Thursday, 15 November 2018

Grammy girls bring splash of glamour to the Bedouin Tent

IF you have twinkle-toes and a few dance moves up your sleeve you may want to make a date with

IF you have twinkle-toes and a few dance moves up your sleeve you may want to make a date with The Shellac Sisters at this year’s festival.

The four-piece band play “lovely music for lovely people” on their original Twenties wind-up gramophones and are very excited to be playing a dance set in the Bedouin Tent next Sunday.

“We can’t wait,” says Jenny Hammerton, aka Foxtrot Fanny. “We know it’s going to be super glamorous and gorgeous. It’s our kind of event.”

The Shellac Sisters tour round the country playing a mix of music from the Twenties to the Fifties — anything they can find on an original 78rpm record, in fact — and say that people of all ages can’t stop themselves copying their dance moves including swing, foxtrot and balboa. The four glampusses — Jenny is joined by Quickstep Queenie (Theodora Burrow), Lady Jane (Jane Fryars) and Miss V (Virginia Day) — favour British dance bands such as Bert Ambrose and his Orchestra because they have such a “nice mellow sound”. They have played at the Savoy, the Dorchester and Claridge’s and also run a number of regular dance clubs where big band music and swing is enjoying something of a revival.

“So much of our lives now is sitting in front of computers and social media,” she said. “People don’t actually see their friends face to face, but younger people are getting into the idea of getting dressed up and dancing with each other. It’s really sociable, and it’s really great fun.”

lThe Shellac Sisters play the Bedouin Tent on Sunday, July 14. For tickets go to

Oh, to be a Shellac Sister! This super-glamorous quartet inhabit a bygone age, one that anyone with a passion for the old-fashioned would trade for today in a heartbeat.

But there’s more to these four close friends than their retro ballgowns, elegant silk gloves and chic pillbox hats.

They’re indulging their hobby of DJing their best-loved 78s from the Twenties to the Fifties (all on Twenties gramophones, naturally) at some of Britain’s most glamorous, retro settings, from the Dorchester and the Pigalle to Tate Britain and the London Transport Museum.

As if that weren’t enough, while the music plays, the girls dance. Swing, jive, cha-cha, quickstep... you name it, they do the dance and the sight will have you beating down the door of your nearest dance class.

I meet Foxtrot Fanny (Jenny Hammerton), Quickstep Queenie (Theodora Burrow), Lady Jane (Jane Fryars) and Miss V (Virginia Day) at Walthamstow Wind-Up, their monthly residency in east London (they also DJ at Shuga Push in north London).

When they start to do the Shellac Stroll, everyone stops dead and crowds around the dancefloor, anachronistic camera phones in hand.

The girls, who have been honing their moves for about 20 years, love newcomers to join in, patiently talking them through the moves, but it’s only when a novice steps into line that I see how challenging their seemingly effortless moves are to modern feet.

“The Shellac Stroll is a very easy dance that everyone can do, from kids to oldies,” insists Jenny. “It’s a bit like a line dance, everybody does it in rows so you can follow the person in front. We teach it and people love it, even kids.”

Happily, a younger generation are undeterred by the relative challenge of the retro dances. Most of the attendees at a Shellac Sisters event are in their 30s but Jenny has noticed an increase in 20-somethings joining in, especially younger men.

In the four years since the Shellac Sisters formed, the girls have found that people are increasingly nostalgic for a bygone era. “People want to bring a bit of glamour back into their lives,” says Jenny. “That has been going on for a while but the recession is giving it a push. People are getting tired of drab living and they want a bit of va-va-voom in their lives, a bit of über-glamour. There’s definitely a revival in getting dressed up and being an individual rather than looking grungy in jeans and trainers.”

The Shellac Sisters are part of the Shellac Collective, formed by Greg Butler, who DJs 78s under the name of Greg’s Greats (recently playing at Bestival) and used to supply 78s to DJ John Peel. The Collective joins forces to play big events and festivals.

“It’s grown a lot over the past couple of years, especially the interest in 78s,” he says. Another member of the Collective, Swing Maniac, agrees. By day, he’s better known as Paul Golledge, who works for Vauxhall. By night, he plays a selection of his huge collection of 78s at London clubs including Shuga Push and Black Cotton, clad from head to toe in imported vintage wear.

“Everyone who comes along has a great time,” he says with pride. “Everyone dresses up, there are no drunk louts and no fighting and it harks back to how things used to be and should be.” Afterwards the diehards go dancing on the Millennium Bridge and, after they get turfed off, dance the night away behind the Tate Modern.

Golledge has been DJing for more than 20 years and dates the swing revival from the mid-Eighties. “The swing scene is still underground but it’s very big,” he says. “It’s becoming extremely popular really fast but the real trend at the moment is for people playing 78 records. They sound better, you hear musical detail on a 78 that you’d never hear on a CD or vinyl.”

The Shellac Sisters were inspired to follow in these old-timers’ footsteps one day four years ago when Virginia and Jane took their gramophones to a picnic in the park. As they took it in turns to play records they came up with the idea of DJing professionally and started out playing at friends’ parties, fast developing a word-of-mouth reputation on the swing scene.

The girls even met under glamorous circumstances. Virginia worked with Jenny at the British Pathé News archive then with Jane on a film shoot while Theo and Jenny became friends during a “guerilla knitting event” at the Savoy. The foursome realised theirs was no ordinary friendship when they discovered they all owned gramophones.

Their love of retro music is rooted in a passion for fashion that regularly finds them rummaging around Portobello Road and Camden markets, vintage clothes fairs and eBay. These days, though, they also collect 78rpm vinyl in charity shops, old-school record shops and at car boot sales.

They’re able to play their music at standard club volume by using custom-made sound heads to plug their gramophones into amplifiers and PA systems.

However the Walthamstow Wind-Up has the added bonus of a mini-vintage fashion fair courtesy of the girls’ friend Caroline Turner. She runs Frillseekers, offering rails of retro clothes from the Twenties to the Fifties, allowing people to treat themselves to a suitable new frock before they take to the dancefloor.

However, for most people here, it’s all about the music. John Quarm, 52, has been coming to the Walthamstow Wind-Up for two years. “I love this sort of music,” he says. “I love coming here, there’s a great atmosphere and everyone has fun.”

Jenny agrees: “You get transported straight back in time, to a more glamorous era.”

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