MUSIC TASTES BETTER
HE’S A HOUSEHOLD NAME THANKS TO HIS PASSION FOR FOOD. BUT, AS MATT PRESTON REVEALS TO STELLAR, IT’S NOT HIS FIRST LOVE
Matt Preston has travelled the world feasting on the finest delicacies, but none of that compares to the joy he gets from music.
When musician Paul Kelly was living in an apartment block in Sydney’s Kings Cross not long ago, some of his biggest hits, such as “To Her Door” and “From St Kilda To Kings Cross”, were being strummed in one of the neighbouring rooms.
One morning, Kelly ran into Matt Preston in the foyer. Preston, who “noodles” on the guitar, was living in the complex during the filming of Masterchef Australia. Preston bowed to Kelly with a kind of reverence that Bruce Springsteen commands across the western world and stumbled for an opening gambit.
“I said, ‘What are you doing here?”’ recalls Preston. “He said, ‘I live here...’ And I realised the poor f*cker had been sitting at home listening to some bastard murdering his songs.” That “bastard’s” affair with music traces back to his upbringing in the World’s End, a district of Chelsea, London. Preston’s grandmother took him to the opera and the ballet, which also doubled as days
Other musical influences burn brighter. Preston was raised in a well of late-1970s punk and new-wave rock. Davy Jones drank at his local pub.
Preston was in several bands, including The Volcanic Rabbits, which boasted a catchier name than sound. Preston admits that his hopes to “take over the world and have a hit single” were short-lived. One problem was his voice – he argues it is rather good, except when there’s an audience.
Back then, he was just another “snot-nosed kid”. He and his mates DJ’D at small clubs. “I fear it was just an excuse to play music we liked and crack on to girls,” he says. “Therefore, as a 17-year-old, it was an ideal thing to do. That didn’t go anywhere either.”
Yet a lifelong yearning was born. It goes deeper than Preston’s better known appreciation of food. The sweep of music in his life, he argue argues, swings wider than his experiences ofo fine dining. It might be that first Saints single that Preston recalls hearing.he Or that Taylor Swift concert not long ago.
Music, he says, moves him in ways that food does not. “Food’s great,gr but a concert where everyone’s up at the same time, and if there’s 100 of you,you 5000 of you, or 25,000 of you, there’s something very elating about that in a wayw you’ll never get at a restaurant,” he says. “That moment when the hit single comes on and everyone starts dancing.dancing Or you walk in and the band comes on and the place is bouncing and the ba bar staff are bouncing and the only people who are still are the security guards. There’s a great sort of poignancy about it.”
Food journalism did not fall Preston’s way until he was 30. It was an accidental progression, as he describes most of the significant steps in his life, another “Cinderella moment” after he moved to Australia in 1993. What links them all is Preston’s erudite ease. He can talk across anything from Ned Kelly (a “true anti-hero”) to the Irish aristocrats who blew his family fortune.
Wading through eight or nine courses of Melbourne’s finer French modern dining at Ôter, Preston’s unguarded enthusiasm swells for the restaurant’s signature dish, the “disgracefully delicious” veal-head terrine. TV celebrity remains alien to him, eight years after its unlikely assault. He didn’t change overnight, he argues: the world did. Happily, this new world indulges his fondness for music.
He released a compilation CD in 2009. “Wouldn’t it be funny…” he said to his manager, who dutifully rang Sony Music Australia. Preston has an anecdote for every one of the 38 tracks – like the time he arrived home late from a New Year’s Eve night out to watch The Church’s “Under The Milky Way” on the UK’S equivalent to Rage. The song still now triggers memories of otherwise cast aside notions about forming another band.
At 53, TV stardom puts Preston closer to the fulfilment of musical pursuits.
He’s been Cupid, hanging on a wire above the stage at the Sydney Entertainment Centre for the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, where he (briefly) conquered his fear of heights. He’s also proud of singing on the BBC’S Have I Got News For You – again not for the act, but for the “big smile” that masked his sense of foolishness.
He loves The Sound Of Music, and ventures he’d make a “bloody good Mother Superior”, facial hair and all, “Aunty Jack-style”. Meanwhile, his Rocky Horror Show aspirations seem a natural fit. He wants to be the Charles Gray-styled narrator. Not only would Preston bring his own cravats, but he is long trained in “sitting around and talking a lot”.
Preston grew up on the Ramones, The Stranglers, The Clash and Ultravox, at a time when rock music rejected the system. As the head of marketing for a magazine in London, he occasionally interviewed musicians and recalls a trip to Glasgow and a sit down with Scottish rock band Del Amitri. It was the sort of jaunt that sated what still, decades later, impresses as a wandering mind. Preston is wiser now, content to marvel and observe.
He listens to Triple J in the car. He strums the guitar at home, accompanying daughter Sadie on the cello. At weddings, he divides the dancers into young’uns and oldies.
“There’s that great moment when you realise you’re no longer in that young grade; you’re in that old grade,” he says. “You know when you’re watching Dirty Dancing and you identify with either the Patrick Swayze character [Johnny Castle] or with Baby? Suddenly, you will be identifying with the dad: ‘I know what he means. I agree with him.’’’
Preston has embraced his own evolution. As he has matured, so have his musical aspirations: “Next time The Rolling Stones tour and they need an elderly gentleman to join them, maybe they can take me instead of Mick Taylor.”
“Food’s great, but a concert is very elating in a way you’ll never get at a restaurant”
SOUL FOOD (clockwise from left) Matt Preston (at right) jamming with friends in 1989; rocking the cravat/waistcoat/ jacket combo in 1980; “Me, failing to perfect my moody look.”