March 3, 1960, Prestwick Airport, Scotland. Elvis Presley signing autographs. The plane had stopped to refuel on its way back to the United States. This was the only time Elvis set foot on the British Isles.
Éanna Brophy, a retired journalist from Dublin, sent me the following piece he wrote, a “piece of whimsy” purported to be found in a copybook at a building site – in which we hear a tale of Elvis Presley actually performing in Dublin, while stationed overseas. It’s common knowledge that Elvis Presley never performed in Europe, but Brophy imagines a night when he … did.
First of all, I love the voice of the piece, and the Irish lilt. There is nothing quite like that sound. I love, too, how the moment of his performance plays out like an actual Elvis Presley movie, where at first he has to be dragged and coaxed up onto the stage, but then he succumbs and goes insane. Putting Elvis Presley in Dublin, Ireland is certainly an “obsession dovetail” of the highest order for me. Reading it made me so happy. I love the imagination of it, the detail. I love Seamus Murphy.
I have written before about my dismay that the “what could have beens” have taken over the narrative of Elvis Presley’s life to such a stark degree that battle lines are drawn. “How sad that he did the movies.” “How sad he didn’t marry Ann-Margret.” “How sad about the drugs.” “How sad he changed.” But fantasy is an important element of the Elvis Presley persona, and it always was. Teenage girls dreamed about what it was like to kiss him, and even to this day, it is heartbreakingly exciting to imagine him as Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy, or doing a worldwide tour. Elvis touring Japan, England, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy? What would THAT have been like? He never left the United States. Well, he played Canada once in 1957. But other than that, that was it. He always wanted to go.
Anyway, Brophy’s piece imagines a different scenario entirely and I am so pleased to share it here. It’s a bit of magic you’ve created, Mr. Brophy.
The Night Elvis Sang at the Theatre Royal in Dublin
The intriguing tale below was found in a builder’s skip outside an old house undergoing renovations in Dublin, Ireland. It was handwritten in pencil in a battered old school copybook. Can it possibly be true? Elvis Presley, we’re told, never performed in public outside of the American continent …
Or did he?
This is going to come as a shock to the wife. It’s something I haven’t been able to tell her in all the years we’ve been married. I hope she won’t be too cross with me. It will surprise a lot of other people too, but I suppose it’s all right to talk about it now that poor Jack – that’s the brother-in-law – has passed on to his reward. He always made me keep quiet about it. I had to swear not to tell anybody, because he was afraid it might call attention to himself even years and years after that peculiar night. The night I proposed to the wife – and Elvis Presley sang in the Theatre Royal.
Fit for a king the old Royal was; gone a long time now, like the King himself, sure God be good to him.
I always used to tell Jack no-one would believe it happened, but he never stopped worrying that the American army would come lookin’ for him for being a deserter. Which he wasn’t of course. He just kind-of forgot to go back.
Jack lived on the same road as me in Cabra West. A working class area they called it, although most of the people were unemployed. Either that or the kids’ da’s were gone to look for jobs in England. Jack was the same age as me, a bit of a harum-scarum me mother always called him. When he couldn’t get a regular job as a mechanic in Dublin he emigrated to America. He wasn’t long over there before he signed up with the army, and in next to no time didn’t he find himself being sent back across the Atlantic – to be stationed with the American Forces in Germany, lookin’ after their transport. And that’s how he met Elvis, who was after being sent there, too, by the army.
Elvis was very shy behind it all, Jack told me. He just wanted a quiet life most of the time, away from the mobs of fans that always followed him everywhere he went. He never got a minute’s peace from them. It was the same even in Germany. Whenever he got leave from the army, he couldn’t step outside the barracks for fear of being chased by a gang of frauleins wanting to tear his clothes off. Or to pull his hair, what little he had left after the army barbers giving him the bowl cut.
And that’s how he came to stay with Jack’s family in Cabra West. Twice, I think it was. Himself and Jack had army leave at the same time, and Jack invited him to come home with him, promising him that nobody would bother him in Ireland. Hardly anyone here would recognise him anyway, he told him, especially since he got all the hair chopped off. Once he’d gone into the army, he more or less vanished. There was no new pictures of him in magazines, and there was no television like nowadays. People still thought of Elvis with the long sideburns and the greasy hair-oil.
Elvis wasn’t sure at first about coming over. He didn’t even know exactly where Ireland was, but he decided he might as well chance it; anything was better than hanging around the barracks all day. Jack never told the family it was Elvis. His ma and da were old anyway – nearly fifty, God bless the mark! So as far as they were concerned he was just another one of Jack’s Yankee pals, not the first one he’d brought home. And with better manners than some of them, his ma said.
I was doing a strong line with Mary at the time. Jack’s little sister: that’s what he called her even though there was only a few years between them. She was, of all things, a Cliff Richard fan. I thought he was brutal (apart from being English), but she had pictures of Cliff all over her bedroom and wasn’t interested in Elvis at all. It was only years later that she came to appreciate him – when he was well past his best, I always said. So she hardly looked twice at this soldier with the crew cut that was sharing Jack’s bedroom.
I was the only one to recognise him. Even though he wore tinted glasses, I knew it was him, because I had every one of his records and I’d seen all his films. Some of them twice or three times, especially Jailhouse Rock. Jack tried at first to persuade me it wasn’t him. He said his name was Hank Something, but that just made me laugh, until he finally gave up and admitted it. But himself and Elvis made me swear on me mother’s grave to keep it secret, so I did. My mother was still alive at the time, but it still counted.
