The year that changed Tami Neilson's life

Paul Little,
Spy News,
Publish Date
Saturday, 9 September 2017, 11:24AM

A birth, a death and a musical legacy made 2014 a most significant year for musician Tami Neilson, 40. As told to Paul Little.

It was a year that had the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. It started with me being pregnant with my second child. I released my album Dynamite! and toured while I was seven or eight months pregnant, waddling around the country for a month in heels. It went to No.1 on the New Zealand charts and it spawned the song Walk that won the Silver Scroll.

And I gave birth to my baby, Sam. When he was 6 months old, my dad's health was rapidly declining so I decided to jump on a plane to Canada with him. I was there for less than a week and Dad passed away very suddenly. There must have been something in my gut telling me to get over there and make sure he got to hold Sam in his arms.

We stayed for a month, to be with my mum. I had booked studio time to record my next album but was totally not in that headspace. I had booked in musicians and producers and some people had made travel arrangements to come back early from touring overseas.

My mum said: "What are you going to do about the album?"

"I don't think I'll be able to do it," I said.

And she started to cry and said: "Your dad would be so upset if he thought that he had stopped your momentum."

He was my No.1 fan. I wrote a song about him for the album. It's called Bury My Body. It's about defiance in the face of death, and he loved it.

He was a musician and he was writing to the very bitter end. I think that was the turning point for me in trying to figure out what to do about making the album.

There's nothing worse than having something going around in your head and being unable to put it down. He had a lung condition and he was on oxygen. He could barely speak, let alone sing. I said, "I'll bring your guitar in tomorrow, and if you can play the melody on the guitar, I'll write it down." He sang one verse, but all his levels dropped, so we had to stop. I said, "Maybe we'll do the chorus tomorrow," but we lost him the next day. That song is called Don't Be Afraid and is the title track of my last album.

For the funeral, my brothers and I finished the song and performed it. I don't know how I did that. I couldn't speak at the funeral but I was able to sing that song.

I made a last promise to him when we were losing him. I said: "Don't worry, Dad, not a note of your music will go to waste. I'm going to make sure your music is heard. I'm your legacy and I'm your voice, and I'm going to keep building on the foundation you've given me."

So finishing the album became me keeping that promise. That was something I could pour myself into. It became a mission to create a lasting testament to him and make sure the world heard his music.