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THE ATTRACTION OF STEVE NIEVE

Steve Nieve16 copy
Elvis Costello’s long-time friend and keyboardist Steve Nieve is touring Australia in September, playing solo piano versions of Costello’s songs. AM’s Greg Phillips spoke to Steve about the shows and his friendship with Elvis.

Steve Nieve is an Imposter… the keyboard player in one of Elvis Costello’s most beloved bands. He is also a member of the Attractions and various other musical projects his longtime friend Elvis Costello has included him on since 1977. The 56 year old British musician changed his name from Nason to Nieve in the early 70s after punk-era frontman Ian Dury observed that Steve had a naive view of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of the time. When Nieve is not working with Costello, he is prolifically writing and performing his own material. To date Steve has released 8 solo recordings and 9 soundtracks to French language films. He has been a Parisian resident for some time. In September, Nieve will combine his two passions when he tours Australia playing solo piano versions of Elvis Costello songs. However, fans shouldn’t expect a traditional treatment of the Costello repertoire, rather a reimagining.

“With this concert playing Elvis Costello songs, I’m hoping to be able to move the music and not only be on his song but to be elevated by it … not trapped by it,” says Nieve in explanation of his upcoming shows. “It is a question of playing them and seeing where they can take me. It is not going to be just a rendition of a song. It will be the theme and where the theme takes me, it will be different every night … I hope (laughs).”

Not only will the concerts be an exploration of the music of Elvis Costello but also a fascinating insight into the man. On his first ever solo tour, with the focus directly on himself, Nieve has had to think about things he normally wouldn’t have to worry about while sitting in his keyboard corner, such as stage banter.
“The more I think about this, the more I seem to be recalling that I have a lot of great stories about myself and my friend Elvis …  our friendship and times together. This would be an opportunity to tell some of them,” he says of the show’s plan.

Nieve will be recording every gig on his Australian tour with the view of releasing an album, Steve Nieve Plays Elvis Costello. It’s part of an ongoing project in which he will release entire albums dedicated to the music of an artist whose music he enjoys. “This will be volume one of a series of albums where I play music by different artists that I love and admire,” explains Steve. “There’ll be Steve Nieve plays Neil Young, Steve Nieve plays Nina Simone. There are extracts of things I am working on Soundcloud if people want to look it up. (https://soundcloud.com/steve-nieve-official)

Steve Nieve02 copySteve Nieve has been an intrinsic part of the evolution of Elvis Costello as an artist. He has followed Costello through his many musical phases including his forays into pop, country, classical and Bacharach. Even during the early post-punk days, Nieve was well aware of Costello’s eclectic musical tastes.

“I think even when we first began, we were doing interesting covers,” recalls Steve. “We were always listening to different music in our bus. It’s been a natural thing really. We’ve done lots of different things and played in lots of formations. W’eve done some shows with just the two of us. We’ve been in different bands together. We continue to explore ideas. Also Elvis has collaborated with other artists in which he has taken me inside and that’s been good fun.
I am a big fan of Mr Bacharach and I loved working on that particularly album because when it came to doing it live, Mr Bacharach wasn’t there. So I had to take the role of Mr Bacharach! I enjoyed playing those songs, they’re very beautiful on the piano.”

Recording with Elvis Costello over a period of more than three decades, Nieve has explored a variety of keyboard sounds and has used a wide range of keyboards from grand pianos to vintage synthesisers. The first keyboard he owned was a Vox Jaguar, which he purchased when he was just sixteen. On early Costello albums such as This Year’s Model and Armed Forces, Nieve was playing classic keyboards like the Polymoog, Jupiter 4, Vox Continental and as some sites have incorrectly documented, a Farfisa organ.

“I didn’t use a Farfisa, that’s not true'” he states. “It was always a Vox and I have always liked playing that organ and continue to play it. I have to keep a collection of them to keep them going. I have two which are just ripped to bits. To be honest, a lot of those old keyboards were usually quite reliable. It’s just if they do go wrong, you have to get them fixed. I usually have a technician with me to handle that aspect. There’s nothing like it because they sound great and are a pleasure to play the way they feel. I’ve continued to use them and probably always will. What I am excited about this new show though, is just being on the piano. It’s my number one instrument.”

Nieve particularly likes the sound of an upright piano and has been investigating the use of a dampener at home, not only to keep the peace with his neighbours but also for it’s sonic qualities.

“I have a Yamaha upright at home,” says Steve. “What I am enjoying about it is this thing called a moderator, which is like a mute so that the neighbours don’t get upset. It basically lowers a piece of felt over the top of the strings and reduces the volume of the sound and creates a new sound which is soft and beautiful. I’m enjoying that very much. I don’t know how to achieve that with a grand piano. I’ll have to look into that, whether I can put something over the strings when I play.”

Anyone who follows Steve on Twitter will know that he has a penchant for posting philosophical and spiritual quotes. Listening to him speak from his home in Paris and hearing the piano music he is posting on his Soundcloud page,  it occurred to me that he he’s a very tranquil kind of guy. I wondered if he meditates?

“I’ve not been doing meditation but I have been tempted towards it,” he says. “At the moment I am doing a sort of yoga, which is Himalayan. It’s all very spiritual and in a way, philosophical. It’s all to do with breathing. The calming effect of your breathing rather than about strange postures. I think it helps enormously with music and helps with calmness. Thats one of things about my concert. It will be calm.”

The much respected keyboard player is looking forward to heading to Australia in September for his first ever solo tour. While some aspects of the show are still developing in his head, there are other factors he is quite certain about.

“I think by performing these songs without someone singing them, the emphasis goes toward the music and the melodies. Elvis Costello is one hell of a melodist. I’m sure that people will come away from it with the feeling of how great some of these melodies are.”

See ticket information below for Steve Nieve Plays Elvis Costello shows. Also check out www.stevenieve.com   for more information on his music including the duets album, ‘Together’, which he released last year featuring Costello, Sting, Ron Sexsmith, Laurie Anderson and more. See clip below

STEVE NIEVE PLAYS ELVIS COSTELLO
BRISBANE         BRISBANE FESTIVAL          Wednesday September 10
SYDNEY             THE BASEMENT                  Saturday September  13
PERTH                STATE THEATRE                Wednesday September 17
MELBOURNE    RECITAL CENTRE                Friday September  19

For all booking details, go to www.tombowler.com.au

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