Often recognised in the street as his Elvis persona Pete Memphis, exciting new opportunities are offering, as they always seem to have done, in Peter Brain’s life.
Pete grew up at Granville in Sydney, which made national headlines in 1977 as the site of the fatal train crash. He had crossed the bridge that collapsed over the line just 10 minutes before the disaster.
Pete’s upbringing was in a solid working-class family. At primary school, he was adept not only at maths but also possessed what his choir teacher described as a “soaring angelic voice”.
In later years, Pete discovered that the school principal had recommended to his parents that they arrange special tuition to prepare him to carve out a career in singing. Not mentioning it to their talented son, they turned the opportunity down. They wanted a more traditional pathway into a suburban job for him.
As Pete progressed to high school, his voice broke, and the singing stopped. His interest in music turned not to Elvis but to heavy rock bands.
With a mind for figures, Pete entered the insurance industry then banking, which led to him meeting his wife in a Mt Druitt branch of the Advanced Bank when he was a relieving manager. They shared an interest in dancing which continues today at rock and roll pace.
“We’ve been together since 1982, and I mean really together, because after leaving banking we set up a finance broking business working out of home in 1989,” he says. “This had its moments, particularly when two of our clients were murdered.”
The lively couple’s passion for dancing led to winning 14 national rock and roll dance titles. They still run a weekly three-hour dance on the Gold Coast called “Coast to Coast Rock n Roll”.
It was dancing that led to the Elvis opportunity unexpectedly turning up 18 years ago.
Lyn and Pete organised a karaoke night for their rock and roll club with guests dressing for the part.
“I learned three Buddy Holly songs for my performance,” Pete recalls. “While the audience loved it, they wanted more, and I had no more Buddy songs, so I sang the only Elvis song I knew. From there my life as Elvis took off.”
It all became a bit of a whirl as amateur nights dressing in a cheap Elvis outfit from a party hire store developed into a life singing both Buddy Holly and Elvis songs took off.
“We put together better costuming and I first became professional when performing as solely Elvis ironically for a bank conference on Hamilton Island resort,” Pete says.
It was an unexpected and treasured bonus when he won a tour to Elvis’s home Graceland in a contest, but most of all he enjoyed meeting people along the way who had worked with Elvis.
Dining in Memphis with Elvis’s stepbrother, Billy Stanley, was a privilege and an absorbing insight into Elvis and his family.
Pete has had his own touch with his idol’s story, performing in the Elvis movie as a newspaper reporter.
When their two children left home, Pete and Lyn, were able to pick up parts in movies and commercials, and Pete graduated from an intensive acting course.
Pete uses his Seniors Card to enjoy life but is always squeezing in a little more – he rehearses in the shower.
In preparation for a performance, he will concentrate on fitness and diet, especially 24 hours before a show when he eliminates chocolate, ice cream, milk and especially coffee, which has a drying effect on the voice box.
And he has had some intriguing gigs – Bindi Irwin’s 13th birthday party at Australia Zoo, luxury cruise ships and supporting legends of Australian music such as opening for Brian Cadd.
Pete has no script and still gets stage fright. Fortunately, he has Lyn by his side as his manager, but before he goes on stage, Pete Memphis gets into the zone by talking quietly reassuring himself.
With the popularity of the Elvis movie triggering more demand, Pete and Lyn have had to pass on some requests to other Elvis impersonators, but the opportunities they love to devote much of their energy to are performances for people with disabilities and seniors.
When I met Pete and Lyn, the crowd was singing along and some exuberant seniors got up and danced to their own choreography of Pete Memphis’s dynamic Elvis who is clearly aging extra well.
Garry Reynolds is an author who, as part of his rehabilitation after three strokes, has set out to capture life stories within the seniors’ community.