Leading Ladies put good old fashioned harmony centre stage once again

We've been feeling out of key for obvious reasons over the past year but Leading Ladies singer Michelle Baird tells Gail Bell why it's now time for a little harmony

The Leading Ladies vocal harmony trio are getting out of the garden and back on stage
Gail Bell

EVERYONE has found their own way of keeping sane during the lockdowns and while dressing up and singing in the living room was fun for a while, Michelle Baird can't wait to get back in front of a microphone – on an actual real stage – with her Leading Ladies.

The award-winning Bangor-based singer – who also performs in Belfast 50s/60s band, The Soda Popz, along with actor husband, Matt Forsythe – is one third of the Leading Ladies vocal harmony trio and missed singing so much that she took to entertaining the neighbours on a Sunday evening.

“We had to cancel all our professional shows because of the lockdowns, so we just decided one weekend last summer to do some little events from our living room and then post them on the Soda Popz Facebook page for light relief,” she says. “We opened all the blinds, opened the windows and got our PA system set up and running and then our five year-old daughter, Isla, got her frock on and we all just had some fun as a family.

“There was a great reaction from people – the neighbours were dancing in their gardens and we had friends and family from Bulgaria and England looking forward to seeing and hearing us on Facebook each week, so we just kept it up and had a great old time.”

Now, though, it is time for Michelle and her Leading Ladies, Ceara Grehan (Lisburn) and Lynne McAllister, (Waringstown) to put their glittery frocks back on for livestream events from Ardowen Theatre, Enniskillen, and Strule Theatre, Omagh, performing their unique mix of classical crossover, musical theatre and chart hit harmony for which they are known.

The women, who write their own harmonies for an eclectic repertoire, are also busy putting together their first album, as well as well as recording a new piece of music written by well known Belfast musician Darren Day.

“The last few years had been particularly busy, with appearances at key event such as Dalriada Festival and Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, as well as invitations to perform at venues such as Dublin's National Concert Hall and the NEC Birmingham, so it was strange not doing much for the past 12 months,” says Michelle, whose day job is director of marketing and communications with the Ulster Orchestra.

“Now we have lots of exciting plans, including recording a new album, and some beautiful music written by our talented friend, Darren Day. We are particularly looking forward to the livestreams from the theatres – the Ardowen one [this Friday] is called Date Night with the Leading Ladies and it's got a little bit of everything.

“There will be a mix of musicals, classical pieces, a bit of country and Irish… we've been practising in Ceara's garden and fiddling around with the harmonies and melodies and now we can't wait to get a nice glittery frock on and high heels and get going.”

All award-winning singers, the trio have been together for 18 years, fitting rehearsals and performances in around busy careers and parenting young children. They first sang together at Peter Corry's One Enchanted Evening concert at the SSE Arena – then known as the Odyssey – and found their voices blended perfectly together.

“There were no female groups like us in Northern Ireland at the time, no songwriters of harmonies, so we were doing something a little bit different, as classically trained artists,” says Michelle. “We first met through musical societies and had all played leading roles in many shows, so we started off singing musical theatre numbers, but now we have expanded to cover a wide range of styles, all set to our own harmonies.

“We are busy working from home and looking after small children, so we didn't really have the time for any online recordings – that's why we're so excited about doing the shows for the theatres – the Strule event in June is for Armed Forces Day so there will be lots of swing and jazz in a 50s set.”

Well acquainted with music from that particular era through performing with Soda Popz, she is a long-time fan of the ‘fabulous 50s', thanks in no small part to watching her parents jive as a child – and her dad dragging her on to the dancefloor "at any opportunity" and teaching her "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 the glamour of it all stuck with me,” she says. “Hopefully, there will be lots more opportunities for us all to get dressed up for live music and theatre events soon.”

:: Date Night with The Leading Ladies is live from the Ardowen Theatre, Enniskillen, this Friday (April 23) and available to watch on the Ardhowen Facebook page. The Leading Ladies perform live from Strule Arts Centre, Omagh, on Saturday June 26 to mark Armed Forces Day, also available to watch on the theatre's Facebook page.

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