"Kitch, 50s-throwback pop harmony duo, covering big band classics"
“Out on the wily, windy moors we roll and fall in green…” they croon, a bit of arms-waving-over-the-head choreography that seems vaguely familiar coming in. What? Kate Bush? ‘Wuthering Heights’? The crowd goes even madder. Then it’s a gentle, swaying version of the Smiths’ ‘Panic on the streets of London, doo-be-doo…’ moving effortlessly into a choppy version of Blondie’s ‘Once I had a love, but it was a gas…’, all in harmonies so perfect these grubby post-punky numbers sound almost angelic. It’s sheer madness and when it finally stops, with The Puppini Sisters collapsed in a heap around the pole, the crowd loses it. The DJ tries to keep the party going playing the most floor-filling record he can think of – Beyoncé! - but the place clears. After what we’ve just seen everything else seems, well, flat.
“We only did ‘Wuthering Heights’ because my husband lied,” laughs Marcella – Marchie – Puppini a week later in a 40s-style stole and lipstick so bright you can’t help but worry for your retinas. “He knew how obsessed they were at Duckie with the song” – Duckie being an alternative art-school knees-up that pitches up anywhere from the grimy Vauxhall Tavern to the Institute of Contemporary Arts – “and he told them we could do it. So there we were, having learnt the moves from the video – except for the cartwheels as the stage isn’t very big – and everyone loved it.”When they played ‘Panic’ at a Morrissey convention they fully expected to be taken outside and slapped, “but they loved it!” says Steph, the red-head in killer heels. “It’s because it’s not a cover, it’s a tribute.”
The whole Puppini Sisters thing started when Marcella, a Bolognese who had formerly pole danced in a lesbian club and worked in fashion legend Vivienne Westwood’s design studio, went to see the French animated film Belleville Rendezvous, which features a 40s-style harmony group. “I just kept thinking, ‘I could do that!’” she says, having already worked the burlesque scene as a solo singer alongside horseback riding striptease artists. To make up the numbers, she immediately thought of Leicester-born Kate Mullins, who she had studied with at Trinity College of Music. Kate not only thought it was a great idea but knew that another Trinity student, Stephanie O’Brien from north London, would make a genius third member. It didn’t hurt that she had red hair to compliment Kate’s blonde and Marcella’s black, although that was strictly an added extra.
And that’s when the hard work started. As accomplished musicians, with everything from piano through saxophone to harp on their combined CVs, they sat down to arrange the songs they wanted to use, that is “translate” songs such as ‘Panic’ and disco songs like ‘I Will Survive’ into tight three-part harmonies. With hours upon hours of rehearsal under their wide, patent leather belts, they were soon performing for the grande dame of British fashion, Vivienne Westwood, on the bar of the Café Royal. It was only then, with one of the most fashionable audiences in the country literally at their feet, that they fully realised that the act was totally right for right now. With the renewed interest in burlesque and characters like Dita von Teese hogging magazine covers and an album chart seemingly ready for anything be it tenors or singer-songwriters or quirky jazz acts, they knew that this was their moment. “We think of it as pop,” says Marcella, “but the jazz crowd have enjoyed it and thought it was really clever.”
The next step was a deal which came via a record industry come-see at Trinity. “I think they were impressed with everyone,” says Kate of the highly-accomplished music students who gave their all that day, “but we were just a bit different.” In monochrome peddle pushers and jaunty contrasting neckerchiefs The Puppini Sisters – obviously not real sisters – blew the record company away, even if they were like nothing they’d ever seen or even heard of before.
Management in the form of the ex-managers of highly-credible acts such as Cocteau Twins, The Sundays and Smashing Pumpkins came on board (“We really liked the idea of being with someone who’d done cult bands,” says Kate, though the Pumpkins’ 20 million album sales takes them a little out of the cult category) and, with a series of high-profile gigs set up by a guy who looks like something out of Graham Greene with his trilby and two-tone shoes, The Puppini Sisters were ready to record their first album, which (and hooray for this!) includes ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Panic’ and ‘Heart of Glass’ as well as surprisingly contemporary-sounding renditions of what you would think were more appropriate numbers like ‘In the Mood’ and ‘Mr Sandman’.
And it’s pure poetry that the album should be produced by composer Benoit Charest, the man Oscar-nominated for his music on Belleville Rendezvous, the Puppini Sisters’ original inspiration! He heard demos of what the girls were doing, obviously fell in love at first listen and brought in an army of weird instruments from theremins to celestes adding stamping, whistling solos and a dying bugler to accompany the sublime strings and the almost Some Like It Hot-esque swing.
Ultimately, the whole project springs from a strange chemistry between the three Puppini Sisters. Marcella, with experience in haute couture and burlesque citing Tom Waits as her major influence, 21-year-old Kate, with the comedy timing of a pro and a love of heavy metal along the lines of Marilyn Manson while the youngest Puppini Sister, Stephanie, is inspired by cool 70s singer-songwriters and vocalists like Carole King and Karen Carpenter.
And it’s a chemistry that obviously works: an audience with The Puppini Sisters – even a pre-lunch event with no cocktails – is an exhilarating experience of banter, jokes, cross-talking, banging of tables and a lot of throaty laughing. It’s been less than twelve months from that first light-bulb going off during a movie to one of the most accomplished and eccentric and original albums of the year ready for a general public that won’t know what’s hit it. In the tradition of the greats, The Puppini Sisters have worked their own vibe and stuck to their guns and the result is a work of pure genius. Kate Bush would be proud of them.
It’s past midnight on a rainy Monday night in one of Soho’s coolest clubs and the place is jumping. Literally. People, including the odd celeb – Kelly Osbourne looking a bit giddy – are jitterbugging or swing dancing or generally throwing themselves about. And this is what is generally known as a tough crowd, a bit too cool for school most nights. On stage, positioned around the stripper’s pole from the club’s former incarnation as a lap-dancing joint, is a trio of women in immaculate 1940s get-ups trilling out with their band in pure Andrews Sisters style with harmonies so tight you couldn’t get a bobby pin between them.
- official site - www.thepuppinisisters.com/
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