The Sweethearts of Swing – The Belfast Empire, Belfast

Creators: Kat Reagan, Orla Mullan and Naomi Rocke
Reviewer: Colm G Doran

Tonight The Empire Bar was transformed from a typically alternative bar where the occasional comic routine is tried out, to a stunning vista of wartime 1940s music hall, with this resplendent group; The Sweethearts of Swing. The crowd they drew is a healthy mix of hipster millennials who revel in the fashion and glamour of a bygone era and the white haired gang who lived through the rationing, who remember drawing lines on your stockings, the blackouts and lived to tell the tale. The Empire heaves with a crowd waiting for the group, inspired by The Andrews Sisters and other girl groups of the time, to appear.

And what an appearance it is. After a brief introduction from a trumpeter Keith Lynch, the three vintage beauties take the stage. Dressed in US Army garb and matching victory rolls they begin to croon Glen Miller’s In the Mood. Every note is as perfectly synchronised as their movements, they connect with one another and the audience as old friends who are witnessing an intimate performance. Their harmonies are warm, you could close your eyes and swear you’re listening to a recording, except this isn’t faded and crackling from being played too many times on a gramophone – it’s here, it’s live and it’s wonderful. Before they launch into Mr Sandman, the girls are honest in their admission that this number is difficult, they’re quick to stop the number moments in as a cue has been missed, they pass this momentary mix-up off with a wry remark; ‘the beauty of live theatre folks.’ The do-over is well worth it as the group belt out stunning layered vocals that are paired masterfully with synchronised motions.

These ladies are as confident with the up-tempo big-band pieces like Putting on the Ritz and Alexanders’ Ragtime Band as they are with the slower more subdued and romantic ballads beautifully demonstrated in Kat Reagan’s powerhouse embodiment of Judy Garland for The Man that Got Away. Indeed the ladies take the time to break down the wall of intricate harmonies by showcasing each of their stunning voices in solo numbers; of which Orla Mullan’s At Last and Naomi Rocke’s Secret Love are also perfectly executed.

It is not just their stunning voices that make this group a hit with an audience, but their genuine respect for one another, they welcome and introduce each other’s solo performances with tidbits of information telling an eager audience how the band came to be. Similarly, throughout the performance they communicate with one another, swap microphones and ad-lib like old pros, it is hard to believe this is their launch party, their sophisticated and polished performance could be celebrating its 10-year anniversary.

Perhaps the only note – and maybe it’s too early in the group’s career to think about this, but while the changing of microphones was for the most part slick, it would be wonderful to see those vintage standalone silver microphones onstage, it would add a further touch of authenticity to an already genuine and original act. By the close of the night, everyone had taken the floor to ‘swing’ to The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (including this reviewer) – the tenacious trio went out on a wave of applause.

A fantastic night was enjoyed by young and old alike, and this reviewer would encourage anyone with even a passing interest in the 40s/50s, give this group a go, you won’t regret it.

Reviewed on 27 November 2016 | Image: Contributed

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