“You don’t just play the root notes – there’s always harmony there to make a bassline more interesting”: How Bruce Thomas transformed Elvis Costello’s (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea

British singer-songwriter Elvis Costello with his backing band The Attractions, UK, 1980. From left to right, keyboard player Steve Nieve, bassist Bruce Thomas, Costello and drummer Pete Thomas.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

 With his biting lyrics, retro image, and jittery deportment, Elvis Costello was somehow more punk than punk when he hit the mainstream back in 1977. For his solo debut, My Aim Is True, Costello relied on bassist Johnny Ciambotti and other players from Northern California’s Clover to back a batch of tunes that showed his true potential as a songwriter.

For the following year's This Year’s Model, Costello put together the Attractions – drummer Pete Thomas, keyboardist Stevie Nieve and bassist Bruce Thomas – who would set a new standard for songwriting and creativity in a genre that often emphasised style over substance, pose over performance. 

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