With the Puppini Sisters bringing their unique brand of close harmonies back to Lancashire, MALCOLM WYATT made a wish to the fairy godmothers of swing-pop
Marcella Puppini and Kate Mullins, founding members of The Puppini Sisters, are well and truly in the festive spirit.
They’re clearly enjoying their Christmas tour, eight dates including visits to The Duke’s, Lancaster, tomorrow and Manchester’s RNCM Theatre next Wednesday (December 17).
They promise something to warm the cockles, rather apt considering their proximity to Morecambe Bay on Friday.
“Indeed! Definitely a little cockle-warming. Absolutely!”
That’s Marcella speaking, her Italian tones a little more London these days, but with a hint of a Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobrigida perhaps, in keeping with the Sisters’ screen sirens’ feel.
Marcella, Kate and most recent addition Emma Smith will be joined by guitar, double bass and drums on the night.
“Sometimes we do a slightly larger show with horns and strings, but didn’t have enough room to bring them all this time.”
It promises to be a winner, no doubt including sultry seasonal staples like Santa Baby.
The girls met at a music college in Greenwich a decade ago. So have they visited Lancaster before?
Marcella replies, “No, but we’re really looking forward to it. I have to admit I haven’t travelled that extensively in the UK outside of London and the big cities.”
Kate adds: “It’s been a while since we were in the area, so we’re looking forward to recapturing the territory! And the castle has already been highly recommended to us.
Bearing in mind prior success with 2010’s Christmas with The Puppini Sisters, what are the girls’ favourite seasonal songs?
Marcella says, “I really like our version of Mele Kalikimaka, and love the duet we did with Michael Buble.”
So is Michael – for whom they collaborated on Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman on his Christmas LP – likely to drop by?
Kate laughs, adding, “Yeah … we’ll call him!”
If James Brown is The Godfather of Funk and Soul and Paul Weller’s The Modfather, does that make you The Fairy Godmothers of Swing-pop?
Kate says, “Hey! That’s brilliant – we’re coining that!
“As far as we’re concerned, the repertoire from the era we specialise in is all fantastic from around the Christmas season, from The Andrews Sisters onwards.
“Then there’s Doris Day for me, and her storming rendition of Silver Bells.”
What do they think The Andrews Sisters would make of the Puppinis?
Kate responds: “Well, we did hear from a mutual friend of Patty Andrews before she died, who thought we were rather good. We took that as a seal of approval.
“Actually, I think that’s me being a little British – she thought we were very good. We were very touched at that.”
The Puppinis have turned up on Jonathan Creek and other TV shows in recent years, but I get the feeling they should be in a few period films too. Any offers?
Marcella says: “Not yet. We’re waiting for Downton Abbey, but they’re not quite at the right period yet.”
Did they think their first night as The Puppini Sisters 10 years ago would lead to this?
Marcella adds: “It wasn’t created with any big idea, but became quite apparent early on. Everywhere we went we got such an incredible response.
“We did a gig once opening for a heavy metal band, and their fans absolutely loved us. Then we had a regular gig at a gay club in Soho. They loved us there as well.”
Did they feel the need to throw something different into their set for the former?
Kate says: “I once re-arranged Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle for The Puppinis. It really didn’t sound that different to the rest of the set. If you think about it, that song really kind of swings!”
Marcella worked in fashion, alongside the likes of Vivienne Westwood, before her music degree, and clearly the style and drama still play a big part.
“It’s a visual show, and about the whole package. The style and clothes tell a story and create a mood.”
Did Marcella listen to a lot of close-harmony jazz and swing growing up? And was there an Italian influence around the house?
“I was totally obsessed with Manhattan Transfer, and couldn’t get enough of them. And my brother and I sang Simon and Garfunkel.
“I was also going to the Alps a lot, so there are lots of Alpine songs and choirs doing traditional songs.
“My friends and I would harmonise. And singing harmony is an important part of Italian culture.”
What does newest member Emma add to the party?
Kate answers: “Emma’s 23, full of life, an incredible musician and one of the most talented people we have had the privilege of working with.
“She was the only singer they took in the Royal Academy jazz department for 20 years. Emma’s really one to watch. And she swings like a demon!”
Puppinis’ cover versions range from Wham’s Last Christmas to The Smiths’ Panic, Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, even Beyonce – all in their own style, or ‘antiquing’ as they call it.
They’ve made friends in high places in recent years – and not just Michael Buble.
There’s also a certain HRH by the name of Prince Charles, as Kate explains.
“We were on a Royal Variety Show and met him in the line-up after. When Charles and Camilla got to us, we got the generic greeting.
“Then I think he twigged and said: “Oh, it’s you! I think you’re wonderful. I got your CD for my birthday and thought it was fantastic!”
For more about the Puppini Sisters’ forthcoming dates, head to www.thepuppinisisters.com/