Popular Shaftesbury singing group Belle Street has announced a new musical departure. For one of their three Shaftesbury Fringe 2019 events, the women are performing an autobiographical show offering a humorous insight into how they juggle everyday life with their passion for performing and their dream of being discovered.
ThisIsAlfred’s Keri Jones called in on one of their rehearsals.
Many Shaftesbury residents are already aware of Belle Street and hundreds of locals would describe themselves as fans of the trio. The three friends – Charlie Greenwood, Joni Clowrie and Susan Grant – formed the group two years ago and last November performed to their biggest audience yet when they turned on Shaftesbury’s Christmas lights.
“That was a really fun thing to do and we still get people coming to us who had not heard us before and they saw us that evening,” said Joni, as she recalled the gig on the Town Hall balcony.
The women have quickly gained a following for their skill in flawlessly belting out their close harmony interpretations of well-known hits. “We like to think of ourselves as fun, entertaining and a bit sassy. We’ll do classic songs as well as unexpected ones. We like to keep our mix of music eclectic and we like to have fun with it because it’s more enjoyable for us and the audience,” Charlie explained.
Susan is pleased with the audience reaction to one of their unexpected choices. The women deconstructed and redefined a rock classic. “The song that we most enjoyed rearranging and having a play with is ‘Poison’ by Alice Cooper. We did a lovely version of that at Halloween,” she said.
Now the trio is planning to give a Lady Gaga song the Belle Street treatment and they hope to extend their repertoire of ‘mash-ups’. “We always try to take a song that we feel really passionately about, one that we really love. We have a ‘mash-up’ of The Backstreet Boys and Michael Jackson and we really try to sing it. That’s our strength,” said Joni.
“So where some people might be shouty or lax with the vocals, we try and work on the harmonies and the dynamics of the song and make people listen to it in a different way to how they normally would,” Joni said. “If you throw in something unexpected, we find that people stop, listen and react. That is really nice.”
The women’s new show, which will debut at The Grosvenor Arms Hotel over Fringe Weekend, is a departure from Belle Street’s usual set list and it is bound to grab attention. “We decided to go slightly autobiographical, in a tongue-in-cheek way. They say that you should write about yourself because that is what you know best. We are happy to ‘take the mick’ out of ourselves,” Joni laughed.
The narrative will compare and contrast the women’s everyday lives with the more glamorous world of performing. “We’re going to try to get across the more poignant side of trying to juggle your life and also pursue this dream that a lot of people have, against the extra burdens that come along with families and having crazy stuff going on in the background. We want to prioritise this creative dream and that doesn’t always work out very well. Our rehearsals are normally full of drama and laughter,” Joni laughed.
And the run-throughs I have attended have usually been full of Prosecco, I point out. The women laugh again. We were chatting at 10am on the day following the Early May Bank Holiday. I got the feeling that the corkscrew would be out of the drawer before the end of the rehearsal.
It seems that the new show will offer a mix of a music gig, musical theatre, stand-up comedy and a support group. “I think with a fringe festival, you get to be a little bit different,” said Joni. “Audiences are more willing to take a risk. On some level everybody can connect with having to deal with their life, deal with their dreams and have them mesh together, even if you don’t want to be a singer,” she said.
“What we all really enjoy is storytelling and performing. We all act as well,” explained group member Charlie. “We wanted to bring that together with singing. We are writing the show ourselves and it’s something that people haven’t seen us do before. It is a one-hour show which will entertain people and hopefully surprise them,” she said.
Although this is not exactly a musical, the women have chosen tracks that tie in with the narrative. “We have picked some songs that we think fit well and will help the story evolve. We are all working. We are all trying to do this wonderful, creative job on the side. It’s all the little dramas that come with that,” Susan said.
Susan says Shaftesbury Fringe is the perfect place to experiment. “The Fringe opens it up a little bit. We have lots of lovely people who come and watch us again and again, which is great. It is also good for us to push ourselves a little bit, expand our repertoire and be entertaining on a different level,” she said.
Belle Street is offering three different shows during the Shaftesbury Fringe. They will perform ‘A Soirée With Belle Street’ featuring a cocktail of close harmonies, classic standards and contemporary music at Sloane’s Hairdressers on Friday, 5th July at 6.30pm. Numbers are limited for that performance because of the restricted space in the salon.
On Saturday, 6th July the women entertain in the garden behind Shaftesbury Wines with a summery cocktail of close harmonies from 3.30pm.
‘A Belle Street Extravaganza’, their promised musical adventure, will be performed at the Grosvenor Arms Hotel on Saturday, 6th July at 6pm. You can pay on the door. Tickets are £5 each for adults.
If this first public performance of the new show is well received, the women say that they might expand this theme for future events. “It’s a format that we are quite interested in. You never know what the future might hold,” said Charlie.