On August 16, 1977 the world said goodbye to the King of rock n roll, Elvis Presley. Forty years on, and his legacy is still going strong with musicians across the world naming him as their idol and inspiration.
One of those musicians is Belfast man Jim Brown, who is renowned for his Elvis tribute show. And to mark the 40th anniversary of the great man’s death, Jim will be taking to the stage of the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, on Saturday August 19 for a very special show.
Jim, who grew up in north Belfast, never dreamt of being a singer, let alone that he would spend his career on stage paying tribute to the greatest singer of them all.
“As a kid I loved Elvis,” said Jim. “I remember going down to Woolworths on North Street in Belfast and buying my first Elvis 45s. The covers are dilapidated now but I still have them. I always wanted to see Elvis sing and I was devastated when he died.”
After leaving school, Jim started working as a postman and although he liked to sing and everyone told him he sounded like Elvis, he never considered making a career out of it.
But an innocent prank played by his aunt one day in the Dockers Club changed his life forever.
“I went with my Uncle Pat and Aunt Mary to the Dockers Club one Sunday afternoon,” Jim explained. “They had a band playing who started calling people from the audience up on stage to sing with them. I was a new face in the club and my aunt thought it would be funny to set me up.
“She had heard me sing at a family gathering so she put my name forward without me knowing about it. I was so shocked when they called my name but I didn’t want to be a spoil sport so I went up on stage. I was absolutely petrified. I was shaking like a leaf. “Brian McConville came up to me after and said if I learnt half a dozen songs he would pay me to sing on a Saturday night. Three months later I was singing on the Gerry Kelly show.”
That was the beginning of a whirlwind career for Jim which saw him recording an album, brushing shoulders with celebrities, touring the world, and supporting some of the biggest names in the music industry.
It was Belfast singer Bap Kennedy who really pushed Jim forward and encouraged him to record an album.
“I actually worked with his brother in the Post Office and when Bap was home one weekend his brother told him he worked with someone who could sing like Elvis,” continued Jim. “Bap laughed and said ‘no one can sing like Elvis’ but he wanted to check it out.
“I sang a couple of songs and Bap asked if I would go to London and record an album. He said I had to get my voice recorded.
“We bounced around some ideas and thought about songs Elvis might have sung if he was still alive. We thought about ‘No Woman No Cry’, ‘Come AS You Are. ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and realised the singers of all of those songs had died as well.
“There’s no point in recording Elvis songs because they were already masterpieces. So we thought of songs in the style of Elvis and came up with ‘Gravelands’.
“It was a tribute to Elvis and to rock n roll’s great dead. Now I look back an think ‘how did that happen’.”
It is now almost 20 years since Jim recorded ‘Gravelands’ and thanks to John Peel, who started playing it on his radio show, the album became a huge hit.
“It started to grow very quickly in the underground movement,” said Jim.
Soon Jim was in demand all over the world, spending two weeks in Moscow, before performing in Germany, Denmark and the UK. The album was picked up by EMI and Jim jetted off to tour in the States.
Jim has built up an A list fan base over the years. He performed at Eamonn Holmes’ 50th birthday party, Tom Jones said after hearing him perform live “Finally after all these years someone who does Elvis justice”, while Richard Branson thought him so good that he flew him on his private jet to perform at his own birthday party.
Jim has supported Stereophonics in their home town of Cardiff, as well as appearing on numerous television shows including GMTV, Jerry Springer Live and TFI Friday.
Jim had to turn down a US tour with Robbie Williams as he has small children at home, but still continues to win over fans from across the globe.
But the relentless touring, performing, promotion work, and the homesickness of being away from his family began to take a serious toll on Jim.
“Five years later I had to step away,” he explained. “When I started I didn’t know what I was in for.
“I was living out of a suitcase and getting by on about three or four hours of sleep a night. I felt guilty being away from my family so much.
“It was getting bigger and bigger and bigger and I just had to take a step back.”
But now, Jim has started dipping his toe back in the water again and decided that the fortieth anniversary of Elvis’ death would be the perfect time to take the stage once again.
Having performed a few gigs this year, the show at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast will be one of the biggest to date and he is certain it will be a special night for Elvis fans.
The concert, entitled ‘The Two Sides of Elvis’, will incorporate favourite Gospel tracks, as well as Elvis’ up beat rock n roll favourites.
“Last year I came up with this idea of the two sides of Elvis,” explained Jim. “The first half will be dedicated to Elvis’ gospel music. Elvis got swept away with the whole rock n roll thing but he always kept his love of gospel. Apparently after every show he would sit down at the piano and sing gospel songs to make him feel safe and secure. And the only Grammys he ever won were for his gospel albums.
“The second half of the show will focus on his rock n roll, country and blues songs.”
The concert will be in aid of Cancer Lifeline and tickets, priced £25, are on sale from the Waterfront Hall Box Office and online at www.waterfront.co.uk.