There are few things more restful than sitting in a deckchair overlooking the River Thames on an unexpectedly summery September Sunday listening to the sounds of yesteryear. Reunited after months of home concerts in Lockdown, three members of The Femmes return for their first socially-distanced live concert at the Turbine Theatre on the Jetty where these swing sisters bring their vintage sound to the modern stage.
Vintage Summertime with the Femmes is pitched as a journey through time in which The Femmes trio perform a handful of songs from every decade since 1940, prioritising and paying tribute to the work of female artists in the last 70 years. The group make almost every song (and era) their own with their syncopated dance routines, upbeat spirit and, above all, those timeless harmonies.
The era of the Second World War is their speciality and there we begin with the bouncy pace of Benny Goodman’s Sing, Sing, Sing, followed by Irving Berlin’s Putting on the Ritz as the group reveal what attracts them to 1930 and 40s, from the dance partnership of Astaire and Rogers to a glass of sherry. But in a year of war anniversaries, it is their tribute to Dame Vera Lynne that hits home with a charming rendition of A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.
The 50s and 60s are a male affair with an Elvis medley that includes Jailhouse Rock, Hound Dog and Love Me Tender, while Dean Martin’s How Do You Like Your Eggs in the Morning offers-up plenty of banter about the sun soaked heat of the stage. And while a swingless version of The Beatles’ Let It Be is nice enough, it seems a shame not to cover at least one of the great female artists of these years – Peggy or Brenda Lee, Etta James, The Supremes or any number of Hollywood starlets from Doris Day to Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe.
Yet one of The Femmes’ most interesting techniques is splicing songs together and their best number is the Abba classic Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) that slows to a sultry shuffle in the middle before introducing accents from Voulez-Vous. Later in the 1980s, they perform a superb acapella version of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance with Somebody which perfectly hits every note, and just as you think their range knows no bounds, a fabulous swing version of All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor comes along.
Throughout, these songstresses chat warmly to their audience, encouraging people to clap or even dance along, and we cannot underestimate how strange it must be to perform to a half-empty space while trying to encourage a feeling of community among socially-distanced seating. If there are any doubts or concerns about a six-month absence from the stage, The Femmes betray not the slightest sign.
With other artists including The Spice Girls, Katrina and the Waves, Britney Spears and The Andrews Sisters peppering this musical journey through the decades, The Femmes repertoire will hit everyone’s nostalgia spot. It may be a while until the dark jazz bars of Piccadilly and Soho can welcome back a full audience, but, for now, a deckchair on the Thames will do just as well.
The Turbine on the Jetty runs until 19 September 2020