Why Northern Ireland Elvis tribute act Jim Brown refused support slot with Robbie Williams
The Big Ask
Ahead of the 42nd anniversary of Elvis Presley's death on Friday, Rachel Dean talks to Elvis impersonator Jim Brown (51). He lives in Newtownabbey with his wife Anne-Marie and they have five grown-up children, Denise (31), James (28), Megan (26), Patrick (25) and Robert (24), and four grandchildren.
Q: Tell us about your childhood
A: I come from a working class background. My father Denis was a labourer and my mother Marie was a stay-at-home mum.
I have four sisters, Jean, Carol, Bernadette and Denise. I'm the baby of the family, so I was maybe spoiled a wee bit, as you can imagine.
I have to say, growing up in a house full of women was mental, but I learned a lot. They are much more intelligent than men. Sadly, my sister Denise, who we named my first daughter after, passed away in June last year. She was an entertainer too, way before I got into singing. She performed on the cabaret circuits and was a great dancer.
People think I got into entertainment because of Denise, but it was actually a total accident.
When I was about six or seven years of age, I fell in love with Elvis. I watched him on TV and he blew me away.
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My Elvis act started because of a prank. It was a prank to get up and sing with the band in a working men's club in Belfast.
My wife and aunt were playing a joke and even though I was refusing at the start, they pushed me to go up and sing. I was terrified, but it went over so well that the entertainment manager wanted me to perform every Saturday night.
That's how I got into singing - it's bizarre how your life turns out sometimes. I was about 28 years old and I had never sung in public because I had no desire as a young man to do so. I got married young and we had five babies throughout my 20s. I worked in the post office and had no desire to be a part of the music business. It all just happened by chance.
Q: What are you most proud of?
A: My wife will tell you that although I've worked alongside the likes of Robbie Williams, Will Smith, Stereophonics and other big names, I've always said that the best thing I did in my life was have my five kids. I'm proud of all of them.
Q: The one regret you wish you could amend?
A: Turning Robbie Williams down on doing a six-week support tour for him. I refused because for almost nine months I had toured extensively across Europe and America. I was only getting home a few days here and there to see the wife and kids.
He asked me on our second encounter - we first met on Chris Evans' show TFI Friday. We ran into each other at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas and we went to each other's shows.
After, we went to his hotel, got drunk and he popped the question, but at that point, I needed to spend time with my family. I missed them so much and I knew they missed me. I actually had a breakdown when I got home and ended up in bed for a month. I couldn't believe what was happening to me. I was getting in with the big leagues in the music industry and I was touring all over the world - it all got a bit overwhelming.
I didn't even see anything that special about what I did - it was a covers album I had made. The only thing was, people liked hearing Elvis singing Nirvana or AC/DC songs. Walking into a venue and being on the bill with huge names like that, I was scratching my head, saying, 'How the hell did I get here?' It was a bizarre, but exciting - and sometimes frightening - time.
By nature, I am a quiet, reserved and introverted personality, but when I hit the stage, it's like an alter ego takes over me. Getting up in front of people and singing is petrifying and I still get nervous after all these years doing it.
But, there's an excitement with it. Being 'the King', being Elvis, it's like you're able to hide behind it. Most musicians will tell you the same thing, like guitarists hide behind their guitar and create an onstage persona. I channel my Elvis energy and it gets me through the nerves.
Q: Do you have any phobias?
A: The biggest fear I have isn't death, but it's leaving my wife and kids behind and not being able to be here to protect them. That's a thought that I've had many times and it's really frightened me.
Q: The temptation that you cannot resist?
A: It's got to be Elvis. I can't play music without just putting his song on.
I always say, 'Elvis wasn't just a star, he was the whole galaxy'.
He was The King, the first global superstar. I think that's what makes him stand out and explains how he has gone from strength to strength, even 42 years after he died. He was the overall package. I'm heterosexual, but Elvis is the most handsome man I've ever seen - flip, if I looked like that, I would have made millions by now!
Q: Your number one prized possession?
A: I would say my family, but I know you don't own your family. Other than that, I would say my salvation.
I have about seven or eight Elvis suits and my favourite out of them would be the Aloha jumpsuit. They are all made by B&K Enterprises in the States, the same company that made Elvis Presley's costumes. They are worth a lot of money - if you went on their website, you'd be shocked.
Q: The book that has most impacted your life?
