Last week, DIVA sat down to a buffet breakfast with New
Zealanders Jools (pictured at left) and Lynda Topp aka the Topp
Twins, who were visiting to play some gigs and promote their DVD
Famous for their often bawdy comedy, the yodeling country music
icons proved to be very open and chatty in spite of the jetlag.
Following the niceties and ordering of coffee, here's most of what
DIVA: [leaping straight into some
serious psychological analysis] Personality-wise, what would be the
biggest differences between you?
Jools: I'm Camp Leader and she's Camp Mother
Lynda: The differences do come out in the
characters. I'm Camp Mother and I move forward and Jools is always
right beside me there. That's my job, in the industry and in the
characters. There's only one character where Jools is completely in
charge and that's Prue and Dilly. And when she's dressed up as Prue
she just takes charge of everything, which is frightening
DIVA: You grew up in Huntley, a small town in NZ. How
would you describe Huntley in the 60s and 70s to a British
Lynda: Pretty much like a small town in England
I think, in some ways…
Jools: We're all driving Vauxhalls and
Lynda: We actually grew up on a dairy farm
mainly, we never really went into town much. We weren't town kids;
we grew up in the country. We rode horses and we couldn't wait to
Jools: NZ has always been influenced by the
rest of the world. A lot of people think they don't even know where
NZ is. They can't find it on a map even. But we grew up with the
mods, you know, on their motorbikes and whatever's happened in the
world outside of us, it's flowed through to us.
Lynda: And perhaps NZ was maybe 10 years behind
the rest of the world in some ways - not that I'm saying that we
were behind - but you know in the 60s women were burning their
bras, but we didn't burn our bras until the 1970s [laughs].
Jools: The other thing was that you knew your
neighbours, too. Everybody knew their neighbours - bit of a
difference from now.
Lynda: We grew up milking cows; we were milking
cows when we were little kids, you know. We had a pretty good work
ethic and our mum and dad were pretty amazing, they were always
there for us and they said right from the word go, you can do
whatever you want to. There are no rules about being a boy or girl.
They were very staunch that you can have a go at anything you want
to have a go at.
Jools: Yeah, it was their fault we turned out
gay! [both laugh as Jools heads off to breakfast buffet]
Lynda: So we had a pretty good childhood, we
had great times outside, riding horses and having fun, and our
school was just something that we went to, to do what we had to do.
We weren't really big on school. We managed to pass all the exams
and everything like that but we didn't have aspirations to become
professors or anything.
DIVA: Did you take music classes at school?
Lynda: No, we didn't take any music classes at
school. Our brother bought us a guitar when we were 9 or something
and it came with a book called Play In A Day. And Jools read that
book, that day, and then threw it away [laughs]. I think the whole
music thing was in us. We can't read music or anything like that;
technically we're very bad musicians. Technically. But emotionally
we like to think we're pretty good musicians, you know. The whole
idea of Jools and me just starting to write our own songs and play
music to our ability, that's how we started out. It wasn't like we
were going to piano lessons or anything, we were just hanging out
at home learning the guitar ourselves.
DIVA: Who were your musical influences?
Lynda: When we were little, old windup
gramophones, old yodelers, there was a neighbour up the road who
had a collection of old 78s and we used to ride up there on horses
and wind up the machine and play these old 78s that they had and
they were old yodelers and we actually listened to a British
yodeler, a guy called Harry Torrani. He had a big influence on me,
anyway, as a yodeler, in my younger days, so yeah, Britain played a
DIVA: When did you come
Jools [who has returned with a bowl of
DIVA: Publicly you mean?
DIVA: And how about to one another?
Lynda: Like we say in the [documentary
Untouchable Girls], we left home, we joined the army and we saw a
whole lot of women in Christchurch. We did three months training in
the territorial army, and then jumped train and didn't go home,
decided to stay on in Christchurch. And we sort of hung out in
Christchurch for a year or so and did odd jobs and what have you.
Both Jools and I used to go and watch this woman called Nancy Kiel,
she played at a pub and she was amazing, and we thought she was the
best thing on legs. She was just the best singer we'd ever seen and
there were a lot of women there at the pub and we thought well we
seem to be a lot like them and they just turned out to be lesbians.
[laughs] So Jools and I said well, maybe that's what we are. It
wasn't a big trauma, it was just a realization. We didn't go
through any major hassles or anything. And then we just carried on
being lesbians for the rest of the time - from that day on.
