The Topp Twins roadshow is heading your way. CHRIS CHILTON talks to real-life Kiwi legend Lynda Topp.
Jools and Lynda. You just need the first names to recognise one of New Zealand entertainment's best-loved brands.
Here come The Topp Twins, on the road again soon for a summer tour that takes in two southern shows, in Cromwell and Invercargill.
Lynda Topp is contemplating a cruisy day mowing the lawns and picking up some Aussie friends from the airport when The Southland Times calls her at home at Stavely, Mid-Canterbury.
She is reminded that she once announced to this newspaper that Southland cheese rolls are a tour attraction when the sisters head south.
"Funnily enough, I've got about six dozen in the freezer," she says.
"Somebody made me some cheese rolls and gave us a big bag of them from down that way. I'm picking up these Australians today so I'll get some cheese rolls out of the freezer and put them on the plate for them tonight."
It's been a stellar year for Jools and Lynda Topp, in a career that brims with goodness.
The 52-year-old twins have had a record-grossing film documentary, a Qantas award for best entertainment programme, they've been up for all sorts of international awards, they've been bestowed with honorary masters degrees from Hamilton's Wintec ...
And so, having also been conferred with the official title of Country Music Legends at Hamilton's National Country Music Awards in August, one wonders aloud whether it is correct protocol to address Lynda Topp as Your Majesty.
A trademark throaty cackle emanates from the other end of the line, gathering force and depth in a sustained mirthful rumble.
Apparently, we are amused.
"No. Just Lynda's fine," she says, still chuckling. "No airs and graces."
And so it goes throughout a breezy 15-minute chat in which the interviewer is struck by the genuine likeability of the subject. Say what you like about the Topp Twins but there's no subtext here.
Lynda gets serious for a moment. "It's very nice to be honoured by your peers and all sorts of things like that ... but I'm still Lynda from down on the farm."
The Topps' documentary, Untouchable Girls, has been nominated for the doco equivalent of the Oscars, which happen in Los Angeles in January. Jools and Lynda won't be on the red carpet for that one, though.
"We can't come to LA, we're gonna be in Invercargill," Lynda laughs.
That's when their 2011 Summer Hoe-Down tour meanders through the south, with shows at Olssen's Garden Vineyard, Cromwell, on January 5 and Anderson Park, Invercargill, on January 6.
It follows a successful winery tour of the North Island last year with Don McGlashan, who produced their latest album, Honky Tonk Angel.
The Topps promise a good, old-fashioned country music session with plenty of assistance from the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band, ace Aussie fiddler Marian Burns, award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter Tami Neilson and Lynda Topp's stepson, rising prodigy Cameron Luxton.
They're all travelling in a bus, like a "country and western Blerta", Lynda jokes.
"It's like the old school and the young ones coming through ... it's a great thing for Jools and I to do now, to try to give something back to young performers.
"We've had an amazing career. Jools and I worked out the other day that we've been performing for 32 years. We'll stop when we die."
On this tour everyone gets a showcase in the first half, with the Topps doing some of their comedy characters in between.
The second half will feature the entire cast on stage playing each other's songs acoustically – a giant jam session based on the seminal country music radio show The Louisiana Hayride, which ran throughout the 1950s.
"That's what we're trying to capture. That old style where everyone just gets up and it'll be a bit of a jam but it'll be an organised jam."
Althought it's billed as a boutique wineries tour, Lynda admits they had to change the rules for Invercargill.
"We couldn't find a big winery venue down there so we said, `let's go straight to the park'.
"New Zealanders love to get out and have a picnic. If the sun's shining they want to be out on the grass having a bit of a hoe-down."
The Topps may have been working their rustic charms on Kiwi audiences for more than 30 years but New Zealanders show no sign of tiring of their pleasingly familiar formula, an act they pull off as easily as a comfy pair of slippers.
It is the embodiment of classically quaint Kiwi kitsch, with an edgy alternative vibe that is ever present but easily overlooked. The comedy, music, characters, a little activism, political and sexual ... it's all done in the best possible taste.
"I think we're just honest. If you're honest in New Zealand and up-front about everything, then people go, `yeah, rightio, we'll let you get on with it now'.
"We describe ourselves as entertainers," Lynda says. "First and foremost you've got to entertain. You've got to be able to capture the audience. And then you can pretty much do whatever you want; you can laugh, you can be serious, you can be political, you can do all sorts of things.
"The thing is, if you come to a Topp Twins show and you haven't been entertained then we haven't done our job.
"If you pay your money to come and see us, we want to give you 110 per cent, not just 100 per cent, so that when they go away they'll say, `wow, that was amazing, that was a great concert, I'll never forget that one'."
The Southland Times