Rocking around the Christmas tree with 1950s band The Soda Popz
As popular band The Soda Popz prepare to bring an authentic vintage flavour to Christmas in Belfast, singer Michelle Baird tells Gail Bell about her fascination with the 'fabulous 50s' and working with actor husband, Matt Forsythe
FOR those who like a little 'pop' in their festive soda, then new Christmas show, Rockin Around The Christmas Tree from Belfast band The Soda Popz may prove a vintage ticket.
Headed up by husband-and-wife team Matt Forsythe and Michelle Baird, The Soda Popz are an authentic 50s/60s band who have been successfully tapping into the public's growing affection for the "fabulous 50s" and all associated nostalgia – from the music and dance steps, to the glamour, fashion and pop culture of an era defined by energy, rhythm, pink cadillacs and Mr Elvis Presley himself.
It wasn't all fabulous, of course – with women more likely to be attached to their blender at the kitchen sink than making their way to the boardroom – but the music of the dance hall days always made an impression for 50s fanatic Michelle, a busy mum who is also director of marketing and communications with the Ulster Orchestra.
"I established the band in 2013 as I've always loved the music of that era, after being raised in a home where it was constantly being played," she says.
"I used to watch my parents jive as a child and my dad would always drag me onto the dance floor at any opportunity and teach me the moves.
"As well as my parents, my relatives were always reminiscing about their 'young days' at the dance halls and how much preparation went into making their dresses and outfits, so I think that stuck with me.
"The 1950s was a very glamorous time and women's fashion was fabulous, especially the net underskirts and swing dresses. I buy all our outfits from various places and try to make us look as authentic as possible, rather than appearing like we're in fancy dress."
An award-winning musical theatre performer with a background in marketing and PR, Michelle first met Matt – who trained as a joiner before studying drama in London – when they were treading the boards together in a production of Guys 'n' Dolls presented by the New Lyric Operatic Company at the Grand Opera House in 2003.
The couple married last year and somehow manage to juggle work, acting and musical commitments with being parents to their lively three year-old, Isla.
"It is challenging, sometimes, especially when Matt is doing a show and is out every night," says Michelle, who also sings with her vocal harmony trio The Leading Ladies and is in demand as a solo soprano at various events.
"But we're blessed to have amazing support from our family and friends which definitely helps, especially when I have my own performances to do. We're very much a team and everything is planned in advance which makes it more manageable."
And, while singing in The Soda Popz means they can, literally, get under each other's feet at times, performing as a duo keeps the relationship harmoniously balanced, says Michelle, who also finds it "handy" when it comes to fitting in rehearsal times around mealtimes and Isla's bedtime routine at home in Bangor.
"Our Soda Popz show is a very lively one and Matt and I certainly get our exercise by the end of it, as you can't help but dance along to every single song," she enthuses.
"We've also been really fortunate to have the fabulous Ballroom Blitz NI dancers join us on several occasions this year and they are brilliant at getting people up and teaching them the steps.
"I'm a huge Connie Francis fan and Matt is obsessed with Johnny Cash, so our playlist will include a mix of classic hits and favourite sounds – anything from Buddy Holly and The Drifters to The Everly Brothers, Chubby Checker and Elvis.
"People have so many pressures and stresses these days and I think the music from this era helps everyone just feel happy and uplifted."
The couple regularly perform as a vocal duo with backing tracks, but Michelle and Matt prefer to re-create the 1950s sound with the help of other talented musicians in a five-piece band comprising Stephen Barnett as keyboard player and musical director, Stephen McClenahan on lead guitar, Gerry Mawhinney on bass, drummer Colin Place and Robert Rea on saxophone.
"This will be the band's first Christmas show at The Black Box and it will be one big party," adds Michelle, a two-time winner of the coveted Association of Irish Musical Societies Best Female Singer in Ireland award.
"We are hoping that people will get into the spirit of the era and come dressed in costume, ready for a festive stroll – or jive – back in time."
:: The Soda Popz will be playing at The Black Box in Belfast on Sunday December 1. Tickets and info at Blackboxbelfast.com