DIVA: Have you ever fancied the same woman?
Lynda: [laughing] No comment. Jools and I are
still friends and we're still singing so it wasn't a big
DIVA: Do you have an opinion on the nature/nurture
debate about homosexuality? Being twins you'd be a brilliant case
study I'm sure…
Jools: By a mad scientist? [laughs] I think
you're born gay. I think you can be influenced, but you can't make
somebody gay. You've got to feel good about yourself, in some
Lynda: Sexuality is a real personal choice. I
think society would like you to be straight….
Jools: But everybody should be able to choose
how they feel - from a young age. If you like girls and you're a
girl, then ok, and if you like boys and you're a boy, that's ok,
but society has turned it around to the point that it's girls and
boys is one rule and that has changed over the years but it's still
a straight old world out there.
DIVA: Your bio, the fact that you are famous in NZ,
makes it sound like NZ is more "tolerant" of gay people than some
Both: Yep [they laugh]
Jools: When you finally get the guts to come
out, NZ is bloody tolerant. 'Cos you know what? They're a long way
away from the rest of the world and the great thing about New
Zealand is they want to be able to do what they want when they want
to do it. and however they want to do it. It's that #8 mentality,
so in some ways NZers are really tolerant - everybody wants to do
what they want to do and kinda not stepping on everyone else's
Lynda: I think there is a tolerance. I think
that one of the main tolerances is - as long as you're truthful, as
long as you're honest, and respectful and all those things,
Jools: Tell the truth faster, how's that for a
DIVA: That's a good motto.
Jools: You get out of a lot of trouble, a lot
Lynda: Once you tell a lie, you have to keep
telling that lie. This is a Jean Topp [their mother] - motto. It's
a bloody good one.
Jools: If something happens, say "Yes I did
Lynda: Because the moment it comes out, you
pass the responsibility on to someone else to some degree you know.
Jools: Our mum had some great lines. "You must
never hate anybody": you can dislike someone but you must never
hate anybody. I remember her telling us that when we were very
little. Always roast the peanuts when you make a peanut
[they both laugh]
Jools: Have you ever had them when they're not
roasted? They taste like shit.
DIVA: They can get a bit rancid, can't
Lynda: Yeah [laughs]
DIVA: Who would you say influenced your
Jools: People around us. Our neighbours.
Lynda: When we built the characters up and
starting bringing characters into the show, they were very much
from us, from Jools and me, those characters. But I think perhaps
unconsciously there was a little bit of everybody around us. You
know, when we were little, growing up. There are farmers like Ken
and Ken and there are women like Camp Mother and people like Camp
Leader. You know, a woman who can look after the camping grounds,
look brilliant and fix, you know, the tire on a Kenworth truck -
there's quite a few of them out there in NZ [laughs].
DIVA: Are New Zealanders a resourceful
Jools: Yeah, we don't need to have a meeting to
get something done, we just do it. We found that when we were in
America too, you know. We went to a women's festival and they
wanted to move some truck or something on a truck and they were all
having a meeting about it and while they were having the
meeting the New Zealanders and Australians just moved them.
[We all laugh at the folly of people of other nationalities] It's
like durr, what do you want us to do next?
Lynda: If you meet a Kiwi they're going
somewhere. They've got a pack on their back, they've got good old
kauri stumps for legs and off they're going, they're going to make
something happen. They're not sitting around waiting for someone to
tell them what they can do or not. So we do have this ability to
make things happen. We're manifesters, let's face it. [laughs]
DIVA: Were you influenced by any comedians on TV growing
Lynda: We never saw any comedians on TV. No I
take that back, one of the…
Jools: Lucille Ball!
Lynda: Lucille Ball was amazing. Morecambe and
Wise. The critics -and we ourselves, over the years - have likened
us to more like vaudeville than stand-up comedy. And I think that
that's true, we're not stand-up comedy. Stand-up comedy came after
the Topp Twins; we were doing our comedy way before stand-ups had
really hit NZ. It's Topp Twins comedy, that's all we can really say
it is, at that time in our careers or lives we were playing little
gigs and playing little funny places, and a lot of the time we
weren't doing comedy we were singing pretty much country music and
the comedy actually came at those concerts.
DIVA: It developed from the banter?
Lynda: Yeah, it developed from the banter and
then we came up with these characters and we came up with them all
at individual times - when they were needed.
