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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

VIKA AND LINDA BULL


Vika and Linda are an Australian vocal duo of Vika Susan Bull (born 1966) and her younger sister, Linda Rose Bull. They came to prominence after singing backing vocals in Joe Camilleri's band The Black Sorrows from 1988. They left that group early in 1994 to start their duo with a self-titled album appearing in June that year. It peaked at No. 7 on the ARIA Albums Chart and No. 16 in New Zealand. Their other top 40 charting albums are Princess Tabu (August 1996) and Two Wings (September 1999).

Vika Susan Bull was born in 1966 in Doncaster and is the older sister of Linda Rose Bull. Their mother was from Tonga, she arrived in Australia in 1959 as a nursing student, and their father was from Melbourne whose parents were local orchardists. The family maintained close links to the local Tongan community and the sisters were taught traditional singing and dancing. As children they regularly performed with the family, at dinner dances and the Tongan church they attended. After church they would have a Tongan feast, Vika recalled in 1995 "it didn't matter what the occasion was we would sing. We had harmonies around us ..., and now we mainly sing gospel .... It's a way of letting loose, which is what gospel music is all about". Vika received musical training – she had singing lessons, she was taught the piano and how to read music. Vika and Linda both attended Camberwell Girls Grammar School and Vika left at the age of 17 to train as a legal secretary and Stotts College. Both worked at the Black Cat Cafe in their teens., in Fitzroy.

While growing up the sisters had separate ambitions: Vika wanted to be a professional singer; Linda wanted to be either a visual artist or a microbiologist. Vika started training as a secretary, while Linda entered university. They both enjoyed singing, their mother was an early coach and noticed their sibling vocal harmony, Vika recalled "our mother taught us to sing in harmony she said 'Linda you got the low voice you take the low part' ... and I took the high part". Vika's early influences were Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Ruth Brown. Linda's being Linda Rondstadt, Aretha, and Dolly Parton.

By 1983 Vika had started a band, Blue Tomatoes, with one of the café's co-owners, Tony Edwards. They played cover versions of soul songs and a few originals. In 1984 Vika became a backing singer in a Melbourne band, Fear of Flying. After two years Vika joined Sophisticated Boom Boom. Other members of that group were Jenny Fenton, Steve Purcell, Kerri Simpson, and Jeremy Rasmussen. Vika started working as a receptionist at Platinum Studios, a recording studio.

Linda left university and in 1987 she joined Vika in Sophisticated Boom Boom. Vika also performed with John Justin and Thunderwings alongside Justin, Tony Featherstone, Paul Hines, Carl Manuel, Gordon Pitts, and Robert Woodrow. Later in 1987 the sisters formed their own band, The Honeymooners, with a line up of Jack Abeyratne, Thiery Fossmalle on bass guitar, and Steve Sedergreen. Vika met John Watson, drummer (ex-Australian Crawl, Kevin Borich Express) in James Reyne Band, and they married in 1997.

Vika's first recording opportunity occurred when Rebecca Barnard was using the Platinum Studios and one of her backing vocalists "lost her voice". Vika, the receptionist, was now a backing singer. Early in 1988 Vika released her debut solo single, "Livin' Hell", which was soon followed by a second single, "My House". Vika and Linda worked with Barnard and Simpson in The Sacred Hearts of Sweet Temptation.

By mid-1988 Vika and Linda had joined The Black Sorrows, a blues-rock group, which had formed in 1983 by Joe Camilleri (ex-Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons) on lead vocals and saxophone. The group's drummer, Peter Luscombe, recommended the sisters to Camilleri. They provided backing vocals on The Black Sorrows' fifth studio album,Hold on to Me (September 1988). The line-up was Vika and Linda, Camilleri, and Luscombe; with Wayne Burt on guitar; Jeff Burstin on guitar (both ex-Falcons); and Mick Girasole on bass guitar. The album peaked at No. 7 on the ARIA Albums Chart. Vika and Linda provided backing vocals on the band's hits on the related ARIA Singles Chart, "Hold on to Me" (September 1988, No. 41), "Chained to the Wheel" (February 1989, No. 9) and "The Crack-Up" (April, No. 40). For live gigs Camilleri would give each their own "spots" displaying different voices: "Vika strong and soulful. Linda soft and gentle".

Their second album with The Black Sorrows was Harley & Rose (November 1990) and saw the duo provide lead vocals on some of the album tracks. It peaked at No. 3 and provided two top 30 singles, "Harley & Rose" (August 1990) and "Never Let Me Go" (April 1991). Better Times appeared in September 1992 and peaked at No. 13. They followed with a compilation album, The Chosen Ones – Greatest Hits, in November 1993 which reached No. 4. The group toured in support of its release, Nicole Leedham of The Canberra Times noted that the band "has also been through the odd line-up change, with the latest incarnations offering the harmonies of Vika and Linda Bull, being the most successful".

Vika praised Camillleri "he taught us that you have to take care of your own career, because no one else will do it for you. He taught us to watch every cent, to make sure your band is happy, and how to deal with the public". While members of The Black Sorrows, the duo provided vocals for other artists: Hunters and Collectors' What's a Few Men?(November 1987) and Ghost Nation (November 1989); Ross Wilson's Dark Side of the Man (July 1989); Archie Roach's Charcoal Lane (May 1990); John Farnham's Chain Reaction (September 1990); Seven Stories' Judges and Bagmen (1990); Deborah Conway's String of Pearls (October 1991) and Bitch Epic (1993). During the recording of Charcoal Lane they met Paul Kelly, its producer, and a singer-songwriter in his own right.

