The wonder of Andy
PUBLISHED: 10:28 13 January 2015 | UPDATED: 10:28 13 January 2015
Elvis would have been 80 this month, but his legacy is in good hands thanks to his army of impersonators. Martin Chambers has left the building, thank you very much, in search of one
When Elvis died in 1977 there were only 170 Elvis impersonators around the world. By the year 2000, there were 85,000.
At that time experts predicted that with the same rate of growth, by 2019 one in three of the world’s population would be Elvis impersonators.
Looking round, despite my suspicious mind, I think that prediction may well be on the way to coming true. You see I’m in the Chequers pub in Great Blakenham – just me, two bar staff and Sun of Elvis. That’s all right − one in four, with four years of the prediction still to run.
My Elvis is Andy Ottley, Suffolk through and through, but with a burning love for all things to do with the King.
He was just seven when Elvis died. Though too young to be all shook up, Presley’s music was part of the culture of Andy’s family life as he grew up in Stowmarket. His mum and his brothers and sisters were all into Elvis, and on Sundays the music was always on.
Karaoke led to Andy’s breakthrough as an Elvis impersonator. After performing the usual numbers in bars, at parties and on holidays, the reaction to a couple of numbers Andy did in the Greyhound in Claydon led to him buying a joke jumpsuit on eBay and borrowing his cousin’s gear with backing tracks.
It was now or never as he returned to the Greyhound kitted out for his big night. “About 500 people turned up,” he says. “It was absolutely packed and went really well, and I thought this is good, so I saved up and brought a proper outfit and a good PA system and it went from there. ”
Though he plays with backing tracks, his dream is to play with a band, although at 44 he admits that age is not on his side. The father of three, now a grandfather, has had offers from agents to play far and wide, but his wife is not too keen and he stays on the Suffolk circuit.
As we speak, he is gearing up for a gig in the Little Wellington in Stowmarket with more than 50 expected to pack the compact pub.
He admits he prefers the smaller gigs because of the atmosphere.
“I’ve done big gigs with more than 200 people,” he says, “but the smaller gigs I really enjoy because the sound and the feedback and the atmosphere is really good. And it makes you buzz and do a bit more.”
Andy prefers Elvis’s 70s Vegas era because of the “jumpsuits and the voice”. He has four outfits.
“The American eagle, powder blue, the red one and the black matador one. His voice in that era suits my voice. I do some of the younger stuff from the 50s and 60s to get the party going a bit, but what I enjoy doing is the 70s.
“My opinion is that people do the jumpsuit era for the effect. Even if you don’t have a very good voice you can look good in a jumpsuit and get away with it a little bit, but if you’ve got the voice, the jumpsuit, the look and the moves you’re nearly there. If you turned up with a jacket and trousers on you could be anybody. So for me, the jumpsuit, definitely.
“I won’t wear a wig though. I wore one once. I was booked for a wedding and it was my first paid public event. So I went on eBay and bought this wig to go with the same jokey suit I started with. I put it on and done my bit, went upstairs and looked in the mirror and thought ‘What the hell do I look like?’ Never wore it since. ”
His favourite Elvis song changes every time he sings. “At the moment my favourite is Help Me Make It Through the Night − a beautiful song, slow. Another song I love just now is Yesterday, by the Beatles. Elvis covered that and Hey Jude, but his take on it is different from the Beatles. The crowds love the favourites, Devil in Disguise, Suspicious Minds, The Wonder of You. Even if they are not fans they will know one song that they ask for.”
He thinks the King would be singing country music if he was still alive. “He did a bit of country and I think he would be doing that now,” he says. “He did lots of genres − Gospel, rock and roll, the ballads and country. I love his country music.
“He never lost his voice, unfortunately his health, but not his voice. The problem is that nobody said no to him, unfortunately.”
Working in the paints factory in Stowmarket, Andy found himself caught in a trap when he started getting gigs in care homes in the area, but a switch to the nightshift solved that, and now he enjoys seeing the old folks’ reactions when he appears in costume.
He enjoys what he does, singing music he loves to audiences who enjoy his act. Reactions have so far been positive.
“I’ve been to some gigs where blokes have been going ‘bloody Elvis, bloody Elvis’, but by the end of the night they’re dancing and they don’t want me to stop.”
Some of his female audience may have been wanting a little less conversation, though.
“I was singing a slow song once and a pair of thongs came up and hit me on the head. What can you do? I’ve been flashed – that was funny, at an Elvis night at the British Legion in Stowmarket. I think she might have had a bit too much to drink. I was on stage and I saw her coming straight towards me. I thought she was going to ask me to do a song or something, but she just . . . pulled her blouse open.”