The Balkan Elvis

24 October, Spiegeltent, HBAF2018
By Ian Thomas

Johnny Presley is very much the Balkan Elvis and he has the back-story, not only to substantiate that claim but also to flesh out the inspirations behind some familiar tracks. Nostalgic meanderings tell of 48-hour parties with local gypsies who lived in a group, on the edge of town, in the ghetto (who, by the way, gave him his Johnny Elvis moniker). The tale of the pair of shoes he owned before the black patent leather ones. You know, the suede ones.

Johnny is a well formulated mix of The King’s cool, his hot pelvic thrusts, kitsch crowd play, good music, and quiff combing. Backed by Dave Evans (also musical director) on piano accordion, along with a brass section and drums, our Balkan Elvis is not an Elvis impersonator. He’s an original character with his own history to share. He makes us believe in him and almost believe him. His voice is two octaves lower and the music is frequently more frenetic and in minor keys. The Balkan Elvis lives. The musical arrangements, upbeat balkan gypsy, polka infused, have a degree of complexity that gives each track uniqueness. The band are the very proficient Niko Ne Zna from Wellington. Not-your-usual cover band playing far from usual covers.

Johnny is full of warmth. He brings the audience into play consummately. He’s singing amongst us, pulling men and women to their feet to dance with him. We clap along, sing, some can’t resist the rhythm and get themselves to their feet. He’s a showman. The songs are attached cleverly, and comedically one-by-one to the central narrative of Johnny’s life story. From the years of despair we are treated to a remarkably doleful cover of ‘His Latest Flame’. ‘Suspicious Minds’, related back to post Soviet troubles, is given a polka treatment.

The stage performance, with its gentle parody and pastiche could have been used in a movie by either Tarantino or Mel Brooks. Johnny quickens the pace as the show progresses. He’s a pro. He holds our attention to the end. The Balkan Elvis is the creation of Mikelangelo. It’s an entertaining show with great music and a Hunka Hunka Balkan Love.

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