Burslem old-timers would have you believe Elvis appeared at the Queens Theatre in its heyday, along with *everybody* else. It’s one of those local myths, like Askey’s Giant Wartime Fish or the Revised Town Centre Masterplan. The truth doesn't really matter, no-one would be a true Boslemite if they didn’t find it perfectly credible that if Elvis had made a secret call to England during his GI days, he would have included the Mother Town in his visit.
It’s also not hard to believe that if anywhere should produce a voice to come close to matching the King’s, it should be Stoke-on-Trent. In common with certain other cities across the globe, we have a deep understanding of soul; of dispossession, anger and hope.
Having only heard of Gordon Hendricks a few days ago in the Focal Radio studios, I was nevertheless excited to be in the retro environment of the Victoria Hall, squashed into my metal seat with a proper Stoke crowd, people from across the six towns who find Hanley the best meeting ground to revive old friendships, romances and fights.
And when Gordon took to the stage, this was proper rock n roll, exploding sound systems and all. Like Elvis himself, nobody was taking this too seriously, despite the obvious talent on the stage. Gordon himself was delighted to be “back where it all started” with the people who had given him confidence to unleash what has become one of the most renowned Elvis tribute acts in the world, not least by Presley’s band and writers. Indeed, it was his familiarity with the crowd that hopefully lessened any hurt he might have felt over the unseemly stampede to the bar well before the end of the first half.
And in this unusual theatre environment, part Memphis, part Cheshire Cheese, a truly amazing show emerged. Gordon and the band’s style avoided too much basic imitation and were great performers in themselves. Gordon’s voice needs to be heard to be believed, absolutely authentic and without a hint that the most epic of Elvis’s classics were a strain to imitate. And while we can recreate moments from Vegas for generations, it was the single ‘Where Would I Be’ which really makes one dare to dream. Written by Geoff Morrows, this is unmistakably Elvis, but its freshness sparks the possibility that we could stretch even further than what we were lucky enough to get before Elvis died in 1977. Incredible, of course, in his own right, Elvis was also part of a package. A product of tumultuous times, Elvis was the individual bold enough to stand at the front of a stage and change the world. What else might be sitting in a writer’s cupboard, waiting to be recorded? How might That Voice interpret more of the greatest songs of the last three decades?
In Gordon Hendricks, Stoke has produced another great talent of whom we can be proud. We might have got more of a glimpse of his innate creativity in his home town - it is hard to keep up an American accent when you’ve got people shouting “‘iya Gordon, ‘ow’s yer dad?” - I hope he allows that spark to really flourish.
- Youtube clips