Artist News

Elvis Costello to stop performing Oliver’s Army due to lyric controversy

By | Published on Wednesday 12 January 2022

Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello has said that he will no longer perform his song ‘Oliver’s Army’ live, due to controversy over use of the N-word in the song’s lyrics. He has also urged radio stations to stop playing the song at all, rather than playing a censored version.

Written about the Troubles in Ireland, and inspired by Costello seeing British troops patrolling Belfast, the musician says that criticism of the offending word in the song ignores the context of the full line in which it features – “Only takes one itchy trigger; one more widow, one less white nigger”.

“That’s what my grandfather was called in the British army – it’s historically a fact – but people hear that word go off like a bell and accuse me of something that I didn’t intend”, Costello tells the Telegraph. Although he admits, “If I wrote that song today, maybe I’d think twice about it”.

He has continued to play the song live on previous tours, while attempting to reference the controversy, but now says he will simply remove it from his performances entirely.

“On the last tour, I wrote a new verse about censorship”, he says. “But what’s the point of that? So I’ve decided I’m not going to play it”.

The BBC began censoring the song when it’s played on the radio back in 2013, but Costello says that this is not a satisfactory solution and he’d rather it weren’t played at all, saying: “They’re highlighting it [by censoring it]. Just don’t play the record!”