Fangirl Heads South

It was one of those moments when you hear your crazy calling and decide in a split second to just indulge it. Your favourite singer was performing 3 nights in a row on the same island as you … why not go to all three gigs?

Sure it meant driving more than the entire length of said island in less than 3 days, while going to three concerts, booking motels, concert tickets, taking a half day off work, but life is for living and following your passions, and everyone knows I’m passionate about the glorious Tami Neilson.

Tami NeilsonLuckily for me my husband is a fan boy of almost equal proportions (competitive moi?), so he was all up for the adventure.

The first night of the adventure was a Thursday night, and Tami was performing at Charles Luney Auditorium here in Christchurch. It was sold out and it was a very refined, well behaved audience… well except for the devotees like us, who of course know the words of her songs and cheer and whoop enthusiastically.

Cover of Martin & MahaliaThe show was part of the Cavell Leitch New Zealand Jazz and Blues Festival. It was an exploration of the road from gospel to rock and roll. Tami sang examples of early gospel and blues and talked about the influence of  various artists such as Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mavis Staples on artists such as Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan and many others. The second half of the show was her own work. Her band, her ‘Red Hot Band of Rhythm’, are all top New Zealand musicians she has worked with often and they are obviously loving what they do.

Friday lunchtime, we leave work at 12, rush home, throw some clothes and snacks in the car and head nonstop for Dunedin. Another awesome concert – a different crowd and venue gives a different vibe, more intimate and grateful. You get the sense so many more people here actually know her music.

Tami wowing in Queenstown – photo: Purplerulz

Next morning, and we’re heading to Queenstown, through parts of the country we haven’t seen in decades, if ever.There’s a little snow around, hardly any traffic, and the rolling hills through the Rock and Pillar range are truly breathtaking. Road trips in New Zealand are just wondrous.

It’s a weird little crowd at this last gig. They’ve got a definite country pub thing going on, a lot of them have been drinking for quite a while, so are behaving rather boorishly and in the end, Tami, after trying her darnedest to engage with them, gives them what they want, music to dance to – she even sings Happy birthday.

We get back home that night wishing we didn’t have work in the morning, but the memories and the music are buzzing in our brains, and does so for days after.

If you have a passion for music, check out the wealth of music and learning to be had within Christchurch City Libraries’ databases, like  American Song which offers rich pickings in many genres, Gospel being among them.

So, moral of this long tale? Take a chance, if you say, “no, that’s crazy I shouldn’t” then I strongly recommend that you do. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

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Tami Neilson curls up … with a good book

Hair she comes! Hot ticket Tami Neilson kicks off her Songs of Sinners tour, performing in Christchurch tonight (Thursday 25th May) as part of The Cavell Leitch New Zealand International Jazz and Blues Festival with her Hot Rockin’ Band of Rhythm, belting out soul, country, gospel and blues.

Tami Neilson Sings Songs of Sinners.jpeg

Tami’s tour merchandise features a silhouette of her signature black beehive with the proclamation: “The higher the hair, the closer to God.” A couple of us gals working here at the library have been Tami fans for a while. She may just be our alter ego and I fondly remember seeing her play with local boys Marlon Williams and Delaney Davidson at the wee Wunderbar in Lyttelton a few years back.

Tami and her big hair certainly command a much bigger stage now, and the accolades and awards never seem to end for Tami. Possibly even more rewarding for her than a gong was recently getting to open the stage for her idol – blues, gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples.

While she’s got hair up to heaven, Tami now has two young boys to bring her back down to earth. Considering how busy she is with touring and family life, it is a wonder Tami has time to curl up with a good book, let alone curl her hair. But Tami loves libraries and literature (from classic reads to chick lit) and she graciously took the time to answer a few questions about her reading pleasures and sings the praises of a good book.


Tami, are there any special books you remember fondly from your childhood?

I was completely obsessed with Anne of Green Gables from age 11. I read the whole series and then moved on to all of L.M. Montgomery’s books. I own her entire published works, as well as her more recently published journals, which are fascinating and actually quite dark in contrast to her novels. I have visited her various homes across Canada while touring with my family band when growing up. I still re-read her books regularly. The Emily series and The Blue Castle are my enduring favourites.


What role have libraries played in your life – either growing up and / or now?

