When SBS rang RocKwiz co-host Julia Zemiro and asked her to present a two-hour live musical event alongside Top End Wedding star Miranda Tapsell that would see a nation-wide rendition of seminal Hunters and Collectors hit ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’, there was, she says, only one possible answer. “Am I looking forward to being in a town hall with Miranda and singing with 1500 people? Are you joking? Yes please. Like, I’ll pay good money to do that,” she laughs.
As far as she’s concerned, Australia’s Biggest Singalong!, which will see Pub Choir guru Astrid Jorgensen bringing Australia together, will be an absolute blast when it beams into homes across the nation on Saturday 5 June at 8.30pm. And she hopes that everyone will get involved, no matter their singing ability.
“Singing feels good,” Zemiro says. “You don’t have to be brilliant. And if you don’t practise, how do you get better? So many people think they’re terrible because someone somewhere along the way said, ‘you can’t sing’. I get so angry when I hear people talk like that. If you’re in a family group right now in your lounge room and there’s always someone that gets dumped on because they’re not the good singer, today is not that day. Today is the day we all join in.”
Tapsell agrees wholeheartedly. “It’s about giving it a go, and the love of the song, as opposed to how good your voice is,” she says.
Mutual fans from way back, Zemiro and Tapsell bonded big time when they travelled to Darwin together to shoot an episode of Home Delivery that took The Sapphires star on a two-day road trip round her childhood haunts. That film was a dream role for Tapsell, and she’s pumped to lead the nation in song together once more. “Julia’s not scared to be playful and sets the tone for the night – that we’re all allowed to be a little bit off-key or forget a lyric, it’s not going to be the end of the world. I’m feeling less nervous about doing a live event because I know that we’ll be going through this together. Julia is an absolute pro, so I’ll be in safe hands.”
This kind of communal event is a tonic after the year that was, Tapsell says. “I remember being quite emotional when I returned to the theatre for the first time in months after lockdown. How special is it to share this experience live with other people? And the beautiful thing about this show is that you’ll get to see all these incredible moments that won’t happen again. You were there, and there’s magic in that.”
A host of musical guests will beam into the broadcast, including Eurovision contestants Dami Im and Katie Noonan, plus Australia’s Got Talent alumnus Mitch Tambo. He wowed the world with his Gamilaraay language take on another pub rock classic, John Farnham’s ‘You’re the Voice’. They’ll be joined by community groups like Gondwana Choirs, the Dementia Centre Singalong and the Australian Women’s Choir. “They provide such an amazing place for people to be together and be heard,” Zemiro says.
Hunters and Collectors frontman Mark Seymour is also on board. He’s a regular on RocKwiz and has toured with Zemiro and Brian Nankervis. Zemiro thinks the song is an inspired choice to bring us all together after the silence of last year’s lockdown. “It came out in the ‘90s when I was at acting school and I remember how much men loved singing it, how they would find a softness in the melancholy of it. It could be a song about maybe loving a woman, but also loving your friends. There’s something anthemic about the ‘Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh,’ that you can sway to.”
Tapsell came to the band via AFL anthem ‘Holy Grail’, and she fell in love with the message behind ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ too. “I think a lot of Australians are embarrassed to be affectionate or to tell someone that they love them and that they’re going to miss them when they go away,” she says. “It’s nice to hear a song that’s completely unashamed of expressing that feeling. And a lot of people haven’t really had an opportunity to see and embrace their family members, so it’s a lovely song to bring everyone back to what we knew before the pandemic.”
Zemiro says Jorgensen is just the person to bring it all together into one big, bold and beautiful performance. “She was part of my Adelaide Cabaret Festival line-up in 2019 and she’s just so amazing at what she does. That event was in the small Spiegeltent, but when she does a big venue like this, you really see what an incredible skill she has in bringing 1500 people together, dividing them up into where they should sit in their sound, and giving them the confidence to go for it.”
She hopes Australia’s Biggest Singalong! inspires new choirs. “I hope, at the end of the show, people go, ‘Gee, that was fun. Do we have a local choir? Can we join or form one?’ It costs nothing. All you need is one person who’s willing to play the piano, or not, and off you go. We really limit ourselves in what we think we’re able to do.”
Just like our national obsession with sport, pub rock belongs to the people, and we need it more than ever after 2020, Zemiro adds. “We all went very quiet, and quiet reflection is good, but I also know that so many of my musician friends, actors and musical theatre performers were shut down for a year. The people that make music, that we rely on so much to lift our spirits, they weren’t doing what they love to do. We weren’t doing what we love to do.”
This is the night to do it, Tapsell says. “There’s no crime in singing in your lounge room. To just let it belt is a very freeing thing, and it’s fun.”
Australia’s Biggest Singalong! premieres Saturday 5 June, 8.30pm AEST, live on SBS, NITV and on SBS on Demand. Find out more on the Singalong! Program page. Join the conversation on social #SingalongSBS
You can check out Zemiro’s top musical picks from the SBS On Demand vault here:
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