At Last: The Etta James Story at Thirroul

Vika Bull plays R&B legend Etta James in a two-hour narrative concert about her life and music. Picture: MATT DELLER

Vika Bull plays R&B legend Etta James in a two-hour narrative concert about her life and music. Picture: MATT DELLER

AT LAST: THE ETTA JAMES STORY

  • Featuring Vika Bull
  • Friday, July 17:
  • Anita’s Theatre, Thirroul

Vika Bull was 17 when she first heard The Wall Flower - now her favourite Etta James song - and was captivated by her bluesy style.

"She's very honest in the way she sung. She lived that life that she could tell a story really well and because she's got that power, she can belt it out. But she can be very vulnerable and sing very softly and make your heart kind of melt," Bull says.

"That's what I like about her music - the way she delivers her songs."

While Bull was tentative about taking on an acting role, the producer of At Last: The Etta James Story knew she was perfect to play the part of the R&B legend. Yes, she would have to act as well as sing, but as the diva is one of Bull's favourites she agreed to take it on.

The show tells the tale of the soul singer's turbulent life and features her most loved songs.

"From watching YouTube clips, I think she was very spirited and cheeky, very clever and witty," Bull says. "I think the life she led - having a bit of a hard time when she was young - probably made her the great singer that she became."

Bull says said the soul diva definitely influenced her own music over the years with The Black Sorrows, and with her sibling duo Vika and Linda.

"When you're young you just copy your favourites like I did with Etta; I just copied the way she sang. Then once you start getting around a bit, the honesty sets in," she says.

"I didn't really understand when I was young why I liked her voice so much - I just liked the sound of it. As I got older, I realised you do need that life experience to become a great singer; you need a little bit of hard knocks along the way."

Bull still counts her blessings every day to still be doing the thing she loves most after 31 years in the business. "I know it's a young person's game. I think I'm very very lucky and I don't take that for granted," she says.

These days Bull and her sister do backing vocals for a lot of artists, including Aussie blues star C.W. Stoneking.

"We're more session singers . . . which we really enjoy, because that's our first love - harmony singing," she says.

Once the Etta James tour is over, Bull will be hitting the festival scene with Stoneking, but will not be looking forward to the dust and crowds.

"I don't enjoy the festival scene at all. I find it incredibly hard work, stressful, because you're constantly thinking about that gig and how many people are there, and it's dusty and that's the worst thing for the voice," she says. "The whole thing is a pain in the neck."

So what would be the ultimate gig for Bull if she could choose anywhere, with anyone?

"Madison Square Garden, with someone like The Rolling Stones," she laughs.

But for now, she will be showing off her narrative skills while belting out soulful tunes inside the art deco walls of Anita's Theatre.