Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Bandstand will ring to sound of swing with group inspired by Inkspots

IT’S been a glitzy ritzy year so far for harmony ensemble Casablanca Steps as they find themselves basking in TheGreat

IT’S been a glitzy ritzy year so far for harmony ensemble Casablanca Steps as they find themselves basking in TheGreat Gatsby effect.

The four-piece band — who specialise in delivering a “quintessentially English” take on music from the Twenties and Thirties — have had a spate of engagements up and down the country to entertain at parties inspired by the latest film adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s stylish novel. Just a few weeks ago, in fact, they were playing at a party in a restaurant just off the Champs Elysées in Paris where guests arrived in their vintage cars, sporting flapper girl dresses and bow ties.

“This year has been great for us, but the music is timeless,” says lead vocalist Peter Ackerley, aka Wooten Boetard, who started the band 25 years ago.

“People keep coming back. It’s the glamour, especially for the ladies. They love wearing the gear. They feel special in it, with all the beads and bows. The gentlemen look very smart, too, with their spats and waistcoats.”

Next week the band will be entertaining festival-goers at Henley as the resident musicians playing on the bandstand every night. Among their repertoire are classic favourites such as Putting On The Ritz, The Charleston, Keep Young And Beautiful and It Don’t Mean A Thing. But they also double up as a comedy act, entertaining the crowds with sketches such as the Hat Routine, where the four singers perform a magician-style exchange of hats to the music of Scot Joplin’s The Entertainer.

Life could have been so very different for Ackerley, from Stockport in Cheshire, who started out as a bank teller for the Leeds Permanent Building Society in Wilmslow. He says, “I was so bad they transferred me to another, more downmarket branch. I saw the light.”

After a stint playing Dixieland with Shep’s Banjo Boys, Ackerley — who plays trombone and “eyebrows” — got together with guitarist Clark Deville, pianist Archibald Singen Singen Smythe and double bassist Pico Boon III to create their three-part vocal harmony sound.

Styling themselves on The Inkspots and The Mills Brothers they spent hours listening to old recordings and “borrowing” their harmonies.

After being spotted while busking in the middle of Chester town centre they have played all over the world on cruise ships — including the now decommissioned QE2 — and have appeared on The Late Late Show on Irish national television alongside French and Saunders. But their most salubrious engagement so far was playing for Prince Philip at St James’s Palace where they performed a 15-minute cabaret show for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme sponsors. “It was fantastic, he laughed all the way through,” says Ackerley. “He loved us.”

l Casablance Steps play on the bandstand every night. For festival tickets go to www.henley-festival.co.uk

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