I walked up the steep path on Abbey Terrace – a fanciful notion as the abbey is on the opposite side of the river, and barely visible from the terrace. The day was quiet, perhaps boring for locals anxious to start earning before the season started. Seagulls circled and the sound of the waves pounding rocks at the cliff base, receded as I worked my way in land.
The gulls fell silent, perhaps in reverential amazement, for there was no doubt. From the top of one of the fine, early Victorian terraces, came Elvis’s voice, singing ‘Blueberry Hill’.
I hummed along.
‘ The wind in the willows,
Played Love’s sweet melody.
But all of the vows you made,
Were never to be.
Though we’re apart,
You’re part of me still,
For you were my thrill,
On Blueberry Hill.’
Was someone airing old vinyl? But something was wrong. There was no backing – no guitar, or drums or shalala boys or doowa girls. It was Elvis, no doubt, but without backing group, in Whitby, relaxing and wandering down memory lane. It had to be him. I knew Blueberry Hill’s every nuance, even after 60 years. I wore that EP to a fraction of its original thickness, back in 1961. Some things are never forgotten.
Sound is a funny beast. I stood, turning alternate ears in an attempt to locate the source. Didn’t it come from the rear of a house? I ran up the hill, turned right, and found the entrance to Back Abbey Terrace. Once inside the huge rear pentagon, I searched the rooftops. I looked up at an open garret window just as Elvis finished the final refrain of ‘Viva Las Vegas’.
Had I discovered Elvis’s hideaway?
The Elvis silence was broken only by gulls, and wind whipping round the rendered corners and plastic wheelie bins. No sound from Elvis – no hint of his whereabouts. I thought I’d lost him, but then, wham, crash and off he went into Jailhouse Rock, followed by Blue Suede Shoes. They were perfect renderings, but this time with backing tape.
I had found Elvis.
Now I needed to meet him.
Blue Suede Shoes finished with a snare drum roll of doubtful authenticity, but the vocals had been faultless.
I waited for another song. I heard only seagulls call and wind in the wires. I shouted, ‘Hey! Elvis!’
A croaky diminuendo replied through the window.
That voice didn’t have the élan of Jailhouse Rock, but I told myself, Elvis is an old man. Perhaps he can’t do it these days without amps.
‘Can I come up and see you, Elvis?’ I shouted.
This time, through the amp and with a Mississippi drawl, I heard, ‘Sure thing, buddy. Mind your head.’
A ring, with two keys, came through the window, described a lazy parabola and landed angrily on the rough concrete parking pad. I retrieved them and heard, ‘Use the front entrance. Number 9. Let yourself in and come right on up. I don’t do stairs so good these days.’
I hurried back to Abbey Terrace, found number 9 and tried a key, then ascended four flights of a fine carved-wood staircase, which ended in another door. The second key worked, but off the small entrance hall went another, less grand flight, into an attic.
‘Keep on coming, partner,’ Elvis encouraged.
Steep stairs and cowboy boots
I looked up the steep stairs.
My first view was of a microphone lead, running up the side of a beautiful, but tiny cowboy boot.
I let my gaze wander up a diminutive woman’s figure. The hand grasping the mic, was gnarled with advanced rheumatoid arthritis, the face old before its time. The mic clicked as she turned it off and laid it to one side.
Without the mic and echo effect, her voice was old. She grinned at me and with a local accent said, ‘You look disappointed. Did you really expect Elvis? The first letter is right. I’m Enid.’
She couldn’t open a hand, with the thumb distorted to a crazy angle, so held out a clenched fist for me to shake.
‘But you sang just like Elvis. It was uncanny,’ I said.
‘Been doing it for nigh on 60 years,’ she explained. ‘Didn’t we all try to sing like him as school kids, back in the fifties?’
‘Didn’t we just,’ I assured her. ‘My air guitar to ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, was excruciating. I’m glad videos were still a black art and there is no evidence to embarrass me.’
Enid laughed. ‘My renditions won me a music singing prize. I auditioned for RADA with Wooden Heart, among other things, was accepted and then there was no money to send me. My dad lost his job due to a fishing accident, and I had to take work with Mendelssohn’s dairy as a milk woman, to help with the bills. I earned plenty over the years, singing in pubs and clubs as an Elvis tribute act, but eventually my agent gave up. Young people had forgotten, perhaps never knew and certainly no longer cared, who Elvis was.
‘The dairy work worsened my health. I was only about 25 when I realised something was wrong, but struggled on until last year. Now I need somewhere with no stairs or I am housebound.’
‘As was Elvis in the end,’ I reminded her.
We chatted for hours, interspersed with songs she remembered. ‘Fool Such As I’, could have fooled me. She was perfect.
As I walked down the hill towards the river, I heard her final song wing over the rooftops, distorted by the stiff, onshore breeze. It was a ghostly ‘Only the Lonely’.
Costello or Presley?
On my next Whitby visit, I rang the bell to top flat, number 9. It was answered by a thin woman with dyed ginger hair. She looked like a less damaged version of Enid.
‘We bought flat from Enid,’ she told me with a Lancashire accent. ‘My husband wanted the music studio. He were lead guitarist for Tornados. We’ve retired on airtime Telstar still gets. Enid wasn’t so lucky. She rents a bungalow in Ruswarp, these days. Sad really, poor luv. She ‘ad to stop singing. Sad, really sad, but you can’t do Elvis impressions out of a bungalow on housing estate.’
The thought horrified. Enid was Elvis. Without him she was nothing.
I drove to Ruswarp and sat outside several bungalows, with a CD of Elvis ballads, including ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ on the car disc player, as loud as it would take it – windows down. Enid didn’t show and after an hour a weary pensioner came out and told me to clear off.
‘Do you know someone, lives round here,’ I countered, ‘called Enid? She does Elvis tributes.’
‘Costello?’ He queried.
‘Presley,’ I corrected.
‘Oh,’ he commented without interest. ‘Is that why you are disturbing neighbourhood? If I come across your Enid, she’ll get a piece of my mind – you making a din out here. We are respectable people – more a Billy Cotton Band Show household if you like. Now bugger off.’
Crestfallen would be the mild version. I returned to the car to silence Elvis. The neighbour had a point.
Perhaps he felt sorry for me. He tried to show hospitality and called, ‘To be fair, me gran did like Max Bygraves on wireless. Toothbrush song, or ‘owt like that.’
That was the end of my lollipop.