Elio Pace on his new Elvis show, returning to Hampshire and his big break
PUBLISHED: 11:04 03 July 2018 | UPDATED: 11:10 03 July 2018
Fuelled by his admiration for rock and roll icons, Elio Pace is not your usual tribute act
He may not have started the fire but he’s certainly keeping it burning. Classically trained singer/songwriter Elio Pace has achieved international acclaim with his Billy Joel Songbook Tour. Now he’s setting great balls of fire rolling in addition with a new Elvis show, due to descend on his home county of Hampshire next month.
The Eastleigh raised father of one is not your average tribute act however – don’t expect satin jumpsuits or rhinestones for starters. Instead there will just be Pace, his piano and a drummer, paying homage to the King in a way Elio explains couldn’t be further from what people might expect.
“The word tribute doesn’t mean imitation but that’s generally what everyone thinks of when it comes to music – an Elvis impersonator in a white suit or a Freddie Mercury act with a moustache,” points out Pace. “That’s not what I’m about so I don’t use the word tribute, although I am paying tribute to artists I admire who inspire me. My Elvis show strips things right back. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback, including from people who never considered themselves Elvis fans but say they now see his music differently.”
For Billy Joel devotees meanwhile, Pace presents Joel’s story charismatically, poignantly and often with humour. His admiration for a man he regards as “the most talented and diverse singer/songwriter of modern times,” shines through alongside his own immense talent. The first time people go and see him perform may be down to a love of Elvis or Joel. The second, third and fourth time is down to Elio.
Born to Italian parents, Elio’s father moved to the UK seeking a better life for his wife and future family. Elio and his two sisters grew up in Hampshire, first in Holbury where his father took a job at Fords, then onto Bishopstoke before finally settling in Eastleigh in 1979. His mother and father still live there in the same bungalow.
It was here that a young Elio first showed talent and his music teacher at Toynbee School was so impressed she paid a personal visit to his parents. Not only has Elio never forgotten Mary Grainger, the teacher in question, she was also an honoured guest at his recent 50th birthday party.
“Mary opened up the world of music to me,” Elio recalls. “She called round when I was about 12 and told Mum and Dad their son could be a professional musician and needed formal piano lessons. If she hadn’t done all she did, I may have missed my vocation.”
Instead, bar two brief summer jobs at the age of 16, one pushing supermarket trolleys and another meat packing in Chandlers Ford, Elio has made his living entirely through music.
His CV is impressive. From getting through to the finals of Bob Says Opportunity Knocks in 1988 to playing at Sandra Bullock’s 30th birthday where she joined him in a Grease medley, Elio has backed and performed with a host of famous names, Brian May, Gilbert O’Sullivan and Huey Lewis to name a few.
Yet he’d be the first to admit his might not exactly be considered an overnight success story. In the 90’s, when he first tried to get his idea for a showcase of Billy Joel hits off the ground, support was hard to come by.
“I cold called more than two hundred theatres across the UK to sell the idea and six responded. I ended up with my tail between my legs and had no choice but to leave it.”
That didn’t mean forgetting it. After being chosen as Musical Director and House Band leader for Terry Wogan’s live radio 2 show in 2009, Elio hoped the exposure might mean it was worth another shot. Again (with a few exceptions he remains appreciative of to this day,) no one was biting.
What changed everything was either a remarkable stroke of luck or pure poetic karma. Out of the blue, Elio was contacted via Facebook by Billy Joel’s former bass player Larry Russell. He was organising a reunion for Joel’s original band in New York. Billy himself wasn’t interested in taking part. Elio comments that, for all his emotive song lyrics the great man himself is not known for being a nostalgia lover. Instead Elio was promptly offered the gig.
Not only was it “a great honour,” (with word filtering back from a highly reputable source close to Joel that he’d both approved of and commented very favourably on Elio’s performance) but previously closed doors suddenly opened.
Theatres took a different view when approached by someone who could lay claim to performing with Joel’s original line up. Finally, in 2013, no less than 30 years after first coming up with the idea, Elio’s show was on the road.
Given the success it has enjoyed to date, there was no similar delay gaining interest in his Elvis tour.
Originally intended as a one-off gig to mark the 40th Anniversary of the King’s death last August, Elio found himself in the enviable position of having theatres contacting him, keen to book a similar performance.
His publicist describes Elio as “one of the humblest men you could meet.” He also comes across as genuine and instantly likeable – the kind of person who leaves you feeling better about the world.
Life hasn’t been entirely without ups and downs on a personal level. His eight-year-old daughter Marcella was born with rare and life-threatening heart abnormalities, undergoing major surgery when she was days old. She still has health issues and another operation will be needed in her teens, but she shares Elio’s passion for music. As he whips out his phone to show off a video of her singing alongside him on the piano, their bond is clear.
“When my second marriage ended in 2011 I decided my life would be like a pie, divided between only two things – Marcella and work,” he explains. “I stuck with that idea for a long time.”
The person who made him think again was Amy Rhiannon Worth, a talented (and stunning) actress and singer. They’ve now been together for four years after meeting onboard Cunard’s Queen Victoria cruise liner.
“Amy is wonderful, gorgeous and warm and if that wasn’t enough she also has some Italian heritage - my pie theory crumbled!” Elio admits, grinning.
After so much hard graft initially to get theatres onboard, they now can’t get enough of Elio and alongside his Elvis and existing Songbook tour he’s introduced a third. This new Billy Joel’s Albums Tour featuring songs from An Innocent Man and Glass Houses also boasts a special guest - Billy Joel’s own lead guitarist David Brown who played on both those albums.
Elio barely hesitates when asked if there is anything he is still striving for that ultimately represents success.
“For a while now I’ve reached the point where I wake up in the morning and know everything I will do that day is something I want to do and have chosen to do. For me, that is success.”
See him live
Elio Pace Presents Elvis Presley comes to The Lights Theatre in Andover on July 20 2018. The Billy Joel Songbook tour will be at The Haymarket in Basingstoke on September 15 2018 and The Medina, Isle of Wight on October 26 2018. For details of these and the Billy Joel Albums tour, visit eliopace.com.
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