Today we’re giving Wearsiders the chance to get up close and personal to The King. Katy Wheeler speaks to the director of archives at Graceland about bringing Elvis to Britain.
Brooding eyes, swivelling hips and quivering lip - there are few moments in music as iconic as Elvis’ 1968 Comeback Special.
Key to this pivotal moment in pop, which marked Elvis’ return to the charts with Suspicious Minds, was his outfit – a made to measure figure-hugging black leather suit.
Now fans have the chance to see that very suit which has been flown from its home in Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, to London.
It went on display at a special exhibition at The O2 this month and will be there for a limited time of just two months before returning to America.
Angie Marchese, director of archives at Graceland, says it’s a rare chance to see such a special piece of memorabilia away from Elvis’ home.
“This is the first time the black leather suit has left Graceland. We’ve had lots of requests, but it’s never been the right time.
“It’s giving fans, who might never get the chance to go to Graceland, the chance to see the suit in Britain,” she said.
Elvis at The O2: The Exhibition of His Life is the largest Elvis retrospective ever mounted in Europe.
Since opening last December, the exhibition featuring over 300 artefacts direct from the Presley family’s treasured Graceland archives, has attracted thousands.
“We’re reaching people who would love to come Graceland and we’ve made it the most real and authentic exhibition possible, we’ve brought as much of Graceland over as we could,” said Angie.
She added: “We’ve had people ask to borrow pieces before, but we’re very selective. In the States, we deal with museums where Elvis needs to be represented, like the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.
“With this exhibition, if Elvis were around today, this is the venue he’d be performing at. So to say we have a residency here for nine months makes us very proud.”
The black leather suit is a particularly prized piece of Elvis’ extensive wardrobe.
He wore it for the TV special, titled ELVIS, but known as the 1968 Comeback Special, which was the singer’s first live stage performances in over seven years.
The program aired on December 3 1968 on the NBC television network as the highest rated TV special of the year.
Its success led to Elvis’ return to the music charts with Suspicious Minds and The Wonder of You, record-breaking shows in Las Vegas and sell-out tours.
The informal ‘jamming’ in front of a small studio audience in the TV special is regarded as a forerunner to so-called Unplugged concept that later became popular with artists on MTV.
Angie said: “The black leather suit was designed by Bill Belew, who was commissioned by NBC to make costumes for the ‘68 comeback.
“When doing research, some of the first images he focused on were the black leather rocker look that Elvis embodied in the ‘50s. It was bringing the ‘50s rebel to a 1968 audience.
“He’d been away for eight years making movies. This was him back on the live stage, it was his comeback to music.
“It was one of the first unplugged sessions. MTV do them now, but Elvis was doing it back in 1968.
“It still looks so contemporary, him performing in the round. It’s like it’s been filmed last week.”
During the 1968 Comeback Special, Elvis performed many of the songs that he was famous for, including That’s All Right, Heartbreak Hotel, Blue Christmas, One Night, Love Me Tender (which he performed to his wife Priscilla, who was in the audience) and Are You Lonesome Tonight?
It was a moment in his career that helped to cement his place as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
On a wider scale, the exhibition, which runs until the end of August, chronicles the rise of the rock ‘n’ roll icon and how Elvis impacted popular culture around the world through his music, movies and personal style.
From his humble beginnings to his meteoric rise to fame, the exhibition explores the Elvis mania that first swept America and then the world, ground-breaking recording sessions, record-breaking concert tours, his military service, Hollywood film career and influence on fashion.
Among the artefacts on display are automobiles, personal items, historical documents, iconic stage costumes, guitars, gold and platinum records, and photography, in addition to audio and video presentations. Even the famous pool table Elvis played on with The Beatles is on display.
Other items from Graceland seen in London for the first include:- “TCB” (Taking Care of Business) ring, 16 total karats with a centre solitaire of 11.5 karats; the Red 1960 MG Roadster from the film Blue Hawaii; Elvis’ personal wallet containing photos of a young Lisa Marie Presley and Elvis’ personal keys to Graceland.
Speaking about the Elvis archives, Angie said: “We have a million documents, 5000 items of clothing - Elvis has a closet that would make any woman envious - , 20 cars.
“In total, we have close to 1.5million items in our collection, we only display 10 per cent at any given time, and rotate them.
“I do have my favourite items. One of them is on display at the 02: his wallet. It’s something everyone has, that everyone can relate to.
“The things in it are so personal. The first thing you get to is a picture of him and his daughter. And you can just imagine him pulling it out and showing it to people.
“Also the black leather jumpsuit, because it represents my favourite Elvis period. There are so many Elvises: Army Elvis. 50s Elvis. Movie Elvis. “But the 68-72 Elvis is my favourite because it symbolises Elvis at the top of his game.”
So what was it about the man from humble beginnings that led to him becoming one of the world’s most famous stars?
“Elvis was so comfortable in who he was, even before he was famous,” she said. “At school, he’d be the kid at school who wore his hair long, who wore a pink shirt. He knew what we wanted to wear and he wore it, no matter what people said.
“That continued as a performer, he was always true to himself, whether one person liked it, or a million people did. It wasn’t PR, it wasn’t a front, people saw the authenticity in him.”
•Tickets to Elvis at The O2: The Exhibition of His Life at London’s O2 are £22.75 each. To book visit www.elvisattheo2.com or call 0844 856 0202. Opening times are 10am to 8.30pm with last entry at 7pm, seven days a week.
•We’ve teamed up with Elvis at The O2: The Exhibition of His Life to give away train travel to London and tickets to see the exhibition.
The winner and a friend will receive return tickets from Sunderland to Kings Cross, as well as a pair of exhibition tickets.
The offer is available on any Saturday or Sunday through March and the tickets will be super off peak standard class return tickets.
To be in with a chance of winning, answer this question: which of these is an Elvis song?
A) Suspicious Minds
B) Great Minds
C) Simple Minds
Email your answer and contact details to Katy.Wheeler@jpress.co.uk.
Closing date: February 26.