A: The Bible. I try to take it as a guide book - I take heed from it and I strive to live a better life. You know, nobody's perfect and I don't judge people, and there have been times that I've got solace and wisdom from it.
I also read a good book the other year called Judgment of the Nephilim. Then there's Zecharia Sitchin's The 12th Planet. That's another good one, I could go on and on...
I'm quite into reading usually, but this last year or so hasn't been good. I lost my sister Denise, an aunt and six close friends all in the space of nine months. I was actually supposed to have an album out last year, but I didn't get around to achieving that because it was bump after bump, you know, every few weeks somebody I grew up with had passed away. I haven't really read anything in the past year and a half because I've been grieving.
Q: If you had the power or the authority, what would you do?
A: I would rid the world of evil.
Q: What makes your blood boil every time without fail?
A: Politicians, specifically those who are getting paid for doing little to no work. They create the problems we have in the world.
Q: Who has most influenced you in life?
A: My parents. They raised me through the terrible history of this country and they always taught me to respect other people, no matter their religion, race or creed.
My father unfortunately died in 1987 when I was only 19 and my mother will be 80 years old this year.
Q: Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?
A: Elvis, obviously. I would love to have dinner with The King. I've been to Graceland about eight times, which is the closest you can get to Elvis, really. I was shocked the first time I saw it because it wasn't as big as I originally thought it was. It's never disappointing though, no matter how many times you go - and I will go again soon.
I would also invite Robert De Niro for dinner, because I'm a big fan of his and I'd like to meet him.
Then, I'd ask Muhammad Ali, because I loved watching him fight when I was a kid in the 70s. He was so charismatic and funny.
Q: What was the best piece of advice you have ever received?
A: Always be true to yourself. The Elvis gig is an act. I don't suffer fools gladly, trick people or be false in any way. I just be myself and if someone doesn't like me, that's their problem.
Q: The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?
A I like to visit different places and experience their culture and food. I love America and I try to go as often as I can. In fact, I've been going since I was 11 years old. I first went to the States with one of those Northern Irish projects that gets kids away from the Troubles. I'm still in contact with the family I stayed with in Minneapolis and we try to go there every year.
I suppose you could say the singing started off as an unlikely interest. I didn't even know I could sing, even though my sister Denise always told me I could.
It was petrifying, but there was an excitement there, because I saw the smiles I was putting on people's faces. It gave me that wee buzz to go back and do it again. Then, the next thing I knew it I was on TV and I had a record deal.
Q: The poem that touches your heart?
A: I was into poetry many years ago, but not so much now.
Elvis Presley's If I Can Dream has touching lyrics. It was written by W Earl Brown in 1968 for Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy.
Q: The happiest moment of your life?
A: The joy that comes when you have your first child is something else. When Denise was born and I held her, I automatically wanted to protect this little thing in my arms and care for her.
Q: And the saddest moment of your life?
A: When my father passed away in 1987. He died in the early hours of Boxing Day and Christmas has never been the same ever since. He had cancer for about two or three years and it was hard to watch at such a young age.
Then, my sister passed away last year from breast cancer. She lived 13 and half years after her diagnosis which is a long time as some women will only live five to 10 years.
She fought hard and spent those final years with her children.
Q: The one event that made a difference in your life?
A: Getting married. We were quite young and it was a big commitment that brought a lot of change.
We're coming up to our 30th anniversary on September 2, so it must mean I'm doing something right! I'd like to say, for Anne-Marie reading this, here's to the next 30 years.
Q: What's the one ambition that keeps driving you onwards?
A: I love doing what I do. I worked for the Post Office for 15 years before I ended up in entertainment, so I know what it's like to go to that daily grind and put the hours in. Being able to go out and entertain on stage, and know you are making people happy through your music, it's a great feeling, as cheesy as it sounds. It's a great achievement to have a job that you love to do, so I just want to do it for as long as possible. I'm just taking care of business.
Q: What's the philosophy you live by?
A: To take each day as it comes. Try to not worry too much about the future and don't let the past ruin your future.
Q: How do you want to be remembered?
A: As a good husband, dad and grandfather - and singer.
- Jim Brown is headlining Trib Fest Country, supported by Irwin's Nutty Krust, at The Slieve Donard Hotel on Saturday, August 24. Other artists on the bill include the UK's leading tribute acts to Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, Neil Diamond, Kenny Rogers, Johnny Cash, Nashville Nights, a country disco and bingo hosted by Downtown Radio's Big T. Tickets available from www.ticketsource.co.uk and from Smyths in Newcastle