Jools: The Ginghams sort of came along because
there were a lot of people in NZ who weren't necessarily really
into country music. I can remember doing this gig in Palmerston
North and the audience just looked a little bit sort of ho hum,
like "oh no it's country music I don't know if I like this or not",
and Lynda must have sensed that - Lynda's very good at reading
audiences - and Lynda said look we had to go through country music
so you're going to have to go through it too and suddenly the
entire audience had permission to smile a little bit. I remember it
being a really changing moment in how we performed. and we thought
wow this is really important; there has to be some joy in it. It's
not just, you know, a concert. So the joy thing got bigger. Playing
with the audience suddenly seemed to be a really important thing
and made magical things happen and the audience really came with us
- before there was a wall up there, you know, here's the stage and
from then on in we just kept breaking that wall down as fast as we
could. And the next minute Lynda's out in the audience and all that
sort of stuff and that's how it all happened I suppose. When
we sit down and think about it now, we didn't have a plan. You just
get out there and things happen. We were like little fish darting
about left right and centre, breaking down the little barriers
DIVA: And are British audiences different from Kiwi and
No. They all like to have a bit of fun and a bit of
They may not get exactly what the Kiwis get but we've played
here a lot and we used to come here all the time and play the Drill
Hall and the Edinburgh Festival and the first time we played in
Britain it was all ex pat Kiwis - they were all homesick so they
all came - (there'll be a lot of that in London this time around)
and then the second time around all our ex pat Kiwi friends
couldn't come because they couldn't get tickets cos all the British
thought "oh they're quite funny". So the audiences in England and
Scotland, they may not get exactly what the Kiwi audiences get but
they get enough.
Someone described us a while back as one of those old vaudeville
shows where you get a little bit of everything, you know we always
say if you go to a Topp Twins show you get comedy characters,
singing, audience participation, yodeling… if you don't get those
then we're having a bad night. In some ways we never think of
ourselves as performers. We think of ourselves as entertainers.
There's a real difference. To be able to entertain someone for two
hours is a big call. You only have to look at these TV programmes
like Idol and things like that and they might be brilliant, but
have they got two hours of a show? I don't think so [laughs] they
might have three songs up their sleeve and they might be really
brilliant at those three songs but there's a real art to being able
to go out and entertain for two hours… with a break in between of
course, for the toilet…. we're practical NZers.
DIVA: How would you describe your politics?
We're about justice. Fairness and justice. People have got to be
fair; there are always two sides to a story. And both sides need to
know that if someone's done something wring, justice has to be seen
to be done. If everybody has a fair and tolerant way of looking at
things then that all comes out in the wash, hopefully. The classic
one was the Springbok tour in NZ. It became an issue in NZ but it
was outside NZ where the whole issue started. That whole Springboks
tour was about apartheid in South Africa, and NZ, in their own
little way, changed the politics of SA. By us standing up and
saying You can not play with us any more. And SA thought that we
would always play with them.
DIVA: It sounds like kids in a playground.
Totally. It went on at kids' level. It totally was; it was that
basic. They would always play rugby with us and then all of a
sudden they saw that we wouldn't play with them anymore. That was
why it was such a big thing, because NZ was such a hard-driven
country about rugby people just couldn't believe we were standing
there saying to we don't want to play. and all those things have
changed us along the way.
We've always been political, even when we were little kids, you
The big thing right now is we just can't keep fishing the seas
and we can't keep messing up the land. I mean we've got no earth ..
and the thought of living on some satellite station out in orbit -
you can't ride a horse …. I'm being totally selfish, you know,
Politically things have changed. People are much more aware of
where their food comes from and personal politics, whereas the
politics that we were involved in they were quite big issues - like
worldwide issues like apartheid and the nuclear issue and I think
NZers are almost doing a bit of a U-turn. There are more entries in
the local A&P show in the fruit and veggie than there were 10
years ago. And 40 years ago that was massive, you know. People are
saying we want slow food, we don't want fast food. We want to live
in a way where we can understand where everything comes from…. so
we are an interesting nation.
Another thing that makes us strong and challenging is our Maori
population. We've always been challenged by them so they've made us
strong, to some degree. I mean we love it, we won't live anywhere
else than NZ. That's just who we are. We're just, like we
say, good Kiwi girls. [laughs]
DIVA: What do you hope audiences take from your
That you can change things. That's a good start. Britain knows
that anyway, we don't need to [tell them that].
The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls will be available on
DVD and iTunes in the UK from Tuesday 28 February.
PHOTO: Sally Tagg