By February 1994 Vika and Linda had announced they would leave The Black Sorrows and were "branching into their solo careers" at the end of The Chosen One tour. They began performing original works and country music covers at venues like the Cherry Tree and The Esplanade. They prepared material for their debut self-titled album. In March that year they performed at Canberra's National Food and Wine Frolic, where they presented their new material. Also that year the duo were invited to Tonga to sing at celebrations for the 75th birthday of King Tāufaʻāhau Tupou.

Vika and Linda appeared in June 1994 on Mushroom Records and was produced by Kelly. A bonus disc was included with the special edition of the album, containing five gospel songs. Kelly also provided guitars and backing vocals; other session musicians were Burstin on guitars; Luscombe on drums; Stephen Hadley on bass guitar; and Jex Saarelaht on keyboards. All tracks on the standard edition were originals, Kelly had offered twelve tracks – they recorded five – including "Ninety Nine Years", which had been co-written with Vika and Linda. Three other tracks were written specifically for the duo, "When Will You Fall for Me' by Mark Seymour (of Hunters & Collectors), "House of Love" by Wayne Burt, and "These Hands That Hold Me" by Eris O'Brien. "When Will You Fall for Me" and "House of Love" were both featured as backing music on the soap opera, Home and Away.

Other tracks were written by Camilleri, and Stephen Cummings. Linda told The Canberra Times '​ Naomi Mapstone "it was amazing how friendly and helpful these people were, they could just as easily have said no because they're so busy". Another The Canberra Times review described their music as "a mix of blues, reggae, rock and country-flavoured offerings". The album peaked at No. 7 on the ARIA Albums Chart, and was certified platinum. It was also nominated for an ARIA Music Award in 1995 for 'Breakthrough Artist - Album'. In New Zealand it reached No. 16 on New Zealand Albums Chart in April 1995. Vika and Linda provided three singles, "When Will You Fall For Me" (1994), "House of Love" (November) and "Hard Love" (1995). None made the top 50 in Australia although "House of Love" reached No. 32 in New Zealand.

In November 1994 they supported Billy Joel on his Australian tour for three weeks. During the next year they toured Europe with a backing band, which included Michael Barkeron percussion. While in the UK they spent a week at Peter Gabriel's studio recording their next album, The Mouth of the River, which was released on the Real World label. One of the tracks, " I Know Where to Go to Feel Good", was recorded with Iggy Pop. Also in the UK they worked at the World of Recording Week, a WOMAD (World Of Music Art and Dance) event.

Their third album, Princess Tabu, was issued in September 1996, which peaked at No. 30 in Australia. It was co-produced by Vika and Linda with Jeremy Allom and Diesel. It has tracks co-written by the sisters with various collaborators including Barker, Diesel, Kelly, and Tim Finn. Additional musicians used were Barker, Diesel, Stuart Fraser, Bruce Haynes and Stuart Speed. It was recorded in Melbourne, Sydney and in Tonga – where they "paid their respects to the nation's monarch King Taufa'ahu  Tupou". Australian musicologist, Ian McFarlane, felt the album was a "purer reflection of the cultural strains and rich diversity of their heritage". An extended version ofPrincess Tabu was issued in the following year, which included a bonus live disc – with acoustic versions of earlier material recorded at the Continental Hotel, Prahan.

During the next few years the duo toured and prepared material for a fourth album, Two Wings. In the interim Linda and Stanford had their first child, as did Vika and Watson. The sisters released their fourth album, Two Wings, in August 1999, a collection of spiritual songs, which McFarlane described as an "inspired song selection ranging from blues and gospel to reggae and soul". It was co-produced by Renée Geyer with Kelly and includes tracks written by Kelly, Roach, Bob Marley and Tim Rogers. The album peaked at No. 34 on the ARIA Albums Chart, and was nominated for 'Best Adult Contemporary Album' at the 2000 ARIA Music Awards.

In November 2000 they released a live album, Live and Acoustic, recorded at the Continental Hotel. It was co-produced by the sisters with Burstin. Australian music journalist,Ed Nimmervoll, declared it to be his Album of the Week, noting that it "brings us back to the start, pure Vika and Linda, just singing together, as they always have and always will, applying all the experience and confidence they've accumulated, more gospel than you might expect". In the following year Vika and Linda were released by the mergedFestival Mushroom Records Vika and Linda now promoted and distributed their new music, although Mushroom still held the rights to their back catalogue.

Vika and Linda's next studio album, Love Is Mighty Close to You, was released independently in July 2002 using a country, blues style. Tracks were written by Cummings, Kelly, Cyndi Boste, Dan Brodie, Rob Snarski and Chris Wilson. The album failed to chart but it was nominated for 'Best Adult Contemporary Album' at the ARIA Music Awards of 2002. Following its release the sisters focussed on their gospel roots. The backing band's line-up changed with Burstin replaced on guitar by Dion Hirini. During a three month residency at the Cornish Arms, Vika and Linda played and recorded gospel tunes; which resulted in a second live album, Tell the Angels, in May 2003.

After the release of Tell the Angels, the sisters took a break from performing as a duo, during which Linda and Stanford had their second child – Linda spent more time with parenting responsibilities. In 2005 the sisters opened a children's wear shop in North Fitzroy, Hoochie Coochie. From November that year they presented six episodes of a TV series, Pacific Stories, on ABC2. Episode 5, "Fit for a King", broadcast on 15 December detailed the 1994 celebrations where the duo sang for the king of Tonga.

In September 2006 Liberation Blue released Vika and Linda's sixth studio album, Between Two Shores. Amazon.com's review declared the highlights were "a heavy groove version of the Sorrows' hit single of '89, 'Chained to the Wheel'; a reggae take on 'When Will You Fall for Me' and a soulful reconstruction of Barry Palmer's 'Love Comes Easy'". In December of that year MGM Distribution re-issued four of their early albums: Vika and Linda, Princess Tabu, Two Wings and Live and Acoustic.

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