Elvis impersonator Ben Portsmouth brings his tribute to the King to Crawley’s Hawth on Friday, May 5 (7.30pm).
Presley was a big part of Ben’s childhood, he recalls.
“I first heard Elvis in the car as a child. My dad would play all the greats – Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers – and Elvis just stood out for me. He had an amazing voice and amazing songs that people wrote for him. What got me I suppose were songs like ‘American Trilogy’. You don’t get songs that are like that coming around too often, songs that are powerful, gospel, patriotic songs. By then his voice had really matured.
“I have always been a musician pretty much. I was always in bands. I would stick on Elvis tapes and play along at home, just learning the songs and getting to appreciate the music. Learning the chords helped me play guitar. I went to music college and eventually started doing some serious guitar work in the music industry. When I was waiting for the artists to turn up, I would be doing a lot of Elvis stuff, just for my own pleasure. And I found myself thinking that I really wanted to do Elvis stuff more. I got a band together, and we started out in pubs and clubs. That was about ten years ago, and every year we just seemed to get better gigs.”
Inevitably the Elvis tribute scene is a crowded one.
“But the only way I describe it is that none of us is Elvis. We are all individual people and characters, and we all bring something different to the stage. I hope that people can see with me that it is a real musician playing, and hopefully they can feel my passion.
“I do put a little bit of my own personality and humour into it. I do copy him, but I don’t want to copy all the jokes that were spontaneous for him at the time. They were funny at the time, but when you see Elvis impersonators doing them now, it is a bit cringe-making.
“The first half of my story is Elvis’ life story. It was real rags to riches. I do the time in the studios, and I tell the story. I use visuals and audio to get the story across. And then he went into the movies. I do a lot of songs that I love out of the movie era. I also do the poignant parts of his life, like going into the army, like his mother dying. The last half of the set, I do the 1968 come back.”
Going into the second half, Ben offers a 1970s-style Elvis concert: “I love that era the best, the jumpsuit era. The music was better. The group has got a lot better. He had the gospel choirs, and the music just got better as his voice matured.
“I have gone around the world a few times doing this from New Zealand to Rio de Janeiro: “You can take it anywhere in the world. It is just a testament to his talent that someone like me, a lad from Berkshire, can go and do this anywhere.”
In August 2012, Ben made history when he won the Elvis Presley Enterprises’ Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, which took place in Memphis, crowning Ben as the Worldwide Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist, the only artist from outside the USA to ever win the title.
Tickets cost £29. Call the box office on 01293 553636.
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