 16 August 1996)

On the 19th anniversary of Presley's death, it's now or never for the enormous band of Elvis tribute acts. Anthony Clavane tiptoes around the blue suede shoes

Anthony Clavane 

There's a guy works down the chip shop swears he's an Elvis impersonator. In fact, according to Sid Shaw, an authority on Elvis, there are some 50,000 guys around the world - most of whom are more likely to be found in burger joints than chip shops - peddling tributes to Presley. Sid, standing in his Elvisly Yours shop in front of a life-size, wreath- laden bronze statue of The King, points out that when Elvis died, 19 years ago today, there were a mere 300 tribute acts. "If we carry on like this, by the year 2020, half the world will be Elvis impersonators." Brian Lee, one of this country's most accomplished acts, has little time for his pelvically-challenged rivals. "I'm Britain's number one Elvis act," he brags. "Elvis gets respect from me, but he doesn't from anyone else, and I'm tarred with the same brush as these Jack-the-lads. When I go into town, people take the mick, because they've seen the rubbish ones on telly."

Britain's "number one" is all shook up. So much so, that he is contemplating the unthinkable. In exactly a year's time, on the 20th anniversary of his hero's death, he will hang up his white nylon romper suit. "My final performance will be at the London Palladium." He pauses, not quite believing what he has just said. "Well, maybe. It's just not enjoyable any more. You can't stop the knockers." Lee's first crack at the Palladium came last year, amidst much tabloid speculation about his ability to fill the venue and recoup the rumoured pounds 250,000 it cost him to hire it. As a 46-year-old Essex man blowing his life savings to fulfil an "impossible dream" (his manager refused to get involved because of the financial risk) - he was perfect mocking copy. Hundreds of reporters turned up to gloat, but Lee had the last laugh, breaking even in the process. "I proved to the country that I wasn't a joke," he declares. "Now they can't put me in the same class as these other guys." But Sid Shaw reckons that Lee is painting too gloomy a picture. "There are a lot of good Elvises out there," he insists. "Brian Lee does a good 1970s act, but Johnny Earle does a better 1950s one." Meanwhile, Tom Storey, who rates himself as East Anglia's number one Presley act, points to the cut-throat nature of the whole Elvis impersonating business. "There are too many of us, and we're all living from day to day." In deference to the King, he favours the term "act" rather than "impersonator". "He touched so many people's lives," Storey explains, "but no-one's going to replace him." Tim Whitnall (top picture), who captures the later Presley in the West- End show, Elvis - The Musical, agrees. "He was a fantastic looker, with a voice like an angel. I don't do an impersonation, more an interpretation."But what of the new kings on the block? Brian Lee hasn't much time for the latest generation of Elvis wannabes, including El Vez (cover picture), whose rhinestone-studded bullet belts, gold-lame combat boots and commitment to the Mexican revolutionary struggle have been wooing trendy audiences in London of late.

Yet back in the Eighties, Lee was not averse to pounding the streets, resplendent in a white leather jumpsuit, attempting to fool gullible punters into taking up generous "Elvis-is-alive" odds with the bookies. Surely his spoofing also provided ammunition for the mockers and knockers. Lee scratches his swooping sideburns. "I admit it didn't help. I was paid good money by the Sun to do spoofy things. But it got me known and my career took off. All of a sudden, I started opening fetes and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Joe Brown and other heroes." He pauses and frowns. "The trouble is, some people out there just can't separate fiction from reality."