Since 2018, singing group Belle Street has been delighting audiences with their vocal harmonies. The trio made the bold decision to write and stage a musical about their own lives for Shaftesbury Fringe. That show struck a chord with many fans who are also trying to juggle day-to-day chores with ambitions.
Now, as Alfred heard, the next chapter in the three friends’ story could see their dream of full-time performing come true. “We formed officially 18 months ago, after singing in a cabaret together. We booked ourselves a show at the Shaftesbury Fringe, which was six months later. It took us six months to get together a 40-minute set,” said Joni de Winter, as she and her band mates Charlie Greenwood and Susan Grant burst into laughter. “From that we have been pushing ourselves a little bit further,” she said.
Susan explained that the women have been keen to challenge their musical and performance abilities with bookings that are, ‘outside of our comfort zone’. Their recent gig at a Chalke Valley event was a test of the trio’s versatility. “We had a lovely gig at the Verve Festival, where we used a brilliant guitarist, Josh Frampton. We got to do all of our tracks, extremely exposed, with the guitar and we had no mics. It was stripped back. We found our harmonies,” said Susan, who said that singing with a live band is Belle Street’s next goal.
“There’s nothing like live music,” agreed Charlie Greenwood. “It creates a certain type of atmosphere. We always like to adapt to any occasion. A full band might not always be required but we want to be able to provide that.” She accepts that live backing will increase costs, “But hopefully the end result will be worth it. It will be something that will be really proud to be able to offer.”
Belle Street seem to thrive on setting their bar high. The women are all experienced actors but scripting and staging their musical, ‘The Secret Diary of a Part Time Diva’ was a demanding exercise. “It’s a show of how we have put ourselves together, and how we have managed our crazy lives and still keep going. It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at how we started as a band,” said Joni.
“It’s music with a story. There is a plot. It’s a lot more than putting together just a gig. You’ve got to produce it, direct it, write it, watch it back, decide ‘that bit is rubbish’, rewrite it, sell it, market it. All of these things that, when we were having a little meeting that may have involved some Prosecco, seemed like a fantastic idea. We didn’t necessarily think of all the jobs,” Joni laughed.
The songs and the storyline convey how the women have to keep many plates spinning as they try to fit parenting, or paying the rent, around their group practise and performances. “We had to make sacrifices here and there and find time to rehearse, so we can perfect what we’re trying to put out,” said Susan.
“We rehearse at least twice a week,” Joni continued. “Normally, one of those is a day rehearsal. Then we have a long day rehearsal, once a month. There are constant questions being bandied around between us. We are squeezing the admin into our everyday lives. We will be emailing, singing and learning the lyrics and doing our normal work, cutting someone’s hair all at the same time,” said Joni.
I asked Susan to share some of the less-than showbiz challenges the group members have had to take in their stride. “When you’ve got to take your children to a gig and they’re running around causing havoc and you’re trying to get on and you can see them climbing or they come and sit up with you on the stage. It’s a little bit embarrassing,” Susan said.
The women say that the Fringe audience clearly understood their message. And that’s why Belle Street intends to take their musical on tour after a second performance in our town. “It’s not just for people who live in Shaftesbury and who know us. It will also be for women and people who are busy and have dreams that they have to balance with everyday life. We’ve tried to put a lot of humour into it, and little bit of poignancy,” said Charlie.
“It’s something that we think almost anyone living in today’s society, juggling everything that comes with working and trying to fulfil your dreams, should be able to relate to. That was the feedback that we got. We hope that it would translate anywhere.”
Belle Street was keen to put on a second Shaftesbury show because so many fans were unable to see the musical during Fringe. “We turned about sixty people away, which is why we’ve decided to do it again,” said Joni.
The show will be performed at the Arts Centre at 7.30pm on Saturday 5th October with a short gig and a free drink to follow. “Shaftesbury Arts Centre has been a home for all of us and a great support to all of us. It will be really fun to do it there,” said Susan.
The group has achieved so much in under two years and the women dream of being able to go full-time within a similarly short space of time. It’s perhaps not an unrealistic ambition, like wanting to win ‘The X Factor’ or ‘The Voice’. Acting companies make a living from touring and the women know they have a lot more to offer than just singing. “We like to entertain, and we like to perform. We’re more than musicians in the corner of a room providing noise. We want people to watch us. We want to be entertaining,” said Charlie.
“We want to earn some money from it. We would love this to be a full-time job,” said Susan. “A lot of our spare time goes towards it. And we make it work. Who knows what the future will bring,” continued Charlie. “We work well together. We’ve hit on something that we enjoy, and we want to perform. And people have started to book us. So we’re just rolling with it,” added Joni.
The friends will take their musical across Somerset and Dorset in early 2020 and they will announce those venues and dates soon. “Taking it out on tour will be a challenge. We’ve got to market it. It is a new step for us to be able to put ourselves out there and take a leap of faith,” Susan smiled.
“We are taking it outside of a place where we feel safe to see how people who don’t know us respond. The theme of juggling your life and your dreams, we hope that everyone can relate to,” said Joni. And who knows, by this time next year, Susan, who works in a town centre café and runs baby sensory classes, hotel manager Charlie and hairdresser Joni might well be full-time divas.