Mar 1, 2016 Music
Three local artists interpret the blue-eyed soul of a late, great British star.
“Son of a Preacher Man” is the song every little girl with dreams of the spotlight belts into her hairbrush, so when Tama Waipara of the Auckland Arts Festival invited Anna Coddington, Bella Kalolo and Tami Neilson to perform a show honouring Dusty Springfield, each singer eagerly called dibs on her 1969 hit. Booming, soulful Kalolo won it without resorting to a food fight — Springfield’s go-to method of dispute resolution.
With a career spanning London’s Swinging Sixties to collaborating with the Pet Shop Boys in the 80s, by way of Memphis soul, Springfield’s repertoire stretches so far beyond “Preacher Man” that there are ample swoony well-known melodies to go around. Coddington is lending her folk tilt to “Spooky” and Neilson is bringing her country-soul styling to “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”.
“They don’t have to be anything other than themselves,” says Waipara of the trio. “It’s not a case of putting on a costume and pretending to be Dusty. They’re bringing their wonderful colour and interpretation to her body of work.”
Springfield’s often torrid life story is woven through the songs by narrator Colleen Davis (Daffodils). In her professional life, Springfield was the epitome of a classy, confident performer, giving no hint of the chaos going on behind the scenes. She had knock-down fights with lovers, trashed hotel rooms and struggled with mental health problems and substance abuse.
Neilson attributes Springfield’s self-destructive behaviour to being forced to mask her lesbianism from the world. “Imagine the pressure of having to hide your whole life, being in the public eye,” says Neilson. “At one point she was the most famous female singer in the world. I can’t imagine the terror you’d feel.”
When it came to her music, Springfield was a perfectionist and produced her own albums, although didn’t get fairly credited for it in the male-dominated industry. She was meticulous about her recordings, would run multiple takes and even moved a microphone into a stairwell to get the sound she wanted. “Of course that was interpreted as being a diva and demanding,” says Waipara.
Easy-going divas Coddington, Neilson and Kalolo all know each other from the New Zealand music scene but it’s the first time they’ve worked together, and when Metro meets up with them, they have each other in hysterics. What are they looking forward to about the show? Says Coddington: “Hanging out with my friends.” Says Neilson: “The beehives.” Says Kalolo: “We just had a meeting, aka a laugh session. The vibe is so natural. It can only ever be that way on stage.”
Dusk to Dusty, Spiegletent, Aotea Square, March 2-5.
Main image: From left; Bella Kalolo, Tami Neilson and Anna Coddington, photographed at Federal Delicatessen exclusively for Metro by Vicki Leopold.