1940s-inspired all-female group The Femmes swing home to Belfast

The Femmes will bring their 1940s glamour and sound to Belfast this month for the first time. Seánna O'Neill tells Joanne Sweeney why vintage is best

The Femmes – Anna McCormick and Seánna O'Neill, both from north Belfast, and Joanna Sawyer will make their debut at The Empire on May 25
Joanne Sweeney

MUSIC lovers can expect some boogie-woogie with a distinctly vintage feel when close harmony group The Femmes swing into town later this month for their debut performance at the Empire.

The gig is a much-longed for homecoming for two of the trio – Seánna O'Neill and Anna McCormick, both 27, from north Belfast. The starlets have been friends since the age of 11 and remained in London after university to pursue their dream of musical theatre and acting.

They will be joined on stage on Thursday May 25 by founding member Joanna Sawyer, and will treat the audience to two hours of classic 1940s tunes along with contemporary hits, ranging from Glen Millar to Britney Spears.

“I've been trying for so long to get a show in Belfast organised,” Seánna told The Irish News. “Now we're coming back, it just means the absolute world. I can take what I've been working on for the last three years and bring it home to an entirely new audience. I think it's something different and new for Belfast.”

The Femmes have been going for almost three years and are quietly making a name for themselves as a group of distinction, having supported five-piece harmony group The Overtones at Canary Wharf last summer and played at Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen's Glamorous Garden Party for the past two years.

They have also reached the sophisticated heights of playing at the Savoy Hotel in London at last year's Macmillan annual gala ball.

"We will be doing everything from Frank Sinatra to Meaghan Trainor in Belfast. We also have a love of 80s music so we do a bit of George Michael, Madonna, all with our 1940s spin," explains Seánna.

“As we recently did a St Patrick's event in London, we have a few Irish songs that we can throw into the mix.”

Seánna says it was her love of all things vintage and glamorous that helped inspire the group's formation.

"We get our inspiration from the 1940s, and in the early stages based ourselves on the Andrew Sisters, almost like a tribute group. But then we started doing modern songs with our own 1940s spin on it," she said.

The Andrew Sisters were the first ever successful close-harmony girl group, selling over 75 million records in the late 1930s-40s. The three actual sisters had a major hit with the single Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy in 1941.

Seánna adds: "Anna and I lived just streets apart and went to the Dominican College and were part of Fortwilliam Musical Society and other am-dram societies until we were 18. We ended up going to London Metropolitan University and then I went to the Guildford School of Acting where I met and became friends with Joanna.

"Once we came out of the GSA, we all needed to find work so we thought how can we keep up our training and skills and how can we make our mark?

"I've always been fascinated with the vintage era of the 1940s and grew up watching Judy Garland and loved the fashion, hair and make-up from all those glorious old shows.

"The girls felt the same and we decided to make our own work and to be creative with our skills rather to keep working on bars and restaurants just to pay the rent in between acting jobs."

The Femmes' sound is supported by their stage choreography and the detail they put into their vintage fashions and hairstyles, including their Victory Rolls which were popular with women during the Second World War.

“We buy our stage outfits from a few London shops which are dedicated to vintage clothes,” said Seánna. “Some of our outfits are from high street stores although we team them up with vintage brooches and accessories that we find in fairs and markets and glam them up”.

:: The Femmes will be appearing at The Empire, Belfast, on Thursday May 25. Tickets £10.

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