Interview with Peter Phillips – Producer of the Porthcawl Elvis Festival

THE KING IS ALIVE and he’s coming to St David’s Hall for one night only on Saturday 13 January as Classic Elvis summons the spirit of both Memphis and Las Vegas!

If you’re a fan of Elvis Presley or classical music, you’ll love this spectacular show with awe-inspiring arrangements of all the huge hits performed by two top Elvis Tribute Artists, Europe’s top Elvis showband, a Male Voice Choir and Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra.

Not only does this concert offer unique interpretations of The King’s legendary music, but it is also the biggest Elvis tribute show ever staged in the world! The full 80-piece Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra joins forces with the 30-voice Maesteg Gleeman Male Voice Choir and the Graceland Band to produce a stunning sound led by world-renowned Elvis tributes Michael Glaysher and Gordon Davis.

There’s also a perfect pre-concert performance on the piano from top tribute Juan Lozano in the L3 Lounge from 6.45pm (who later joins the live backing band), and it’s free of charge! Plus, for this special one-off performance, CPO will be under the baton of acclaimed Conductor, John Quirk.

Neil Collins chats to Peter Phillips – the producer of the Elvis Porthcawl Festival – who is the mastermind behind this remarkable concert.

With the sheer amount of tribute shows throughout the world, it must fill you with an incredible sense of pride and excitement to be hosting the biggest Elvis tribute show ever. What sets this concert apart from all the rest?

There are many amazing Elvis tribute shows out there, but the difference about this concert is that is backed by a full philharmonic orchestra. That’s never been done before!

As the main organiser of the Porthcawl Elvis Festival for 14 years, has it long been an ambition of yours to host a concert with a full orchestra?

Yes. Charles Stone – who was Elvis’ tour producer and has been a guest at the Porthcawl Elvis Festival several times – told me that Elvis and his team were working on a full orchestrated event when he died. Given the quality of the leading Elvis tribute artists we regularly work with, I wanted to make a version of that show happen.

Classic Elvis

Tell us a bit about the structure of the concert. Apparently, the show is split into three parts, which span the whole of Elvis’ career from the early Sun Studio days and into the movie years before an epic finale in Las Vegas!

The first set isn’t actually using the orchestra. I’ve added a separate project we’ve been working on. It’s Michael Glaysher, who specialises in singing early Elvis songs, performing an authentic selection of the tracks that Elvis made at Sun Studios using just a guitarist and slap bass player.

Then we move into a set of Elvis movie songs with some fantastic orchestrated string arrangements. The show then goes up another gear in the second half with the full Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra backing Gordon Davis performing a classic Elvis in Vegas set. Plus, there’s a surprise ending that you have just to see!

The concert features performances from world-renowned Elvis tributes Gordon Davis and Michael Glaysher. It was quite a coup to get them both onboard. Have you worked with them before?

One of the things the Porthcawl Elvis Festival is very proud over the years is discovering new talent. The role of honour from The Best Festival Elvis competition contains many tribute artists that have gone on to be amongst the world’s best. Gordon Davis won the competition in 2009, and Michael was the winner in 2015.

Also featured is another top tribute, Juan Lozano, who will perform a pre-concert show in the L3 Lounge. Tell us a bit about that, and also the Graceland Band.

Juan has been one of the pioneers of the Elvis scene. He helped form the Graceland Band in Merthyr around the time we were putting together the Porthcawl Elvis Festival, and he remains their Musical Director. Most people in the business will agree that they are the finest Elvis showband around.

How did the collaboration with Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra come about? Apparently, John Quirk – CPO’s guest Conductor for the night – has come up with some breathtaking arrangements of Elvis’ biggest hits?

It was perfect alchemy! I wanted to keep the project in Wales and the obvious orchestra to contact was the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra. I’d seen their fabulous movie songs concert. It turned out a lot of them are big Elvis fans, so the project was off the ground.

The next challenge was to find someone to create the arrangements. I knew John Quirk is top of that particular tree, and luckily he turned out to be a big Elvis fan as well!

John Quirk

John Quirk

Elvis fans flock to the Porthcawl Festival in their droves every year, and it’s now the biggest festival of its kind in the world. Given its affiliation with the festival, this concert has a guarantee of the highest quality. In fact, CPO performed a ‘trial run’ with a 20-piece ensemble of brass and woodwind at Porthcawl’ s Grand Pavilion last September. If that was well received on such a small scale, this concert at St David’s Hall promises to be astonishing, doesn’t it?

Over 35,000 people now attend the Porthcawl Elvis Festival. Wales should be very proud that more Elvis fans come to Porthcawl in late September to celebrate Elvis than go to Memphis for Elvis week!
We used last year’s event to preview this show but could only get a scaled down version of the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra onto the stage of the Grand Pavilion. Nevertheless, they blew the roof off. Many die-hard fans came up to me afterwards and said it was the best Elvis show they had ever seen. I told them just think what it will be like with the full 80-piece orchestra!

Classic Elvis has garnered a lot of media interest already and is set to be the focus of a forthcoming BBC Network documentary. What can you tell us about that?

The BBC wanted to make a documentary about some of the tangential parts of the Festival, including the work we do with care homes and dementia patients. They also filmed us putting this project together.

A date has already been pencilled in for the next Classic Elvis concert at St David’s Hall on Saturday 19 January 2019. Is the aim to make this an annual event, and have you got anything in mind for next year’s show yet?

Yes, the plan is to make this an annual part of Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra’s programme at St David’s Hall using different Elvis tribute artists each year.

The Show takes place on the 13th January at St David’s Hall in Cardiff, to book your seats, please visit or call the Box Office on 029 2087 8444.