The Kiwi keep­ing Vera Lynn’s war sto­ries alive

The Southland Times - - TELEVISION -

AKiwi woman has made it her mis­sion to keep the mu­sic of ‘‘forces’ sweet­heart’’ Vera Lynn alive.

Vicki Lee tours the coun­try per­form­ing the songs Lynn made fa­mous dur­ing World War II.

Although it’s her do­ing the singing, when she’s on stage she be­comes the least im­por­tant per­son in the room.

‘‘I think I’ve got the abil­ity to con­vey the feel­ing of the songs rea­son­ably well,’’ Lee says.

‘‘But I look out there at the au­di­ence some­times and they’re not re­ally look­ing at me, they’re look­ing at this huge back­drop of her.

‘‘They’re just not even in that theatre, they’re in an­other place in their lives.’’

Lee first en­coun­tered Lynn’s mu­sic as a child when her par­ents, big fans of Lynn’s, played it in the house.

But it wasn’t un­til 2015 that Lee, a pro­fes­sional singer and mu­si­cian, per­formed Lynn’s work for the first time.

At each per­for­mance, Lee no­ticed the ef­fect the mu­sic was hav­ing on au­di­ence mem­bers, par­tic­u­larly the older gen­er­a­tion.

Later that year, Lee trav­elled to Eng­land to meet Lynn and ask her per­mis­sion to cover her song­book in New Zealand. Dame Malv­ina Ma­jor, who had an ex­ist­ing re­la­tion­ship with Lynn, helped make the con­nec­tion hap­pen.

Per­mis­sion was granted and, with the sup­port of Ro­tary New Zealand, Lee took the wartime tunes around the coun­try.

Ear­lier this year she vis­ited Lynn to cel­e­brate the mu­si­cal leg­end’s 100th birth­day, and per­form a con­cert to raise money for Lynn’s char­ity.

‘‘She is so hum­ble, she is just grounded and hum­ble. She can’t be­lieve all the at­ten­tion the world has given her for her birth­day,’’ Lee says.

Lynn be­came known as the ‘‘forces’ sweet­heart’’ for her per­for­mances at mil­i­tary bases and camps dur­ing World War II.

She toured Egypt, In­dia and Burma per­form­ing the likes of We’ll Meet Again and The White Cliffs of Dover for the troops and, along with the Queen of the time, was one of the few women to re­main in Lon­don through the Blitz.

Her mu­sic, then, is as­so­ci­ated with some pow­er­ful mem­o­ries but of­ten it takes a per­for­mance from Lee to bring them up for her au­di­ence.

Dur­ing her shows, Lee makes a point of min­gling with the au­di­ence at half time to ask them about any sto­ries the mu­sic has re­minded them of.

She’s col­lect­ing the yarns with the hope of pub­lish­ing them in a book one day.

They can be by turns heart­break­ing and hi­lar­i­ous.

She’s met one of New Zealand’s three re­main­ing Spit­fire pilots, who told her he re­mem­bered see­ing Lynn per­form at the Pal­la­dium in Lon­don and on the back of trucks at dif­fer­ent aero­dromes when he was train­ing.

Lee says she’s priv­i­leged to be trusted with the sto­ries of New Zealand’s war gen­er­a­tion.

‘‘We owe so much to that gen­er­a­tion ... while they’re alive, we owe them that re­spect. We must never for­get, which is why I’m so driven to keep the con­cert go­ing, we’ve got this win­dow of op­por­tu­nity be­fore they’re gone.’’

Bri­tish wartime singer Vera Lynn

Vera Lynn and Kiwi mu­si­cian Vicki Lee

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