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Hideous Mink's Grassroots Spotlight: Elvis Thirlwell

Ursa Dissects: Elvis Thirlwell

Words by Ursa Gregson

Elvis Thirlwell is a musician & freelance journalist who cruises the venues, bars and festivals of the capital in bright & shabby finery, chuckling like a gregarious anti-Fagin and elevating the spirits of band and audience members in equal measure wherever he doth go. You will have seen the shock of scarlet hair and the fabulous array of sunglasses/lipstick shades somewhere either onstage wielding a tambourine with psych-marauders Mandrake Handshake or in the darkness of an audience emitting jubilant war-cries. He also wields the pen for several music press stalwarts including So Young, DIY, Shindig and Hard of Hearing. Let us dip our oars a little deeper into the dusky waters of this man's mind...

Photo Credit: Trinity Oksana

1. What came first for you, Master Elvis - the chicken (music) or the egg (writing)?

Music has always been my foundation, for as long as I can remember. The earliest memories of my expendable humanity are of my Dad blasting out Elvis Costello or The Clash at volumes far too loud for my tender ears to cope. If that was an attempt to drill some kind of ethic into me, then it worked, as I’ve lived off music ever since. I took piano lessons as a kid, picked up guitar and bass too, rinsed the drums on Beatles’ Rock Band, and exhausted my Dad’s record collection before commencing my own. If I’m honest, as quite a solitary teenager, this was all for my own entertainment. I never expected to end up in a band, least of all as a tambourine player. But now I am, it’s fucking sick.

Writing came later, but wasn’t far behind. Creative writing was something I excelled in at school - by which I mean, people told me they enjoyed reading my shit, and I relished the social approval. So, I kept working at it. Feeble ambitions to become a short storier, a playwright, or even a poet (I wrote a mad sonnet about vegetable soup once), puffed into dust once I discovered that I could just be a music journalist instead. I read a couple of books the summer I left sixth form - Julian Cope’s Head-On, and Lester Bangs’ Psychotic Reaction and Carburetor Dung - and the beauty with which these two writers had managed to render socio-musical experiences into immersive, and often hilarious prose, just burst my heart wide open. Every review or feature I’ve written ever since is, in some way, an attempt to re-discover the pure ecstasy I felt upon reading those books.

2. Can you name some common-denominator, bottom-line, undeniable catalysts for a good show for Elvis - firstly as a musician, secondly as an audience member and potential reviewer?

I just want to have fun. That’s it. If I go to a show, I want to smile, laugh even, just be so over-awed by the theatrics, the technique, the attitude, whatever, that it just feels, well, silly! If I play a show, I want it to be jokes (provided that nothing goes wrong and we sound sick first, of course.)

Something else I look for is a kind of uniqueness, or singularity to a show;, a sense of spontaneity in the performance that makes me feel like I’m experiencing something no one could ever experience in quite the same way, again. This is something we look for a lot with Mandrake Handshake shows - we mix up setlists and freestyle jams, so each set you see offers something different and keeps you coming back. Psychedelic music, in particular, appeals to me so much because of this quality: bands jamming out, lifting off, levitating me out of my boots, reveling in the sheer noise of the moment…it’s a major-league vibe ygm.

If I’m reviewing a gig, some good stage patter is nice as it gives me something fun to write about!

(Credit: Liv Kenny)

3. Who is your favourite fictional cat and why?

‘Cat’ From Red Dwarf, for his daft and affable nature. Red Dwarf Series 3-7 are among the finest in British sit-com. Didn’t think I’d go there did you?

4. Have you ever been pressured by a band at knifepoint to write a glowing review? If not, would you like to be?

Mafia style intimidation-tactics have yet to force their way into my very modest corner of the music industry, and I’d like to keep it that way: the relatively low threat of death that comes with typing paragraphs in my dressing gown is, I think, one of the perks of the job. If I was being held at knifepoint, I would worry that people would be taking the music press far too seriously.

Jokes aside, a lot of pressure to write ‘glowing reviews’ can come from within. When I’m often mingling in close quarters with some of the bands you’re writing about, there’s always this internal conflict between furthering your own agenda, as someone who wants certain music to be heard more than others, and fulfilling your duty to be a somewhat ‘impartial’ and ‘detached’ critic. Not that it keeps me up at night or anything.

5. Have you ever considered five-star-reviewing your own band in a high-profile music magazine and calling it performance art?

Funnily enough, the opportunity to review the first Mandrake Handshake EP for a certain national publication did come about, but my cripplingly honest nature won over and I ‘fessed up my true Mandrake identity. As far as I was concerned everyone already knew what I thought of the EP - Five Stars, Performance Art etc. - so it would be infinitely more valuable, for better or worse, to hear what someone else thought instead. I still stand by my honourable decision, but I often wonder if it was the right one. Not that it keeps me up at night or anything.

6. As a freelance, independent musician and writer, does London inspire & nurture or torment & ravage you in greater measure?

London sucks. It’s amazing. It’s the greatest and it’s the worst. For every moment an oh-too-long late night bus grinds you down, or a £6 pint mocks you from the glass, you’re confronted with something totally awe-inspiring; the quality of music is astoundingly high and the amount of insanely talented individuals I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with - through music, or writing - puts me back in my place, and urges me on to greater ambitions. I’ve only lived here for the best part of six months, and I’ve already achieved way more than I ever thought I would. I love London. I Hate London.

7. Please invent, describe and name a cocktail that completely encapsulates everything & everyone you've ever been and ever will be.

In this cocktail, which I will call, ‘The Elvis’, the main, and only ingredient will be a pint of lager, because I like beer. That’s all I have to say on the matter.


Catch Mandrake Handshake at their following live dates:

29th April - Newcastle, ZEROX

30th April - Edinburgh, Stag & Dagger

01 May - Blackpool, Bootleg Social

05 May - Portsmouth, The Loft

06 May - Southampton, Heartbreakers

Keep up to date with Elvis here

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