None of the neighbours recognised him either, even when him and Jack played a bit of soccer on the green near the houses. He would’ve made a good goalie for Bohemians, Jack always said.
Elvis always made sure not to wear his own fancy clothes when he went out. So there was no sign of his famous gold lamé suits! No, he’d borrow some of Jack’s clothes; they were roughly the same build, though of course poor ould Elvis got desperate fat later on. One or two of the mammies, mind you, asked Jack who’s the good-lookin’ young fella you have staying with you this time , but none of them would ever have imagined it was Elvis the Pelvis as he used to be called. So even though he’d been a bit nervous about coming to Dublin, he began to enjoy himself. Him and Jack used to go to the pictures in town, and they went to Dalymount and even Croke Park.
And then they went to the Theatre Royal and I went with them. It was still going strong in those days, and you got great value for your half a crown, because they had a stage show and the pictures as well. But we always got in for free because Mary was an usherette and got complimentary tickets. Even if she didn’t get them, she’d let us sneak in anyway. So there we were on the Friday night, me and Jack and Elvis, sitting in the good seats near the front, when the curtains went back for the variety show to start. But there was something wrong. The orchestra was up on stage all right, and the Royalette girls did one of their dances, but then the conductor, a man with a moustache called Jimmy Campbell, turned around and apologised that the show would have to be cut short that night because their vocalist – that’s what they called singers in them days – their vocalist, Mr Frankie Blowers, was indisposed.
Someone started booing, and fellas up in the gods were stamping their feet and shouting we want our money back. That was when Jack had the rush of blood to the head. Didn’t he stand up and roar, “Mr Campbell, Mr Campbell, I have someone here who can sing for you!” And with that, he starts to shove poor Elvis out into the aisle an up onto the stage. He was very embarrassed and mumbled something about not having his guitar. But the orchestra was just after getting its very first electric guitar a few weeks earlier, and someone put it into Elvis’s hands.
That was that; he couldn’t resist the urge, and started strumming it straight away, and even moving his hips a bit. A few girls down the back gave a scream, but Jimmy Campbell said “Hold on a minute, I have to introduce you. What’s your name?” And while Elvis was still mumbling, Jack shouted “Seamus Murphy”.
That’s how he was introduced to the audience, and then he was off and you couldn’t stop him. He sang “Hound Dog”, and “Don’t Be Cruel” and a whole lot of his other songs. When he did “Jailhouse Rock” it nearly brought the house down, but then Mr Campbell had to call a halt because the film had to start on time. I forget what they showed that night; it might have been The Magnificent Seven. All I can remember is the buzz of excitement after he sang. People were still whispering long after the film started and other people were telling them to “shush”.
But when Elvis got back to his seat he was ragin’ with Jack for shoving him up on the stage like that. He was very worried that the Colonel would get to hear about it. Not an army colonel, mind you, but his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Poor Elvis was afraid he’d probably accuse him of breach of contract or something. Anyway, he borrowed Jack’s woolly hat as a disguise when they were leaving the Royal, but it was lashing rain outside, so if anyone had been still wondering who the singer was, they didn’t hang around getting soaked trying to find out.
Elvis went back to Germany the very next day, a bit sudden, and never came back to Cabra. I think he probably met Priscilla then, so that was that.
Jack didn’t exactly desert from the American army. It was peacetime anyway, so when he met a nice-looking “mot” here in Dublin, he decided to stay here, and he figured sure the Yanks wouldn’t miss him all that much. But it meant that he could never go to America. Even years later, he was still afraid to chance it, although he regularly got cards in the post, inviting him to Las Vegas, or even to visit Graceland. They were always signed Seamus Murphy.
But I nearly forgot to tell you the other important thing about that night. That was when I proposed to Mary, and we got married eight weeks later. But she’s going to be embarrassed now when I tell her who the singer really was. Maybe I won’t tell her at all. I had the ring in my pocket, and after Elvis and Jack left I waited in the foyer to surprise her with it when she came off duty. Although it wasn’t really a surprise: sure she was after giving me a few broad hints that we’d been doing a line for over a year, and stopping and looking at the rings every time we passed McDowells the jewellers in O’Connell Street.
The hints had got very strong lately. In fact she’d nearly started cryin’ a few nights earlier when I said we should maybe wait until we could afford a house of our own. We nearly had a fight about it, but I gave in of course, and next day I sneaked out and bought the ring without telling her. I’d decided to bring her over to the Red Bank restaurant, across the road from the Royal – a very posh place I couldn’t really afford – and ask her to marry me. Which I did, and she said yes straight away. But janey mack, she’ll be raging now when I tell her the truth about Elvis in the Royal, and remind her of what she said. Because before I took out the ring, I asked her what she thought of Jack’s pal’s performance. And do you know what she said? “Brutal!”
I had to bite me tongue. But I married her anyway! And in spite of our musical differences we’ve had a good marriage compared to what you see these days. Sure I don’t know why they bother getting married at all, the way they jump into bed with each other!
Our own kids are all grown up and married now. Two boys and two girls. Good singers, too, by the way – except the first lad, who was born premature seven months after we got married. The funny thing is, I often thought he had a look of Elvis about him.
But he can’t sing a note!