THE PUPPINI SISTERS
Let’s face it: who can resist three bewitching females dressed in delightfully matching attire, singing in close harmony and moving in impeccably synchronized steps? Just like the Andrews Sisters, who took the genre to the top (one hundred and thirteen songs in the American charts between '38 and '51...), the Puppini Sisters have long become synonym with the intoxicating mix of music and style they call Swing-Pop, and have won hearts all over the world.
Back in 2004, when Marcella Puppini created a new Sisters group with Kate Mullins and original member Rosanna Schura (later replaced by Stephanie O’Brien), the idea was not to try and copy the enchantments of a historical songbook: rather to create an individual sound, which would encapsulate the trio’s eclectic influences.
The three met in the same Music College, but their résumés were very different: Kate (the blonde) had sung in the heavy metal band Killed In Action; Marcella (the brunette) had recorded the dance hit Revolution after serving time in a punk group; as for Rosanna, and later Stephanie, they both came from a classical background.
Marcella had had a career in fashion (she had graduated from Central St Martins College of Art and worked with Vivienne Westwood before embarking on a Music degree), so the trio's first appearances were (almost naturally) à la mode. But their gigs quickly became a unique rendezvous for a mix of impassioned fans: jazz-goers, retro-aesthetes, people into nostalgia, others with a style obsession, and also kids, spellbound by the vivacity and colour which sparkled in the Sisters' voices...
Every style was filtered through their rigorous, sunny, vocal discipline: no improvisation, just the extraordinary power of a wall of voices whose architecture seemed designed by a virtuoso. In their first two albums, Betcha Bottom Dollar and The Rise and Fall of Ruby Woo, they combined their own arrangements of classics from the Thirties to the Fifties, jazzy reinventions of rock hits, and self-penned original songs. And then they sang for Santa Claus in Christmas with the Puppini Sisters, before tackling the Garden of Eden of vocal standards, i.e. old-school Hollywood, and being invited to duet with Michael Bublè on his Christmas album.
In the eight years since their inception, the Puppini Sisters have received accolades from fans as disparate as Prince Charles and Cyndi Lauper, have been awarded Gold and Multi-Platinum discs, have performed on iconic stages all over the world (most recently at l’Olympia in Paris and The Shepherd’s Bush Empire for a second sell out show there), and have collaborated with “banging” Electro-Swing groups as well as traditional orchestras.
And now they have just undergone another change with the arrival of new Sister Terrianne Passingham, who replaced Stephanie O’ Brien in July 2012.
Terrianne is a gutsy, flame-haired beauty from Yorkshire who plays the flute and saxophone and combines a love of old-school swing with a goth/punk background – all of which makes her the perfect fit for the multi-faceted trio.
I’m living in a dream world – says Terrianne of her new status as a Sister. It’s the ultimate fantasy.
And with a change of line up comes a new direction in music, which sees the Sisters exploring their passion for mixing the old with the new, the swing with the “bang”, as they write for a new album.
We've been thinking about it for years," they confess (in close harmony). We love “antiquing” rock and pop songs with our arrangements, but we also really love writing in a style that combines swing and pop in a more modern sense – says Marcella.
“We’ve come so far with our music, this new era is really exciting – says Kate. I relish the prospect of taking it to corners so far unreached.
"We'd been thinking about it for years," they confess (in close harmony). Singing like that, in such close harmony (as was the fashion in the Forties), with a passion for the songs they used to write then (the days when "jazz" and "pop" were hard to tell apart)... Not to mention the impossible: they'd never walk onto a stage without a dazzling, clinging dress... Well, staying away from Hollywood was unthinkable, too. "We have this obsession with American musicals: the songs, the style, the room they give to the theatrical approach from performers," explains Marcella Puppini. "For this album we kept only the best of the best of what we prefer."
In other words: Hollywood in eleven songs. Or, rather, ten new versions, plus Hollywood, a collective composition by the Puppini Sisters which breathes with the love they share for that space-time enchantment represented by Hollywood's great songs. So here you have Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, together with Good Morning from Babes in Arms, Singin’ in the Rain, the song I Feel Pretty from West Side Story…
With such a rigorous selection, not one of the great Hollywood composers has more than one song featured in this album: Gershwin contributes I Got Rhythm, and there is Kurt Weill's September Song, Cole Porter's True Love, Henry Mancini's Moon River, and also Nino Rota's most beautiful incursion into Hollywood, Parle plus bas, the love-theme from The Godfather ("Speak Softly Love") sung in French.
In French? It makes Marcella laugh: she's Italian. "I know the Italian version of course. But 'Parle plus bas' sounds more sensual in French." In the same stride, the Puppini Sisters also give us their version of Moi je joue, which Rivière & Bourgeois wrote for Brigitte Bardot at the peak of her career in films—"A romantic, rhythmical song that's a trap for singers, especially taken at the tempo we've chosen... But it's great onstage!" .
The three Puppinis may be Francophiles and Londoners, but their response to the external cross-Channel stimulus owes much to the mythology surrounding the language of seduction and sentimental intoxication. And there's nothing they like more than cross-references inside a patchwork of quotes. "We're not historians," observes Kate Mullins. "The Golden Age of Hollywood's musicals isn't exactly the same as the era of goddesses like Marilyn Monroe or Rita Hayworth. But we mix those eras, both their songs and their styles."
When they did the photo-sessions for the Hollywood album they called Janie Bryant. The stylist who stars in the Mad Men series combined stylistic elements taken from great Hollywood movies with values that were right up-to-date. And it's true that the Puppini Sisters don't reconstruct long-gone eras; they use its techniques to create pleasure for today. Their Hollywood is steeped in the atmospheres, moods and performances which characterize those seminal films, but the Puppinis' desires are radically modern. When Kate was writing the vocal and orchestral arrangements you can hear in Good Morning, for example, she made no attempt to restore the sweet, radiant ecstasy of the original; Kate put more recent nuances and contrasts into the song. Perhaps that is where they are different from the Hollywood of old, as Marcella observes: "Emotionally, we're human beings with multiple facets."
Bertrand Dicale (2011)