Vika and Linda Bull find soul in their gospel roots during challenging Victorian lockdown

SAVIOUR: Performing gospel songs every Sunday for their social media followers has helped Vika and Linda Bull through the COVID lockdown.
SAVIOUR: Performing gospel songs every Sunday for their social media followers has helped Vika and Linda Bull through the COVID lockdown.

THE Bull sisters, Vika and Linda, have never spent so much time online as they have in the past six months.

Being confined to your house, week after week, is difficult for even the most introverted character, but when you're blessed with a bubbly personality used to performing regularly for appreciative crowds, it can be downright torture.

That's why when the first COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne began in March the Bulls decided to sing one gospel song each Sunday morning for their followers on social media. The weekly performance became known as the Sunday Sing Song and it returned when Victoria was declared a state of emergency in the second outbreak.

"It's kept our spirits up and we've had great feedback from people," Vika says. "It's kept our morale up, I guess."

The feedback was so positive the sisters decided to record an album of gospel songs for their latest album, Sunday (The Gospel According To Iso). Music director Cameron Bruce played piano from his home in NSW and sent the files to Melbourne where the Bulls added their distinct vocal talents.

"It wasn't difficult to put together was it Vik?" Linda says when asked about the process of recording an album in isolation during our three-way interview.

"Well, there was a lot of Zoom meetings," Vika replies. "Discussing arrangements, the key and things like that."

"Sorry, you're right. It was [hard]," Linda laughs. "It wasn't hard to sing, but it was a lot of work to put together."

Vika and Linda Bull - There Ain't No Grave (Gonna Hold My Body Down)

Gospel music was the obvious choice for the Bull sisters in this unprecedented time of the pandemic. As children the pair learnt to sing listening to Tongan choirs in their suburban Melbourne church with their mother and playing their father's Mahalia Jackson and Elvis Presley gospel records.

"Gospel serves that purpose because that's what it's for, uncertain times," Linda says. "To uplift people or give them hope, or when you're sad. Gospel ticks all those boxes."

However, Sunday (The Gospel According To Iso) doesn't feature the 12-part harmonies of Tongan hymns, but a wide variety of southern American gospel.

The songs originated from list of 175 gospel songs music icon, friend and collaborator, Paul Kelly, sent the Vika and Linda several years ago. During the lockdown they cycled through the songs and eventually settled on 12, plus an original, Shallow Grave, written by Kasey Chambers and Harry Hookey.

ON A ROLL: Sunday (The Gospel According To Iso) follows Vika and Linda Bull's debut No.1 Akilotoa in June.

ON A ROLL: Sunday (The Gospel According To Iso) follows Vika and Linda Bull's debut No.1 Akilotoa in June.

There's classics like Amazing Grace and Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water next to darker lesser-known songs such as There Ain't No Grave (Gonna Hold My Body Down), written in 1934 by a then 12-year-old Claude Ely, who was stricken with tuberculosis.

Another song, Memphis Flu, was written in the 1930s about the deadly 1929 influenza season.

"The songs we chose were quite specific to what's going on in the world now," Linda says. "I think they reflect our feelings pretty accurately."

Vika and Linda Bull release Sunday (The Gospel According To Iso) on Friday.

This story Gospel uplifts in isolation according to Vika and Linda Bull first appeared on Newcastle Herald.