Sparkling red, a tiny blonde bombshell hits the stage and belts it out. Accompanied by her Tyrolean hatted percussionist, channelling Hank Marvin guitarist and real Kiwi guy bassist (all four of whom are originally from regional New Zealand) Jan Preston’s Boogie Circus has come to Tauranga town.
They’re lined up on stage – club-like, almost pub-like – no pretentious background just musicians and instruments. In fact that’s what I feel in the X Space tonight – a club atmosphere and some old friends come to enjoy an evening of much-loved music.
We’re in the very back row of the X Space at Baycourt – my fault – I had no idea there would be a stampede for seats, so popular is this exponent extraordinaire of boogie woogie and blues. Although I’m part of the same peer group I have a quiet giggle – “the olds are on the loose tonight.” Yes the audience is mainly mature but there are many there who couldn’t produce a Gold Card and there are children and young people – boogie and the blues are not age exclusive.
Jan Preston may be a long-time performer and acknowledged “star” performer but she makes it very clear at the outset that she’s from small-town South Island, New Zealand. There’s no pretentiousness when she tells us her family “were down the food chain…” There’s no pretension or ageism when she tells us when she was born and the round the piano sing songs of the time. Jan Preston instantly reminds me of the inimitable, enduring musical talent and composer that is the unique and legendary Dolly Parton.
Jan’s obviously a woman of drive and discipline for behind the theatrical evening performance clothing and hair is a University music degree, a classically trained musician and singer. Jan’s online promotional information tells me that in her earlier performing years she was part of the Red Mole Theatre troupe and toured New Zealand with Split Enz – this is music history. She was the Musical Director of Red Mole Caberet shows in Wellington. There’s an extensive catalogue of composition for film and original performance songs and music. Tonight we’re here to see Jan Preston as “The Boogie Queen” but as the evening progresses it’s clear this woman is much, much more than that.
A burst of Winifred Attwell brings back memories of my childhood round the piano and my music loving pianist Mother. My memories are drowned by the enthusiastic applause of the full house audience. Can she belt it out! This is a high energy and high style piano performance. Then there’s the banter and chat between Preston and the long-haired prominently bespectacled Andrew London. Another highly original talent, London, “the middle-class boy from Whanganui” shares his guitar, banjo, piano playing and uniquely New Zealand compositions – “Middleclass White Boy Blues.” He’s a talent obviously appreciated and respected by Preston who exhorts us to make sure he and his group, The Andrew London Trio, come to Tauranga.
The prized Baycourt Steinway is at floor level. During the evening I stand to get a better view of Preston playing “classical” music (a Chopin waltz). I have to stop myself standing on my chair to watch as Preston gathers the team “round the piano” and as they play I see heads and bodies swaying. Percussionist Mike Pullman actually brings out a washboard and plays along! Preston delights with an arrangement of “ The Flight of the Bumble Bee – The Bumble”. They play Tauranga musician Mike Garner’s “Cool Boogie Woogie” They play “Goodnight Irene” and the audience sings and sways. Ask me what I loved: “The Piano has the Blues”
At the intermission there’s another rush and its to buy the CD’s for sale at the side of the X Space. There;s an encore then all four of these performers come down into the X Space to mingle with the lingering audience. Diane Hume-Green and I from ARTbop hang around while Jan Preston talks to others including Mike Garner and his wife.
What’s so interesting is the way Preston, after an evening of highly physical and intense performance, focuses on those speaking with her and shares just enough personal information so you feel you really know something about her.
It’s also very interesting to see not only the high regard in which she is held as a performer but the obvious warmth and affection for her as an individual. As Diane and I are talking with Jan Preston, “the boys” are packing up the instruments and clearing the stage, there’s Auckland and Hamilton still on the agenda.
Close up Preston is tiny, petite and incredibly youthful and good-looking. She has a face splitting smile. I’m intrigued to know how she maintains the level of energy throughout her demanding stage performance – she keeps physically fit and lifts weights. I tell her, her boots are better than Elton John’s. She shows me how she decorates them herself with rhinestones and in keeping with the way I’ve seen her behave with every other person she’s talked to, (including her generous acknowledgement of her supporting musicians) she puts her foot up on a chair so I can get a good photo!
“No,” there’s no thought of retiring from touring and there’s on-going work on the festivals circuit. Preston and family have been Sydney-based since 1980 – pity that, as she’s an outstanding musician and personality whom I could see having a post-performance career inspiring the young of New Zealand to music.
Jan Preston’s Boogie Circus played Baycourt’s X Space as part of a New Zealand wide tour. Jan was accompanied by percussionist Mike Pullman, bassist Stuart Lawrence and guitarist (banjo, piano player and wit) Andrew London. Read Diane Hume-Green’s review also in April’s ARTbop “Jan Preston’s Boogie Circus”
Rosemary is a regular contributor to ARTbop. She is the founding and current Editor of ARTbop.