When Boris Van Severen was a preschooler - about 4, he thinks - his brothers, a decade or so older, took control of the family stereo and introduced their brother to the likes of Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine and Jane's Addiction.

Years later, Van Severen met Jonas Vermeulen at the Conservatory of Antwerp and they found a mutual love of rock music as they expanded their tastes to include the likes of Jacques Brel, Bob Dylan and Nick Cave who, he says, tell stories through song.

Inspired, they created The Great Downhill Journey of Little Tommy, part live rock concert, part theatre performance, about a boy who leaves his single mother to see the sea, riding downhill on his bike and encountering rag-tag characters.

But Van Severen says it was not directly influenced by arguably the world's most famous rock opera, The Who's Tommy.

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"Everyone asked us about that when we first performed it and we were like, 'why didn't we think of that?' because we did not mention it at all when we were making it.

We chose Tommy because we needed a name that rhymed with lots of things and it fitted; at first we had Johnny but it seemed a bit hillbilly."

A well-known actor in his native Belgium, Van Severen says the show - which won an award at last year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival - fuses rock, industrial and electronic and the music changes gear as new characters appear.

Festival fare
What: The Great Downhill Journey of Little Tommy
Where & when: Spiegeltent, NZ Herald Festival Garden; March 17 -20

Buy tickets now!