Belfast Telegraph

Belfast showband star Colm recalls day he offered a besotted Elvis singing lessons

Singer Colm Wilkinson
Singer Colm Wilkinson
Elvis Presley
Elvis and Priscilla
Colm and wife Deirdre
Dublin-born showband singer and actor Colm Wilkinson
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

West End and Broadway musical theatre star Colm Wilkinson, who used to be the frontman of a Belfast showband, has revealed that he once offered Elvis Presley singing lessons during a tour of the Bahamas with his former colleagues.

And the 74-year-old Dubliner said he only made the offer because he was so embarrassed by the King's compliments about his performance with the showband.

Wilkinson, who's now one of the top musical theatre stars in the world, having earned rave reviews for his roles in Les Miserable and Phantom Of The Opera, joined The Witnesses showband in 1968 and stayed for two years as lead singer.

The following year he was with them on a transatlantic tour that took in New York, Puerto Rico and Nassau, where they were the resident group in a five-star-hotel called the Paradise Island.

During their stint there Elvis's wife Priscilla took in a number of their shows in the hotel lounge and persuaded her husband to join her in the audience.

Wilkinson told a weekend RTE interview: "She said: 'I've got to get Elvis down to hear you guys'. And eventually she got him down and it was great fun.

"I sang I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen, a song Elvis later recorded on one of his albums."

Wilkinson said he was more into soul and blues singers like Wilson Pickett, Jackie Wilson and Ray Charles rather than Elvis who, he added, "wasn't that important to me" even though he knew he was a rock and roll icon who had just finished a series of live shows in Las Vegas.

Wilkinson said he didn't hang around to meet Elvis after the Nassau show.

"I wasn't being dismissive. I was going off somewhere with one of my mates," he added.

However, Wilkinson said the next day he returned to the hotel lounge where Elvis was sitting with the 'Memphis mafia', the nickname he gave to the group of friends and associates who always surrounded him.

"He saw me and he came over to me. He said he loved my singing. He was going on and on and it got a bit embarrassing after a while," he recalled.

"So I said to him - being a real Dublin gurrier - I swear to God I said to him I was giving singing lessons up in my room." The King didn't take Wilkinson up on his offer, but an in-depth Presley website devotes a substantial section to the encounter between The Witnesses and Elvis who, it says, was introduced to the audience at the Paradise Island by bandleader Harry 'Trixie' Hamilton.

The website says Elvis bought drinks for the band and joined them onstage but didn't sing.

The website even traces the history of The Witnesses, saying they started after six musicians left Dave Glover's showband to form their own outfit.

Wilkinson, who now lives in Toronto, has been hailed as the best ever singer to play the role of the tragic hero Jean Valjean in the long-running musical Les Miserables.

In 2012 Wilkinson was cast as the bishop in the movie version of Les Mis, with the part of Valjean being played by Hollywood star Hugh Jackman.

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