The Topps were born on a farm and did a brief stint in the army, which they describe as “sort of like a pajama party with guns,” before their street-singing led to recording and performing everywhere from county fairs to international venues.
They traveled to most English-speaking countries, including the U.S., in the 1990s, less from a desire to be famous than a curiosity about how well their material would be understood away from home.
Judging from what’s on view in the film, the Twins’ local audiences are largely made up of simple country folk like themselves, skewing older and rural — the sort you’d sooner expect to find at a Tea Party rally than a show by openly queer performers.
Maybe the Topps’ infectious charm wins them over or maybe New Zealand is really as cool as I’ve heard! Maybe Chely Wright needs a twin.
To further scare off conservatives, Jools (the blonde who plays guitar) and Lynda (the redhead) have been activists for at least three decades. Described by Billy Bragg as an “anarchist variety act,” they’re seen at rallies opposing nukes and apartheid and favoring gay rights and Maori land rights. They helped get a gay rights bill passed in New Zealand in 1986 by defining it as a question of lovers vs. haters.
Apparently 1982 was a key year for the Topps, as there’s a lot of archival footage from that year, showing them singing for tips in the street and being profiled in a TV news report which mentions casually that the then 24-year-olds share a house with their girlfriends. It was also the year they released their first record.
Perhaps the mutual intuition that comes with being twins makes it easier for Jools and Lynda to be spontaneous when they perform together; it’s certainly reflected in their vocal harmonies.
The film is loosely structured, with the sisters interviewed —as themselves and their characters — in a variety of outfits and settings, plus telling bits of their story onstage between songs at a special concert staged for the film. Events provide a natural climax that threatens to end things on a sour note, but no one named Topp can stay down for long.
It’s mentioned that the twins have a gay brother but there’s no sign of him except in a photo at the end.
Although the targets of their inoffensive humor span a spectrum of straight types, the Topp Twins don’t neglect their own:
“Why don’t lesbians wear makeup when they go to Weight Watchers?”
“Because you can’t make love to Jenny Craig when you’ve got Estee Lauder on your face!”
Top photo: Jools and Lynda Topp (Photo by Sally Tagg / Diva Productions, courtesy of Argot Pictures)