Elvis and the Cathedral

The following interesting story was written by CovSoc member Martin Williams, the Chairman of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral and was published in his monthly e-newsletter. It is re-published here with his kind permission.

Elvis Presley died on the 16th August 1977.  Three days later the chairman of the Elvis Presley Fan Club in Coventry, Ron West, telephoned the Cathedral offices with a request.

  “I am a bus driver by trade, but I am speaking on behalf of the local Elvis Presley fans. He died the other day. We want to hold a service in his memory tonight, and I am asking if the Cathedral can help us.”

 The call was put through to Canon Joseph Poole, who later wrote that two thoughts flashed into his mind as he listened. “What an honour for the Cathedral to be invited by these people to help them”; and “Of course, we must help them if we can.”

Ron explained that the service was to be held in The Climax Inn, a Coventry city centre pub, at 9.15pm that night. Canon Poole agreed to meet him there.

Dressed in his distinctive grey Coventry Cathedral cassock and wearing his black coat and hat, Canon Poole arrived promptly trailing members of the Cathedral youth club behind him. The Climax was packed. The Chairman was behind the bar pulling pints but as soon as introductions were over he thrust forward a microphone in the direction of his visitor, banged loudly on the bar and shouted – ”Silence, please, we’re going to have a service.”

Canon Poole spoke over the microphone of the ways in which the music of Elvis had helped many young people to conquer the hell of loneliness which weighed just as heavily with the young then as it does today.  “Elvis banished this loneliness.   Their admiration of him, and their affection for him, bound them together, millions of them all over the world, into a company of people who no longer felt alone.”

He read from the “Last Poems” of A E Housman – “The rain, it streams on stone and hillock…”

That was followed by Psalm 130 – “Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord…”

And before the blessing a simple prayer – “Grant, O Lord God, that the soul of thy servant ELVIS who at thy bidding has left this world, may rest in thy peace and protection, and reign in thy kingdom in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” 

Canon Poole recalled – “When I had finished speaking, there was silence still, a silence which lasted for some time.  Then a very strange thing happened. There was a sharp outburst of clapping, as sharp as rifle fire. Never before, in all my life, had I heard Divine Service applauded.”

A reporter from The Coventry Evening Telegraph was present and wrote:

“Weeping Elvis Presley fans packed a Coventry city centre pub to pay a touching farewell to their idol, who died on August 16. Hundreds were turned away from The Climax pub in The Arcade, as teddy boys and rock’n’roll fans mourned the death of the star.

  “An evening of non-stop Presley music was halted for a ten-minute service, given by Canon Joseph Poole, the Precentor.

 “It was a stupendous evening,” said Ron West, president of the Bootlace Club who organised the evening.   “During the service there was weeping everywhere and afterwards the emotion was so great that there was a spontaneous minute’s silence.”

Martin writes… I am telling this story not only because I am a fan of early rock and roll, but because the service is mentioned in a recently published book – Cymbals and Dances. Canon Joseph Poole, our former Precentor, is the author, and his work is published for the first time in 2022 through the efforts of his family and friends.

Joseph Poole was described by Provost Bill Williams as “the greatest liturgist in the Church of England this century.” He devised experimental services for Coventry Cathedral that introduced into worship many actions in services that we take for granted today. He believed in the importance of involving laity in worship, so during the Communion around the high altar lay representatives stood alongside the celebrant. 

The Peace was first tried in Coventry Cathedral as an experiment; we now take it as read. “In so many ways, Joseph’s extraordinary liturgical imagination prefigures much of the liturgical developments within the Church of England in recent years, and for this, and for much else, we here in Coventry feel rightly proud, as well as deeply thankful.” (Canon Adrian Daffern, Precentor 2003-2010)

The new book explains what church liturgy means and explores ways in which the church’s historic and traditional prayers can be adapted to modern language use and can achieve even greater impact today.   The book includes examples and anecdotes.

Cymbals and Dances costs £22 and copies are available at the Cathedral sales desk or they can be ordered direct from the Poole family at – cymbalsanddances@gmail.com.

Canon Poole photo guide (left to right): Canon Poole conducted the first baptism to use the Bethlehem font. He is seen relaxing on the Cathedral Choir’s visit to Ottobeuren, and also speaking with a member of the Cathedral Choir that he founded. The photographer caught both Canon Poole and his wife, Judith, at a social gathering in St Mary’s Hall.

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