Puppini Sisters, Hollie Stephenson: Epstein Theatre, Liverpool

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Puppini Sisters

Puppini Sisters

Not knowing what to expect from an act he had never heard of, Getintothis’ Shaun Ponsonby finds himself enjoying some campy vaudeville charm. 

Being as we are all volunteers here at GIT HQ, when divvying up gigs to review, we often find ourselves sticking to the ones we like. Who can blame us, right? But, we’re the first to admit this means we often end up probably being overly positive. We’re positive people, but there’s a fine line between positivity and outright delusion.

Consequently, this writer has opted for a change. Once in a while, why not take something at complete random? Get out of the old comfort zone and try something new.

So, here we are; a gig with which we had no idea what to expect.

First up tonight is Hollie Stephenson, managed by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and in whose kitchen the Travelling Wilburys’ first album was recorded, trivia fans!

Throughout her set it became painfully obvious that Amy Winehouse was her main inspiration. And by “main inspiration”, we mean “only inspiration”. At times it felt like she was actually aiming for a pale imitation of Winehouse, who in herself often appeared to be doing a pale imitation of Ronnie Spector on stage, but at least had the good sense to put her own spin on it. Everything from Stephenson’s awkward stage banter, to her vocal style, her songs, lyrics and even down to the way she stood screamed “Winehouse”.

That isn’t to say she was terrible. She had some decent tunes, best of which was the Stand By Me-ish Dried Out Lies. But it did mean we didn’t quite see how Dave Stewart ended up managing her.

See what other theatrical goodies the Epstein has lined up for 2016

If Stephenson was going for Winehouse’s smoky realism, The Puppini Sisters couldn’t be more different. This was full-on vaudeville, and not taking themselves too seriously. After their first number, technical difficulties abound with monitors and a missing melodica, prompting the dry commentary to the audience “This is riveting for you, I’m sure!

Backed by a jazz trio, the closet we can compare the Puppini’s to are The Andrews Sisters, and they sung pretty much every line of the night in that immaculate three part harmony. It really was difficult not to marvel at their vocal arrangements, thoroughly impeccable and the likes of which are difficult to match.

The set was split between their originals, the kind of covers you would expect to hear (The ChordettesMr Sandman and The Andrews SistersBoogie Woogie Bugle Boy) and a few curveballs that stayed just the right side of novelty. If you ever wondered what Rihanna and the Sugar Hill Gang might have sounded like had they been entertaining the troops in World War II, then a Puppini’s show is the place for you.

It might not have worked so well had the ladies’ humour not been so prevalent. Group member Kate Mullins in particular provided some of the wittiest stage banter we’ve ever heard. There is a dose of irony in there, but equally a profound love of the music of another era.

You thought we couldn’t get any camper!” they joked before ending on an impossibly arranged Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. That’s the word we were looking for! It was totally high camp, and we couldn’t help but leave the Epstein with a smile. The surprising cross-section of the audience, from students to pensioners, implies that this may be more than a mere novelty.

Pictures by Getintothis’ Martin Waters

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