A Busker’s Success Story


It is the voice that stops foot traffic – whether it’s in Dublin or in Nelson’s Trafalgar St.

Since she arrived in Nelson after Christchurch’s February 22 earthquake, it has taken 23-year-old songstress Rebecca Nelson just a few months to land an album, a job and top billing at the Theatre Royal.

Nelson’s concert next Friday night will launch her debut album, Pure Imagination, and give Nelsonians a professional taste of the raw voice they may have heard busking around the central city.

Guests will include La Vida Quartet, Waimea College’s award-winning choir Belle a Cappella, friends and ballroom dancers Sophie Lambie and Lyu Ishizuka, and fellow street busker Marley Richards.

Nelson cannot believe how far she has come in such a short time – and it is
all thanks to her voice and the support of locals, including Theatre Alive director Hugh Neill.

“I was walking, doing something boring like shopping, and I heard this voice,” Neill said. “I thought, ‘Wow, what a voice’. “I followed it, and there she was. It was a breath of fresh air.” Neill got talking with Nelson and suggested a concert – an offer she eagerly snapped up.

It was just one of several offers of support, and she has secured work at private functions around the region. “I’ve got heaps coming up for the Rugby World Cup,” she says, including the Italian Festival on the weekend of September 17.

“It’s going really well. The community’s really come together to help me out.”

A friend – Christchurch-based label Orange Studios’ Michael Bell – put together her CD, despite losing his studio in the quake. The tracks include an eclectic range: Till There Was You from The Music Man, Crowded House’s Better Be Home Soon, and opera favourite Ave Maria.

“It’s classical crossover. I sing anything, but in my style,” Nelson said.

Investment from a Nelsonian paid for the album. “I was very lucky,” Nelson said. “In Nelson, I’ve been able to make an album. I never would have thought I’d be able to [do that] in New Zealand.”

It is the culmination of several years of effort for Nelson. She began singing at 15, and in mid-2009 travelled to Ireland, following in the footsteps of Irish buskers by heading to Dublin’s Grafton St to perform. She soon began to attract daily crowds, and in June last year was invited to tour Ireland with classical music group The Priests.

// She returned to Christchurch last December to sing at her friends’ wedding and to begin a tour with New Zealand classical crossover singer Will Martin. But the February quake put paid to that, and busking in the city streets was no longer an option.

She’s aiming to get overseas again, with the goal of being a professional singer. “I’ll see how my career goes here in New Zealand, but I really want to go overseas and start with my album over there,” she said. “I’m going to try and get my name out there here, and then maybe head over to Ireland, the UK, Japan.”

Neill will back her all the way.”She’s very focused,” he said. “Talent’s not enough – you have to be tough, and she knows what she wants.”


Naomi Arnold – The Nelson Mail