Among the music shows at the Auckland Arts Festival kicking off next week is Dust to Dusky, in which Tami Neilson, Anna Coddington, and Bella Kalolo pay musical tribute to the late queen of blue-eyed soul and beehive hairdos, Dusty Springfield. We asked the trio about their joint, wig-free gig.
Which Dusty Springfield song do you wish you'd written?
Son of A Preacher Man
Anyone Who Had A Heart
Bella: You Don't Have To Say You Love Me. Heart-wrenching and full of emotion. It was an Italian love song that she saw performed at the San Remo Festival and fell in love with. Moved to tears by the performance, she decided to have English lyrics put to it, which were written by a couple of her songwriter friends.
Tami: Let's just say I'd be happy to have my name on any Bacharach song. That much songwriting talent is just obscene. I love how he writes some of those melodies that require a huge range - such a challenge for a vocalist.
What is the hardest aspect of her music to perform?
A: I think the fact that she was so unique makes it a little bit hard, in that there's no point trying to sound like her - you can't - but at the same time she had a magic quality in her voice that made her versions of those classic songs unmistakeable. So there's a bit of a conflict of how much to try and emulate her and how much to make the song your own. A pretty nice challenge to face, to be honest.
I guess I just want to get her emotion and how she felt about the songs through to the audience, all the while delivering it in my own style.
T: Her voice was raspy, sultry, powerful, yet vulnerable - nobody sounds like her, so you just have to try and put your own spin on her songs and hope you can do it justice. She didn't raise the bar, she was the bar.
How would you describe Dusty to a 15-year-old?
I'd make them listen to
Son of a Preacher Man
B: I would jump on Spotify and have a listening session with them
T: Adele is an app. Dusty is the internet.
What surprising things have you learned about her?
A: She was a self-harming, bipolar, ahead-of-her-time, not-in-the-closet lesbian (or bisexual), who was anal about getting her music to sound the way she wanted it to. She was cool. Also I didn't realise she was so much more than just a good singer. I misunderstood that. I loved finding out she was also an excellent producer.
That she was precise about getting her vocal takes absolutely spot on! She did 47 takes of a song once.
T: I've always been familiar with her music, but I never knew about her dark side - the self-harm and the addiction, her penchant for smashing plates of food against the wall! I had a hard time matching that to the poised and beautiful image she presented to the public. But, on a positive note, I also didn't realise how heavily involved she was in producing all her albums in an era where females were never credited for doing so. She was a perfectionist and would push and push until she got it exactly the way she wanted it to sound.
• Dust to Dusky is on at the Spiegeltent in Aotea Square from March 2-5. See aucklandfestival.co.nz for details.