Jackie Bristow was writing songs from the age of nine, but kept them secret for nearly a decade.
“I didn’t want anyone to know my feelings,’’ she recalls.
Now here she is, an international touring artist with twin bases in Wanaka and Nashville, who is also proudly promoting the original work of six emerging Lakes District singer-songwriters, aged between 9 and 16.
They each recorded songs for a compilation EP, through Bristow’s own mentoring project SongCatcher, championed by the not-for-profit Kiwi organisation Youthtown NZ and the Central Lakes Arts Support Scheme.
Freya Jeffrey, 12, Saige Galloway, 12, Maia Januszkiewicz, 16, Ivy McKenzie, 12, and sisters Taylah Miller, 12 and Addisyn Miller, 9, recorded their songs in Queenstown and they were produced in Nashville by Mark Punch and mastered by Nash Chambers.
Strictly speaking, these songs are registered with Australasian Performing Rights Association as co-written with Bristow, but that doesn’t mean she was handholding – the project has emphatically been about helping these young talents finding their own voice, she says.
And she’s ready to tell anyone who will listen that they have.
Sprung from Gore, her career nowadays spans back-and-forth between New Zealand and her second home, Nashville, where she has achieved strong peer recognition in the fertile culture of Americana.
Quite apart from her own tours she shares bills with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Chris Isaak, Tommy Emmanuel, Art Garfunkel, and the Steve Miller Band, Foreigner, and most recently Boz Skaggs.
Though no stranger to working with seasoned professionals, she recalls leaving a session with the 12-year-old Freya Jeffrey feeling the same sort of thrill that came during her very happiest collaborations with them.
“It was like I’d been at a songwriting session in Nashville, with someone I actually clicked with,’’ she recalls.
Freya’s chorus was simply exultant:
I’m gonna rage like flame – a fire
I’m gonna fall like a autumn leaf
I’m gonna cry like a rushing river
And I’m gonna reach the highest peak.
Then there was the girl power confidently evoked by Taylah Miller spinning on her acknowledgements that maybe she runs like a girl, kicks like a girl, runs like a girl, but then dismissing any implied put-down with the lightest of responses: “Maybe it’s because I’m a girl . . .proud to be a girl … gonna do it like a girl.’’
As the young collaborators became more and more confident about sharing their ideas and feelings Bristow found herself, time and again, getting “really, genuinely excited’’ about not just their potential, but what they were already achieving.
Emotionally honest songs which would speak to their own age group, and hold crossover appeal as well.
Mind you, they grow up so quick. Maia Januszkiewicz’s song Letter takes up the idea of romance in movies She wrote it when she was 14 and now, at 16, she says of it “I love that when you listen to Letter you can see the way I perceived at that age and as I continue to develop as a songwriter, and a person, the way I talk about it changes.’’
Ivy McKenzie’s Upbeat is about staying positive in dark times. Saige Galloway’s New Zealand Is My Home is evocative of her experience walking the Kepler Track and Addisyn Miller’s Summertime drew inspiration from her holidays in the Marlborough Sounds to find a sparkling summery vibe.
A celebration of the Youthtown Compilation Volume 1 EP releasewill be held at The Deli at Ayrburn in Queenstown on December 17
Meanwhile, Bristow has recently toured with Boz Skaggs, enjoyed a strong European tour of her own, and is working on a new album, Goldmine, which should be coming out early 2025.