mon 17/06/2024

Diary of a Strumpette, Part Two: How the call came to Glasto | reviews, news & interviews

Diary of a Strumpette, Part Two: How the call came to Glasto

Diary of a Strumpette, Part Two: How the call came to Glasto

Miss Kitty Kowalski presents the inside track as her band heads to Glastonbury

Trying to stay calm: Miss Kitty Kowalski, Miss Velma Valentine and Miss Bettina WintersPhoto: Ray Kyte

Well, folks, only 10 days to go til The Strumpettes hit Glastonbury and let me tell ya, we’re gettin’ a little hot under the collar. It turns out this ain’t some big practical joke that Velma cooked up to give us all a fit o' the vapours. We’re goin’. Next week. And this little Strumpette is quakin’ in her boots.

Now, you might think that three brazen broads like us shouldn’t be fazed by some little ol' festival. After all, we're no strangers to notoriety and we strut about that stage as if we owned it. But I’ll let ya into a little secret: not a single one of us is a trained musician. The truth of it is, we're just three self-taught songbirds who learned their trade trawling the smoky jazz bars of America. Velma has a little experience of showbiz, I guess (if you can call buskin’ in the subway showbiz), and Betty, well, she’s used to all those starin’ eyes. But me, I never even picked up an instrument before. It’s amazin’ what ya can do when fortune turns her back on ya.

So how in hell did three no-good amateurs end up playin’ Glastonbury, huh? Well, I’ll tell ya now. All it took was a little initiative, a little persistence and a whole lotta luck. Now, ordinarily, the only chance an unsigned band has of gettin’ into Glasto these days is to enter the emerging talent contest. Now, that’s one way to do it, sure, but The Strumpettes ain't ordinary. We didn’t like those odds, so Miss Velma, being an enterprising kinda gal, she took it upon herself to tout our name, our photograph and our tunes round to all kindsa places – jazz venues, cabaret shows, festivals and all. They sure made us work for it, but after making several opportunistic phone calls, Miss Velma finally managed to sweet talk a swell dame from the Glastonbury team into spreading the word about The Strumpettes to some of the Glastonbury stage managers.

Then, after spending a couple of months trying not to bite down our perfectly polished nails in anticipation, we finally got the call in January from the fabulous Croissant Neuf Stage. Just like that! Without seein’ us play live or nothin’. Hey, we ain’t arguin’.

The news was greeted with amazement from Miss V, excitement from Miss Betty, and pure fear from Miss Kitty over here. Still, after several months of getting used to the idea, I reckon we’re almost ready to face those crowds at Glasto. Just hand me a shot of gin before I go on stage, and I’ll be just fine.

So over the last couple of weeks we’ve been crankin’ up our rehearsal time. Last night, aside from wranglin’ our way through a couple of our trickier numbers, we figured out our set list. On Sunday week we got 45 mins to fill with swingin’ jazz numbers (and of course our very own brand of teasin’ and storytellin' in between 'em) and just maybe another half-hour on the bandstand the day before.

All in all, we got about 22 songs to choose from. Now, some o' those are what we like to call our safe songs; songs we’ve been playin’ for a good long while that we think the crowd may just recognise. First up, we got our standard opener, “In the Mood”, based on The Andrews Sisters’ version of Glenn Miller's classic tune:

The Glenn Miller Orchestra performs the instrumental version of "In the Mood"


We got “Goody Goody”, a 1936 tune composed by Matty Malneck with lyrics by the great Johnny Mercer and most famously performed by Helen Ward and the King of Swing himself, Mr Benny Goodman. We also got our own take on Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” – which I’ll bet ya bottom dollar ya’ll know pretty well - although I assure you our version ain’t intended to frighten small children, which is more than I can say for this Fleischer Brothers’ Betty Boop cartoon from 1932.

And on top o’ that we got “Runnin' Wild”, as sung by the blonde bombshell herself, Miss Marilyn Monroe, in our favourite movie Some Like it Hot (1959) - on her own little ukulele too!
Marilyn Monroe sings "Runnin' Wild" in Some Like it Hot
So they’re all in, no arguments. But you know lately we’ve been workin’ on some new songs – all a little more ambitious in their arrangements - so the debate right now is how risky we wanna be. Our most recent additions are “Fever” (Velma was reluctant on this one; it’s a little mainstream for our tastes but, ya’know, we ain’t above sellin’ out), and quite a recent little tune by Christina Aguilera called "Candyman", which does a good - and rather foxy - impression of an Andrews Sisters-style oldie. We road-tested ‘em both at last week’s gig at Proud Cabaret and were pretty darn pleased with the results. They went off without a hitch and seemed to go down a treat with the crowd. So they make the cut too.
Watch the video for Christina Aguilera's "Candyman"
We’re also gonna throw in a little Ray Charles number by the name of “Greenbacks”, a cautionary tale that we decided to tell from the ladies point of view, just to spice it up a little. And then we got one of my favourites, “Why Don’t You do Right”, which has some pretty hot versions out there - one scorcher by Benny Goodman, sung by Peggy Lee in 1942, or the rather smokier version sung by one Jessica Rabbit (stay calm now fellas). In our close-harmony rendition, we’ve tried to combine the two and add a little of our own flavour as well.
"Why Don't You do Right" performed by Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee in the movie Stage Door Canteen (1943)

Jessica Rabbit sings "Why Don't You do Right" in Who Framed Roger Rabbit
And on stand-by, another all-time personal favourite of mine, “Sing Sing Sing”. The Andrews Sisters did a stompin' vocal version of this legendary song, written by Louis Prima in 1936 and made pretty darn famous by Benny Goodman. It's one of those tunes you just gotta dance to. It’s a brand-new one for us, and one of the hardest to play – it’s pretty fast, has lots of key changes and shoots up and down the scale. We ain’t never played it live before, but I think Glastonbury might just be the place for its debut…
Watch Benny Goodman and his Orchestra play "Sing Sing Sing"
So we got our list of 14 songs, plus a few back-ups, and we're pretty happy with it. We played most of ‘em at last week’s gig and aside from a few stage-management howlers (mics in the wrong order? C’mon boys, get with the programme!), it all felt pretty good up there. This Saturday we’re playin’ our last London gig before we hit the West Country. That’ll be the longest set we’ve ever played – three half-hour sets – which means we got no choice but to play every single song we have – including a few solo numbers. Jeez, I’d better get practising…
  • Miss Kitty Kowalski is the stage name of a writer on The Arts Desk - read Parts One and Three of her Strumpettes diary

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