Queenstown woman’s recalls riding shotgun with Costello

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Queenstown woman Nicky Tompkins was there riding shotgun when Elvis Costello hit the big time in America the 1970s. 

And when he plays here this Saturday at Frankton’s Events Centre, she’ll be there again amongst the thousands expected to turn out for the Blues & Roots Festival. 

Costello and his band The Imposters are headlining the one-day festival alongside The Doobie Brothers plus Kiwi groups King Leo Blues Band, The Johnnys, Fly My Pretties and The Black Seeds. 

Tompkins, who has lived in Queenstown for the past 12 years, spent the late 1970s and early 1980s based in Manhattan as a project coordinator for a company looking after hot new artists including Costello. 

It involved going tour with Costello and his band and handling all manner of logistics. 

“He was great to work with, always enthusiastic. You can tell from his lyrics the kind of conversations you’d have with him to the wee hours of the morning. 

“I mean he could talk the hind legs off a donkey on any topic – it could be politics, [American] diners, certainly it could be music. 

Tompkins, who works locally as a Feldenkrais practitioner improving muscular-skeletal alignment – “I’m too old for rock ‘n’ roll now” – says she feels very privileged to have seen such a great talent like Costello break into the music scene. 

“I was there literally from his first album, right there at the beginning to see something so different and so extraordinary. 

“I stood on the side of the stage I don’t know how many times to see Elvis and the band play and I can’t remember a dud show – even if he’s sick he’ll draw up the energy for a live show.” 

The Englishwoman says she’s looking forward to not only seeing him again this Saturday, but seeing him play – and urges locals to make the effort to see the world-class line-up. 

“I’d love to see Queenstowners embrace any culture like this that comes to our doorstep.” 

Costello gave her a couple of his gold records to show his appreciation for her work back in the day – she’s got them on display at home: “It wasn’t necessary, it’s typical though… he really appreciates what people do for him.” 

Along with records, she cherishes her memories of a time when she got up close to one of music’s enduring stars: “When you’re in some no-hope town in the Southern States or somewhere and there’s nothing to do and nobody is sleepy after the gig you do tend to sit up all night talking and you couldn’t have a better companion for that than Elvis Costello. Endlessly interesting.”

THE LOWDOWN
What: Queenstown Blues & Roots Festival 
When: Saturday, from 10.30am to 10.30pm
Where: Events Centre, Frankton
Tickets: Blues fest office above Monty’s, all Ticketek outlets
More info: www.queenstownbluesrootsfestival.co.nz