During a recent conversation with Jimmy Tarbuck, the 80-year-old Liverpudlian comedian who rose to fame amidst Beatlemania and the Merseysound hysteria of the early 1960s, he started reflecting on musical highspots from over his many decades as an entertainer.

Tarbuck is in no doubt about what he describes as “the most exciting encounter of his life”. As he recollects, “It was back in the late 1960s, over half a century ago. I was a great friend then of Tom Jones - I still am....we are both 80 years old now - and I was visiting Tom who was the top attraction at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Back then, Tom was without doubt the most famous British singer in the world...America was crazy for him."

“Suddenly Tom said to me, 'Come with me, I've got a thrill for you.' He had a sparkle in his eye and was clearly excited so I knew what he was planning must be pretty special. We climbed into his limo which took us over the road to the hotel just opposite, the International Hotel...nobody walks anywhere in Vegas! A billboard outside the International simply said, 'He Is Here'. That was all. Tom and I walked into the lobby (he was so famous it was like walking with the Good Lord himself!) and suddenly we are in Elvis Presley's dressing room! I have to confess I was completely overwhelmed. I stared at Elvis, completely stunned. One of Elvis's assistants said to me, 'Sir, will you pass this drink to Elvis?' and I just said, 'Yeah,' took the drink and stood there gaping, like a starstruck schoolgirl. Tom nudged me hard and said, 'Give 'im the drink for God's sake, boyo' and I did. But I was completely awestruck."

“The next night I was with Tom again when Elvis turned up in Tom's dressing room. They were already good mates, having met in Hawaii. I was in heaven. Here I was, a mere stand-up comic from Liverpool, with Elvis – again! I couldn't believe it! But this time, after a few minutes, I found my tongue...as a good scouser I'm never speechless for long! I asked Elvis why he'd never played in England. He was charming and said, 'Well, I guess I never had the opportunity.' I told him he could easily fill Wembley Stadium (this was a time before bands ever played Wembley regularly and he'd never heard of it). When I said it could maybe hold 100,000 people, Elvis laughed and said, 'What? I could never get an audience as big as that' and it was clear he had no idea how much the British loved him. I told him I knew lots of English people who had flown to Las Vegas just to see him but he seemed surprised, disbelieving. He did say he'd have a word with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, about what I'd said – but of course it never happened, sadly. He never came to the UK."

“That night, Elvis walked on stage in the middle of Tom Jones's act and the place just erupted. It wasn't planned. The two of them roared with laughter and did a number together. Then, the next night, Tom walked on to Elvis's stage and, again, the audience couldn't believe their luck. The two of them were just so good together! Two brilliant live performers."

“Actually, Elvis always said that it was seeing Tom Jones live that got him into touring again after a long time just making movies and records. He saw the excitement Tom generated on stage and wanted to do the same - which he was more than capable of."

“There is always an electric buzz before Tom Jones steps out on stage, it makes everyone's hair stand on end...sensational! Suddenly he'll walk out of the darkness and his presence is just so powerful. He, like Elvis, has to be one of the most amazing live performers I've ever seen anywhere. Of course Tom was singing with rock bands in clubs down in South Wales before he hit the big time and that background gives anyone excellent experience. There's no substitute for it, really, but having said that, Tom is very much a one-off, an exception. He is simply stupendous, especially live!”

Having heard Jimmy Tarbuck's account, I found myself reflecting that, over the years, I have also seen Tom Jones perform live in a variety of settings. And I must agree with Tarbuck, his performances are always exceptional and hugely powerful. I didn't always care for some of the middle-of-the-road material Tom recorded in his later years but sometimes, in his live act, he would still throw in a real old-style rock number – and then he was superb. No wonder he is so revered right across the music industry...there's always good reason when that happens!

I am also fortunate to have seen Elvis perform live – just once. I was working in Los Angeles in 1976 when, on a visit to Lake Tahoe on the border of California and Nevada, the small group of us who were travelling together, spotted the sign, “Elvis Here, Now” at the Sahara Hotel and Casino. At that point many regarded Elvis as a bit of a “has-been” - hard to imagine this now, but it's true - and it quickly emerged there were a few seats for Elvis's show still available at $20. Not everyone in the group I was with was enthusiastic – several were far keener to see The Platters who were also performing in Tahoe, but eventually it was agreed we'd give Elvis a go.

When he appeared (I don't recall any opening act), he looked bloated, ridiculously flashily dressed and a bit dazed - almost a parody of himself. But from the first note he sang, he was sensational. So much power, such energy in the performance and a real connection with his audience. I recall 'American Trilogy', 'C.C. Rider', 'Heartbreak Hotel', 'Wooden Heart' and several slow ballads. The supporting band and singers were superb. Occasionally Elvis would forget a lyric or even physically stumble a little - but he never lost his total control of the room. His presence was overwhelming and this was definitely a performance you just knew the audience would never forget. Certainly, more than four decades on, everyone I was with that evening still cherishes their brief time with Elvis!

A year or so later Elvis was dead - and from there he assumed his current legendary status as probably the ultimate rock god. However, just as Jimmy Tarbuck recalls, there was definitely something very special about Elvis on stage! And I can fully appreciate Tarbuck's thrill, even now, at once having actually met “The King”.









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