I have always loved libraries and spending time curled up with a book. In my early 20s, when we came off the road and settled into the small town in Ontario where my Mom grew up, we didn’t have a computer yet and the local library is where I would excitedly go each day to check my emails and write to a certain Kiwi guy that I ended up marrying!

The library has played a huge role in my outings with my little ones since becoming a Mum myself – from the time they were babies, I took them to Wriggle & Rhyme and we go every few weeks to swap our books for new ones.

What books are your two young sons enjoying at the moment?

We’ve read to our boys since they were babies and they love books. We visit our local library regularly… a current library favourite is Super Stan, and we have a huge collection of the works of Dr Seuss, which are their go-to bedtime stories (and Mummy’s favourites to read to them!)


Do your kids love your songs (or are they over them) – do they have their own favourites?

They have their favourites, which they perform for us regularly on Saturday mornings. They set up their “stage” on the couch and haul out all their little toy instruments and play their repertoire of ABCs, Christmas songs, nursery rhymes and Mummy’s songs. Their favourites are Texas (written for Charlie), Loco Mama (written for Sam) and Holy Moses.

Tami would have a bookshelf the size of Texas if she could…

Tami, any books you’d love to recommend?

Anything by Barbara Kingsolver. Her books and characters never disappoint. Long-time favourites are The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (I have a thing for Southern US writers and/or stories set in the Southern States…just like my musical influences tend to stem from there!) also, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood – such a Canadian treasure, that woman.


What music related books can you recommend? 

I tend to always have a musical biography on the go. I loved Shout, Sister, Shout, the biography of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and I’ll Take You There bio on The Staples Singers when I was researching for my new show, “Songs of Sinners”. What Happened, Miss Simone? about Nina Simone … and I recently picked up a copy of Roseanne Cash’s Composed memoirs when touring through Nashville. She writes so beautifully and I loved that it wasn’t a chronological account of her life, just colourful snapshots strung together with the language of a woman who has been writing songs her whole life.

Secret reading pleasures? What do you read when you’re waiting for your curls to set?

Every novel written by Marian Keyes! She’s my trashy, chick-lit go-to and makes me laugh out loud. Same with Janet Evanovich‘s Stephanie Plum series. I think I got up to #17 and had finally reached my fill, but, the very best of guilty pleasures.

What’s on your TBR (to-be-read) pile Tami?

I’ve been working through H is for Hawk for over a year now…having lost my father, it’s a hard one to read and gets too close to the bone at times that I have to put it down for a while, read something else and come back to it. It is so exquisitely written that I don’t mind that it gets read in short bursts, as it makes it last longer.

I also picked up The Rosie Project from the library the other day on a friend’s “light-reading” recommendation, so, it’s on my bedside table, waiting for me to finish The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd. I loved her novel The Secret Life of Bees and liked The Invention of Wings, but, am halfway through this one and have to admit I’m a bit disappointed thus far. I don’t like the main character and just feel annoyed at the end of each chapter!

HisforHawkSecretLifeofBeesThe invention of wings
What writers would you love to meet?

If I could jump into a time machine and have a chat… C.S. LewisL.M. Montgomery, Mark Twain, The Bronte Sisters, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

You travel a bit so I imagine you have to read ‘one the go’ – are you an eBooks/eReader convert or strictly old-school?

I have a love/hate relationship with my eReader. I love its convenience and the fact that it doesn’t take up half the weight allowance of my luggage like books used to when I was on tour!

However, part of the reading experience for me is the feel of the pages, I play with them the whole time I read (much to my parents’ and brother’s annoyance when growing up and now my husband’s!) seeing how far I have to go so I can prepare myself for the ending when it’s book full of characters I don’t want to part with, being able to lend a good book I want to share with a friend, see it on the shelf next to my other books after it’s been read (nothing better than a full bookshelf!) and my favourite smell in the world is that new book smell!

Tami, your tour is called Songs of Sinners but you seem so wholesome… can you tell us more about this juxtaposition?

Songs of Sinners is the story of how the gospel and blues music of the Southern States became Rock and Roll. Many artists grew up singing and learning to perform in the church, but then became “Sinners” when they “abandoned” their church congregations for a “life of sin”. From Ray Charles, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mavis Staples … these artists then influenced future stars Elvis, Bob Dylan and Prince. This tells the story of how many of these more well-known artists wouldn’t exist without first hearing those early gospel and blues artists that may not be as well known.

