Graeme Oxby (Bluecoat)
Fandom can take many forms, but the ardour of Elvis aficionados is extreme. What is it about the King that makes so many admirers, both young and old, want to pay tribute by becoming him? The images in Graeme Oxby’s book The Kings Of England don’t have a definitive answer, and neither does the accompanying text, but both are a wonderful testament to the enduring appeal of a cultural icon.
The photographer takes us to tense competitions in social clubs, behind curtains and into dressing rooms; however, his subjects’ burning love for Elvis is not merely something that is occasionally performed on stage but something that is lived out every minute of every day. We’re introduced to a cast of colourful characters: the gold-jacketed Elvis Parkin, whom Oxby met on a petrol station forecourt filling up his enormous white Cadillac and who was the original inspiration for the project; Polk Salad Annie, who actually saw Elvis in the flesh and whose whole living room is a kitsch shrine to the King; “Black Elvis” Bobby Diamond, who is pictured kneeling in pre-gig prayer in the unglamorous environs of a pub kitchen and then leaping in mid-air during a high-octane performance at a care home, as spectating pensioners react with a mixture of astonishment and glee.
Eccentrics? Arguably, yes. And the image of Elvis impersonator Eddie Vee, crooning away in the corner of a pub while a football match plays on the TV overhead and drinkers’ faces show general disinterest or even mild disdain, is a reminder that not everyone shares a passion for the King, and that to proclaim it so publicly and visibly can be to invite ridicule and mockery.
But Oxby’s own perspective remains respectful rather than ironic or detached, and, as the many photos of performers and revellers at the annual Porthcawl Elvis Festival amply illustrate, venerating the King certainly isn’t always a lonely, misunderstood pursuit. On the contrary, the event is a tribal gathering, the town and its venues and beaches becoming a Mecca to which Brylcreemed pilgrims flock with almost as much zeal as to Graceland and Vegas. In his introduction, Bard Of Barnsley Ian McMillan writes of “the hold that Elvis Presley has on a particular kind of Northern man or perhaps all Northern men of a certain age” – but Oxby’s images demonstrate that in fact he has a fair grip on south Walians too. BEN WOOLHEAD
Price: £25. Info: bluecoatpress.co.uk