The twins return to the stage to perform for two very different audiences. They talk to Dionne Christian.

There will be no tomato-chutney making or horse riding but a whole lot of yodelling practice for Jools and Lynda Topp during the next few days.

The one-of-a-kind Topp Twins have two of the "scariest" - but most fun - concerts they play coming up next weekend and they want to ensure they're on the kind of form which has seen them dubbed "national treasures".

On Saturday night, they join the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra for Untouchable, an evening with their (in)famous alter-egos the Kens, Camp Mother and Camp Leader and the Bowling Ladies. Along with the orchestra, they'll perform classical showpieces, much-loved Kiwi anthems and everything in between -- cue much singing, dancing, yodelling and general tomfoolery -- under the baton of conductor Kenneth Young.

It's been five years since the Huntly-born twins last performed with the APO and Lynda, speaking to Weekend from Christchurch where the dynamic duo have just finished filming series three of TV show Topp Country, says she and twin sister Jools can't wait.


But as excited as they are, there are always some nerves involved.

"They are incredibly enjoyable concerts but they're also scary for us because there are about 75 other musicians and sometimes we don't quite know when to come in because we're not trained in any way, shape or form.

"When it's just the two of us, Jools does a strum on the guitar, that's my cue and away we go!

"But we've got conductor, Ken, to look after us and he always points us in the right direction; the whole orchestra does an amazing job with the way our songs are arranged and things like the sweeping violins make everything sound wonderful. It really is quite exciting."

Just hours after the applause from their APO appearance dies down, the twins return to the stage to play for an entirely different, possibly more demanding, crowd. They're special guests at the Auckland Writers Festival, showcasing stories-in-song captured in a series of children's books.

Kids -- and their grown-ups -- can "get in behind" The Farmer in the Dell, She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain and There's A Hole In My Bucket as well as some original music. The twins teamed up with Scholastic NZ and illustrator Jenny Cooper in 2011 to produce There's a Hole in My Bucket.

Based on the much-sung ditty, it became an instant best-seller and has led to four other books based on popular songs and nursery rhymes.

"We get a lot of emails about those ones," says Lynda. "I've had one or two from parents who say, 'look, we really enjoyed the book but that song has become the bane of my life because the kids sing it for eight hours a day,'."


The most recent book is Dingle Dangle Scarecrow.

"It's amazing when we play that one because the kids know all the actions.

"As soon as it starts, they're up waving their arms about and singing along. It's just great playing for children but, boy, they can be a tough audience because they either like you or they don't and, unlike adults who might not like you but will sit quietly and politely, kids let you know.

"They'll get up and wander around or simply start doing something else."

She says a project that gets kids away from screens and reading is worth supporting, but acknowledges she and Jools weren't the most avid of readers when they were young because they were busy working and exploring on the family's Waikato farm and devising their own act-out adventure stories.

"But we loved stories about cowboys and cowgirls and anything with animals," she says. "We'd snuggle up in bed with mum and she'd read to us before we had to go off to bed.

The Topp Twins, Jools and Lynda.
The Topp Twins, Jools and Lynda.

"I remember one day a catalogue arrived in the post which had for sale all the Western gear you can imagine and I remember us poring over it. All we wanted to do was to be cowgirls so when mum took us to the library those were the kinds of books we looked for."

That the much loved entertainers have turned their hand to musical treatments for children's books shows how versatile they are. But, since they started performing in the 1980s, nothing has seemed impossible or untouchable for the incomparable twins who have busked on city streets, played in pubs, clubs, town halls of every size and description and grand concert-halls.

They were inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame at the Apra Silver Scroll Awards in Auckland in September 2008 and, two years later, Wintec awarded them honorary Masters degrees. In 2011, Waikato University awarded them honorary doctorates.

But Lynda admits she and Jools, whose inimitable blend of country-music and comedy have won them fans around New Zealand and the world, never dreamed they'd play alongside a full orchestra.

"Never, ever, ever" she says, chuckling and adding they always thought there was more chance of becoming cowgirls on the American plains.

They've starred in a number of TV shows where their wonderful and wacky alter-egos -- Camp Mother and Camp Leader among them -- were unleashed on an unsuspecting but nevertheless delighted public. They made the move from the small screen to the big one with their feature documentary film The Topp Twins, Untouchable Girls.

It won Best Feature Film at the NZ Film & TV Awards in 2009, the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and has screened at 25 international film festivals.

Given its success, it wasn't surprising to see Jools and Lynda back on the telly in the series Topp Country, described as a "celebration of NZ's beautiful country and passionate people" where food is used as the starting point for some truly unique NZ stories.

Lynda admits some of what they've seen has had a lasting impact.

She's started preserving fruit and, for the first time, and has made her own tomato chutney.

What: The Topp Twins & the APO Untouchable
Where & when: Auckland Town Hall; Saturday, May 14 at 8pm.

What: Do Your Ears Hang Low, The Topp Twins; Auckland Writers Festival
Where & when: ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre; Sunday, May 15 at 9-10am

The Topp Twins' performance at the Auckland Writers Festival is ticketed but free for ages 12 and under and kicks off a whole series of family day events. There'll be author talks, readings, puppet shows and singalong sessions from 10.15am on Sunday, May 15 at the Herald Theatre. For the full programme, see