At the end of touring this year Tami will be back in the studio to record songs for a new album.

Tami, with your album Dynamite! (2014) you came out “all guns a blazing” and Don’t Be Afraid (2015) was a tribute to your Dad. Has the next album you’re working on got any ‘feel’ or direction to it yet? What can you tell us about it?

I’m currently writing my new album and the emerging theme seems to be sass! A lower tolerance level for putting up with people’s opinions or judgments. A result of getting older, being a mother and losing my Dad all intersecting, I guess. I’ve also been hugely influenced by performing the Songs of Sinners show this past year and being challenged vocally and as a performer, so I think that is trickling into the songs I’m writing as well.



Get the look: Country Music Hair by Erin Duvall (2016)
This recently published book showcases the most notable bobs, beehives, bouffants, mullets, hats, wigs and curls from the 1960s to the present, alongside interviews with hairstylists and musicians and a full history of the ‘dos of the decade with the likes of locks belonging to Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn.

Get tickets: Tami Neilson Sings! Songs of Sinners Thursday 25th May at the Charles Luney Auditorium at St Margaret’s College, Christchurch
We’ll be there with bells, polka dots and sequins on! She is performing material her New Zealand audience hasn’t heard her sing before, including music by Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, Blind Willie Johnson and Sister Rosetta Thorpe.

Watch: Tami with local Lyttelton musicians Marlon Williams & Delaney Davidson

(Images supplied by Tami Neilson)

Fan girl and proud of it

I’m mocked mercilessly about my raving and hyperventilating but I don’t care, I know exceptional talent when I see it. I won’t be swayed from my mission to getting everyone I know to listen to my favourite singer and all time amazing person, Tami Neilson. A Canadian now living in New Zealand, she has a powerhouse voice with a stunning range, able to belt, swoon or blues her way through the songs she writes that are about heartache, love and loss but also just the joy of living.

Tami Neilson with awardShe is a winner of the Apra Silver Scrolls Award for best song and has numerous NZ Music Awards, and you may have seen her on numerous television shows, most recently 7 Days and singing with Dave Dobyn at the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards. She also created the soundtrack  for local series The Brokenwood Mysteries.

I thought I’d let everyone know that we have just received in her latest album, Don’t Be Afraid, into the library collection, to add to her other earlier ones, and it’s a doozy, just like last year’s epic and award winning Dynamite (which I am told is on it’s way into our collection soon).

With a soulful voice straight from the golden age of country and rockabilly music, Tami Neilson has been described as “A red-hot honky-tonker, somewhere between Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson with perhaps just a little bit of Peggy Lee sophistication.” -Nick Bollinger, NZ National Radio

I’ve stalked her like a Justin Beiber fan stalks the Beibmeister, having seen her perform four times in the last year, even flying to Auckland recently so I could be at her album launch. It’s almost reached the restraining order stage, as Tami now knows my husband and I by sight and gives us great big warm hugs, “Hey, you guys!”, and I’ve got a picture of her with me and everything…. (yes I’m 53 not 13!)

electric guitarThere’s been this huge upswell of Alt Country/Americana awareness in this country over the last year or two, in part mostly to artists like Tami Neilson, Dave Khan and some Canterbury boys; Delaney Davidson, Marlon Williams and Ben Woolley. Marlon just picked up two awards at the New Zealand music awards mentioned above. These talented young men have been in well known local bands such as The Eastern, Unfaithful Ways and Devilish Mary and the Holy Rollers. Original music, passion and talent combine, and to see them live is just a joyous night out, pure and simple.

But if you can’t get along to a gig, we also have their CDs in various forms, and you will often see on the album sleeve a selection of the above artists as they often get together to add their talent to each other’s projects. There are so many exceptionally talented New Zealand musicians trying to make a living out there, so if you’re into music, keep your eyes open for local gigs, they’re everywhere.

The next opportunity to see the tremendous Tami here in Christchurch will be at the Nostalgia Festival in February at Ferrymead Park, along with The Phoenix Foundation, The Eastern and Devilish Mary and the Holy Rollers to name a few. Don’t miss it!