Lynda and Jools Topp have spent most of their lives as entertainers – whether it be the world stage or their humble beginnings as little girls strumming a ukulele – their lives are all about bringing joy to their world of fans.
Both sisters share an unquestionable love for country music. Lynda admits to always having sung as kids and shares the genesis of their first performance.
"Our mum brought us a ukulele when we where about 5 or 6 and we learnt Walking in the Sunshine and we practiced a whole dance routine and decided we would perform at our cousins 21st. We were asleep in the back of Dads big American car a yellow De Soto and mum came and woke us up at about 9pm and we did Walking in the Sunshine with boaters and canes while our Uncle played the ukulele. That was the start of our music career, we just loved singing we never thought we would be entertainers at that point we wanted to be farm girls but it was something we loved doing. Australia’s June Holmes, Shirley Thom’s and America’s Patsy Montana were pretty big influences at that early age, and we got to perform with Patsy in Vancouver many years later. To sing with your childhood idol was pretty cool. As teenagers we also saw the Chicks perform at the Easter Show and we were pretty excited about that."
It has certainly been an amazing career for those two little girls from a diary farm in Waikato NZ. They have become international super stars and have managed to remain there for 25 years. This is phenomenal longevity in what is certainly a fickle industry .So what has kept them at the top of their profession – luck, true grit or a brew of both, Jools explains:
"I think it's because we are true entertainers in that old-fashioned sense of making people have a great time that has allowed us to continue doing this for so long. We know how to connect with people, no matter who they are and as comedians we always send up, never put down. We try to spread joy, there's so much hype and false celebrity out there in the world, that I guess our down to earth honesty and real-ness stands out and draws people in. We've always been strong and independent. We came out as lesbians at the start of our career, back in the late 70's, we believed if you hide something you can never give to your audience 100%. Our songs and humour can have a political sting but we embrace everyone. We have created characters that have entered the Kiwi psyche, but also relate beyond NZ as they are recognisable archetypes in a way – the bossy matron and her goofy side-kick, the farmer and his best bud, the posh socialites. Also, the social issues that we comment on are pretty universal; they affect people no matter where they live. What we do is pretty unique – comedy, original songs that run the gamut from folk ballads, C&W, blues, political protest and love songs, yodelling, audience participation and spontaneity, there's always an edge of anything may happen in a Topp Twins show."
The Topp Twins have been given many honours and acknowledgements over the years -including being inducted into NZ's music hall of fame. "We thought you had to be over 100 to receive that award," quips Jools. "But I suppose if you add our ages together, we make it. It was a real honour to be honoured by our peers as usually we are seen as more of a comedy act, but equally our performance is about the music, most of our songs are 100% original. We have always been outside the mainstream music industry and were "independent" recording artists before there was an indie scene, so to receive this award was a big deal for us personally."
The sisters have also been made Doctors of the Arts by the University of Waikato. "We probably won’t use the titles, but our characters Ken and Ken are going to," says Jools. "They’ll be Dr Kenneth Moller and Dr Ken Smythe. Ken Moller thinks he’ll be a gynaecologist – he’s not qualified but he’ll take a look at it for ya! We've never stepped foot in a lecture theatre, we’ve spent 53 years attending 'the university of life.'"
Lynda and Jools are also renowned for their life time advocacy and support of political and social change. The environment is something they are both really serious about, especially water and our rivers. "Without clean water and rivers the whole system breaks down," says Jools. "We have a responsibility to the next generation, we are only the caretakers here."
Lynda feels that if she and Jools had been born in America, they'd no doubt have totally different lives than they do now. "In New Zealand there seems to be this amazing respect and tolerance of other people’s beliefs and ideals," explains Lynda." Like everything in the world, you have to earn your respect. It’s how you go about it. Our job, in a lot of ways, is to educate. We’re “Educating Entertainers.” That's something we realised really early on and we take it seriously. We’re not actually trying to change the world. We’re showing by example. If you want to change the world, you have to roll your sleeves up and go to work. You have to work hard. You can’t sit complaining: I want this, I wasn’t that."
Both sisters are also very strong advocates of same sex marriage. In 2013, same sex marriage become legal in NZ – just months after Lynda's own civil union. "If someone had told me a few years ago that at 54 I would be married with two stepsons, I'd have laughed," she says. " But let's get one thing straight (if you'll excuse the pun), what Donna and I have is a marriage – not a civil union. That is how we see it. The wedding was magical for Donna and me and our two boys (Cameron, 20 and Oliver, 22.) We deliberately decided to have it when we wanted – not when government said we could. A few weeks later, when gay marriage became legal, we went to parliament and sung. It was an emotional, history-making thing and pretty special. Our marriage will be legalised, but we are living in sin right now! We are in the throes of getting all the legal documents. We have made great leaps forward in New Zealand in terms of equal rights but there is still work to be done."
The list of achievements and personal goals meet for The Topp Twins could fill volumes but both agree that they're pretty proud of their early protest days and all the songs they wrote for all the things they believed in. "We were involved in many issues in the 80’s and 90’s and wrote a song for every one of them," Lynda says. "Maori Land Rights (Bastion Pt) Anti Nuclear Movement (Radiation) Homosexual Law Reform (Paradise) Springbok Tour (Patu Jive) and extremely proud that Jools and I have had a amazing partnership with our manager of 20 plus years Arani Cuthbert , we are a fantastic team and proof that women can excel in this industry."
Both Lynda and Jools feel incredibly blessed to still be doing what they love – performing. "It blows us away that we are still out there doing it and that people are so accepting of us and still want to see us perform," Jools says. " It has never felt like a job, it's a lifestyle. I can't imagine we'll ever get to the point where we can't go on anymore, we love what we do and you can't ask for more than that, you've got to enjoy your life. In all honesty the acknowledgement we receive from our fans is the most incredible thing. We are truly humbled by the positivity we get back from people."
The Topp Twins
May 22- 24