SINGER SAL BASHIR ON HIS LIFELONG TRIBUTE TO THE ROCK N ROLL KING
by ASJAD NAZIR
On August 16, fans around the world will mark the death anniversary of Elvis Presley, who passed away on this date in 1977 aged just 42.
The late great singer’s impact can be seen through an impressive musical legacy and fans who keep his memory alive.
One of the most dedicated of these fans is talented singer Sal Bashir, who regularly recreates the magic of Elvis through his popular tribute act that has been delighting audiences for 21 years.
Eastern Eye caught up with the popular tribute act known as Sal Like Elvis to talk about his amazing journey and legacy of the late kind of rock n roll.
Tell us about your first performance as Elvis?
Railway Tavern, Forest Gate, East London in 1998. I was scared to death as it was a pub and not frequented by people of my culture back then. I sang non-stop for hours just to get through the time as speaking was not an option due to my nerves. (Laughs) I learned much later how to articulate and be understood. These days I feel much more at ease. The landlady asked if I’d done this before, I lied and said I had been performing venues for over five years.
How do you look back on your Elvis journey?
I grew up listening to Elvis as a child. I can recall, at around three years old, a record of his being played on an old radiogram my dad had. I was born in Canning Town East London and there was a pub opposite our home, which had live bands and a jukebox that blared music from Elvis and rock n roll. It has been in my blood ever since. I love it, breath it and never tire of it.
What has been the most memorable moment of your musical journey?
Oh, wow! Now that’s a tough question. Too many moments, but winning an Edinburgh Fringe Award on my first attempt in 2008 and performing for the British Forces overseas. I was the only Elvis tribute to have performed at both The London 2012 Olympics and Rugby World Cup 2015. I appeared in British feature film Punkstrut – The Movie and sang to millions on Test The Nation on BBC TV.
Tell us, how much does performing live mean to you?
Performing is in my blood and releases a feel good factor within me. It provides an escape from the reality and in many ways, solutions to most of the stresses in life. It makes me smile, feel emotional and continues to do so with each performance. The most memorable performance was singing to over six million on BBC’s Test The Nation. The thrill of singing live on TV was nerve-wracking, but gave this East End boy a chance to shine.
Which Elvis Presley song is your favourite to perform?
I can’t say a particular one, but my favourite rock n roll tune of all time is A Big Hunk Of Love, which has it all; a piano break, guitar solo by the awesome Hank Garland, and biting vocals from king Elvis. Lightening captured in a bottle for sure. I love Its Now Or Never, proving Elvis had indeed a unique ballad voice and showed his beautiful vibrato.
Which Elvis song do you think doesn’t get the credit it deserves?
Tomorrow Is A Long Time written by Bob Dylan. Elvis’ take on it is sublime. Also a song called Suppose, which I’m sure was an inspiration to John Lennon’s huge hit Imagine. The Beatles (as great as they were) did ‘steal’ little ideas-riffs and tweaked and copied stuff to make it their own. But hey, rock n roll is full of that anyway. It’s like the Olympic torch, it gets handed down.
Which of Elvis’ songs are the most timeless?
Suspicious Minds, which was an enormous hit for Elvis in 1969. In many ways life, like fashion, repeats itself. So the lyrics are relevant in many of Elvis’ songs like In The Ghetto, The Wonder Of You, Burning Love and Always On My Mind. In one form or another, they still reach out to the listener and relate to a situation they may be experiencing. Songs like Viva Las Vegas, Return To Sender and Hound Dog are timeless because they too resonate a ‘feel-good’ factor to this day. Once these songs strike up, watch that dance floor fill up.
If you could meet Elvis and ask him any question, what would it be?
Why didn’t he come to England to do a tour? Everyone else had, so the venues were there and if he knew The Colonel’s (his manager) secret that he (The Colonel) was an illegal immigrant in the USA, why didn’t he use Jerry Weintraub who organised Elvis’ Madison Square Garden shows? Jerry was well known and a very good manager, so his credentials were every bit as good as The Colonel’s.
What do you think was his greatest achievement?
I guess the 1968 TV Special, (for me). His looks, voice, suits, and sheer brilliance of coming back to show the new bands such as the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Dave Clark Five and so on who was the real king. How he took to the stage and sang his heart out. Pure class and talent.
Tell us a fun fact about Elvis Presley not many people know?
Elvis pulling up at a gas station in June 1977 and seeing a fight break out. He jumped out of his car and flashed his police badge, much to the amazement of the two fellas fighting. That must have been a surreal situation.
Do you get to meet the other Elvis tribute acts?
I have a few close Elvis tribute artist friends in the business and we have a lot of fun, and enjoy just being ourselves offstage.
What is your greatest unfulfilled ambition?
I’d love to score a hit in the charts and maybe appear on a documentary about my life so far and how I got into the business. But the real ambition is to have a feature film on my life story based upon my own experiences as a rock n roll tribute. Coming from a Pakistani Muslim family it’s highly unusual for someone of my background to have done what I have achieved so far and things I’ve seen and done. The barriers, fights, racism, highs and lows. Also, the support and acceptance from my culture in doing so. Follow that dream as Elvis once said, so who knows.
Which other music legends do you admire apart from Elvis?
Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, The Beatles and Dean Martin. So many to name, but I really am into my 1950s and 1960s music.
Today, what inspires you?