A singer from New Zealand is touring Sussex with her tribute to the life and music of Dame Vera Lynn.
Vicki Lee brings ‘Vera Lynn – We’ll Meet Again’ to Ardingly’s Koorana Centre on Wednesday, February 21; Ditchling Village Hall on Friday, February 23; the Church of the Ascension, Haywards Heath, on Sunday, February 25; and Haywards Heath Methodist Church on Tuesday, February 27.
The show started life in 2015, says the 64-year-old performer from Palmerston North, 100 years after the start of the Gallipoli Campaign.
“In New Zealand we’ve got a famous opera singer called Dame Malvina Major who is a friend of Dame Vera’s and she was asked to sing in Anzac Cove for that commemoration. She decided she would like to sing Dame Vera Lynn’s songs so she phoned her to ask her permission and Dame Vera said she was thrilled to know that the songs were being kept alive.”
Inspired by the event, Vicki decided to do something herself.
“I did a concert at the Globe Theatre in Palmerston North on the Anzac weekend and it just took off from there,” she says.
The show’s success led to Dame Malvina suggesting that Vicki could meet Dame Vera in person later that year.
It’s something Vicki’s done three times now. The second meeting took place in May last year and the most recent was on Monday (February 12) in Ditchling.
“It was just a lovely meeting because she knows me now,” says Vicki. “There was a feeling that she was happy to see me and that’s really important.”
“We talked about her legacy and we talked about how I try to utilise her legacy to connect with some of the elderly people in New Zealand. Not necessarily veterans but people who remember her music and remember what it did for them at that really dark time during the war, and how her music just triggers those memories and brings something special into the room.”
Performing those songs is a fascinating experience for Vicki as well.
“It’s as if I’m not even there at times,” she says. “I sit at the keyboard, singing and playing Dame Vera’s songs, and I’m connecting with her but I’m almost mediating that, if you get my drift.”
“The more I do it the more I feel committed to keeping it going,” Vicki says. “And it’s really special for me doing it while Dame Vera knows that it’s happening.”
But, Vicki admits, she doesn’t think there’s anybody who could sing quite like Dame Vera back in the day.
“You couldn’t try to emulate the sound of her voice, there’s something really unique about it,” Vicki explains. “But what I can do is, with emotion, tone and special attention to the lyrics of the song, I can convey what she was trying to do in my own way. Not trying to copy but just really respecting and honouring the music for what it was.”
Vicki used to be a social worker in the ’70s and ’80s, dealing with all kinds of responsibilities like adoptions, fostering and custody reports, which she did for about 12 years.
So when did she decide she wanted to become a singer?
“Well, I was more of a pianist than I was a singer,” Vicki states. “The singing came later, then I joined some different bands and it just went from there. It’s always been a part of my life.”
Vicki has a BA with a major in music from Massey University and now teaches piano three days a week with pupils whose ages range from seven to 86.
The rest of the time she’s performing in concerts around New Zealand.
But what drew Vicki to Dame Vera’s music in particular?
“Well, my mother always used to play Dame Vera Lynn’s music when I was a child,” Vicki explains. “So that got into my DNA at a pretty young age.
“In my teens I was more into the Beatles and Pink Floyd but as the years have gone by, and as this event (the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli) came about, I realised that the music meant so much.”
“It’s up to us to pass that music down,” says Vicki. “So I specifically try to do that, to keep those beautiful old songs going.”
But the concerts aren’t just a chance for a good singalong, they also allow Vicki to collect people’s stories.
“At half time I go out with a notebook and pen,” she explains. “I can only get four of five stories but every concert that’s five stories that I’m putting into a book of memories.”
“It’s mostly elderly people if it’s a matinee. Sometimes I do evening concerts and what’s so lovely is that 50-year-olds will bring their parents along. Then what I love to see there is they connect with their parents and, perhaps, learn something about their parents’ lives that they didn’t know before. Even more special is when sometimes I see young people with their grandparents. That is magic.”
Vicki feels privileged to be doing her tour. It’s not always easy to organise but she says the results are well worth it.
So does Vicki have a favourite Dame Vera song to perform?
She pauses for a moment before answering.
“I love them all, I really do,” she says. “They all tell a story and I find it hard to pinpoint any one song.”
She lists all the classics, of course – ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’, ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’ and ‘We’ll Meet Again’ – and says she also enjoys performing the tunes that are less well known.
“But, when I look at what I do, the least important person in this whole process is me,” Vicki states.
“It’s always the audience and Dame Vera Lynn.”
See Vicki Lee perform in Sussex
Wednesday, February 21: 3pm, Koorana Centre, Street Lane, Ardingly. Tickets available at Ardingly Post Office, also on 01444 892201.
Friday, February 23: 3pm, Ditchling Village Hall, 18 Lewes Road, Ditchling. Tickets available at Ditchling Post Office, 1 Lewes Road, Ditchling.
Sunday, February 25: 3pm, Church of the Ascension, Value Road, Haywards Heath. Tickets available at Broadbridges, Sussex Road, Haywards Heath.
Tuesday, February 27: 3pm, Haywards Heath Methodist Church, Perrymount Road. Tickets available at Fun Bags Party Shop, Broadway, Haywards Heath.
Tickets cost £5 in advance and £8 on the day.
For all other enquiries, call It’s Magic on 01444 800045 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.itsmagic.org.uk.
Money from the Sussex concerts go to the Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity and It’s Magic Events, a charity that aims to strengthen community values with the power of music.
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