By Lisa Lanzi
There is such magic created when astonishing musicians take the stage with excellent vocalists. The power of live music never ceases to amaze and always revitalizes me on so many levels. The experience is further elevated when two of the finest voices in Australia are singing for you. Alongside their four standout musicians Vika and Linda Bull’s Cabaret Festival performance roused The Playhouse audience to a standing ovation.
It has been said that if these two women lived elsewhere in the world they would be major stars. Although, their star does shine bright here in Australia, it is shimmering greater all the time. After many years as kickass backing vocalists the two women are trailblazing recording artists both as a duo and as soloists and have performed live shows all over the world, including for Nelson Mandela, the King of Tonga and many others.
Prior to the performance is a recording of a choir played. Later is was revealed that they were singing the Tongan version of The Lord’s Prayer and Vika and Linda spoke of their own multi-cultural heritage and the impact that had on their lives, personally and professionally. They dedicated the gig to their parents Siniva and Austen "Aussie" who both influenced their musical upbringing. Starting with solo ukulele, the first song was Irish Lullaby which their dad (a Bing Crosby fan) sang to them every night as children. Siniva Bull, herself a gifted singer and soloist in the church choir, passed her love of gospel music on to Vika and Linda. They grew up immersed in music from, among others, Elvis, Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin and sang two electric gospel songs for us : Vika taking the lead in Walk With Me, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Up Above My Head blending both voices in heady harmony.
Prior to computers another childhood escape in 1970s Doncaster was TV and the sisters launched into a tongue-in-cheek medley of television themes and advertising jingles like Greenacres, Petticoat Junction, Cottee’s Cordial, The Flintstones, Louie The Fly, Gilligan’s Island and Happy Days. Their other entertainment “kind of our Sunday night version of church” was the 6pm TV spot - Countdown. Little did they know that some of those music idols would invite the sisters to sing with them not too many years into their future: Renee Geyer, Joe Camilleri and Paul Kelly. To celebrate this part of their lives Vika and Linda performed Camilleri’s Never Let Me Go and what a great song it is, even thirty years after its release.
Another part of their lives has been the development of their own songs. Vika laughingly admitted her ‘twitchy’ dislike of song writing but both were encouraged by Paul Kelly to tackle the art by reflecting on their own stories. He assisted as co-writer on the heartfelt Down on the Jetty and Parting Song with a decidedly Tongan influence. Another song Vika and Linda wrote together in thirty minutes, after much admitted procrastination, is the emotional Grandpa’s Song. These lyrics spoke to honouring one’s own heritage as an adult after being somewhat less than enthusiastic as a younger person.
With wide musical influences both confess to loving it all and although Vika considers herself “a little bit rock and roll” and Linda “a little bit country” (like Donny and Marie!) they both have a ‘go to’ spiritual, Woke Up This Morning. I want to mention the musicians here because the guitar solo in this song was extraordinary. Dion Hirini played guitar and ukulele, Cameron Bruce was on piano and keys (plus acoustic guitar) and both contributed vocals. John Watson commanded the drum kit and Bill McDonald shone on bass. All had a fierce connection with Vika and Linda and the combination was magical.
Vika performed her solo rendition of Etta James’ I’d Rather Go Blind reportedly co-written by James and Ellington “Fugi” Jordan when he was in prison. Vika was the acclaimed star of At Last - The Etta James Story, which premiered in 2013 and toured internationally with an 8‐piece R&B band. Further evidence that the Bull sisters are forging their own paths after years as stellar support artists for so many.
Linda also shone in her soulful Willy Nelson solo Always On My Mind and both women premiered a song that will appear on their next album. This song remained un-named but it has been written for the sisters by Kasey Chambers and was a stunner. As a finale to the seventy minute set, Simon and Garfunkel’sBridge Over Troubled Water cast a poignant spell. Vika and Linda said that they included this song as they have “always wanted to perform it”. And so they should always follow their own advice because they are both outstanding artists contributing much to our Australian music scene.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.