The Mersey Belles, also known as cousins Nancy and Pearl are making waves with their ukuleles. Their unique act sees them beautifully performing classic songs from the 20s through to the 50s with an alternative spin on a few modern hits in there too. They made waves at The Grand Northern Ukulele Festival in 2014 and look set to have another big year in 2015.
2014 was a pretty big year for you, what have you got planned for 2015?
Nancy: Yes last year was a whirlwind of a year, and we are so grateful for all of our experiences being Belles so far. We did a heck of a lot of travelling all over the country and 2015 is looking crazy busy to be honest! We are doing a few more ukulele festival this year than we did last, also looking at a few more cabaret events and have a couple of international bookings on the horizon. We are planning some exiting things also in the summer, but we are keeping quiet about that until we can announce officially.
Pearl: It sure was, we were approached by a ukulele magazine in January 2014 and we were asked to do an interview in March 2014. During 2015 we will be heading all over the country running ukulele workshops and performing of course at many festivals and events. The workshops consist of vocal exercises, breathing techniques and harmonising. As always we are both really excited about it all.
What is it about the ukulele that drew you to it in the first place?
Pearl: The sound. I had played the guitar for a good 8 years before I went on to the ukulele. A friend of mine introduced it to me back in August 2012 and I haven’t put it down since. I love how portable it is and how easy it is to play. I think I have definitely excelled in the ukulele as a performance instrument than anything else I can play. I just love it!
Nancy: That’s a hard question, I’ve always been a singer and can play a few instruments but there was just something about the ukulele when I first picked it up. I remember someone saying to me back when I was a session singer, that you were either a player or a singer. I guess that person was wrong as I am now passionate/borderline geeky about both. I also like the size of our sopranos, they fit perfectly into our act and snugly under our right arms. Guitars look so blooming huge now!
There’s an incredibly distinct style to your music, how did it come about?
Nancy: I think our music is representative of us both and where we have come from in our previous musical lives. It won’t be a secret that I’m a huge fan of pop music and jazz, and I really like the idea of playing pop music in a different style to the way it was intended. Our blue grass version of Britney Spears toxic is a Nancy and Pearl special.
Pearl: As Nancy has said the songs we arrange are a great representation of who we are and it’s lovely to be able to arrange cover songs to suit not only our voices but our personalities as well. I love putting our own distinct sound into cover songs. We work on the basis that covers don’t need to be carbon copies just do them how we feel they should sound as the Mersey Belles.
It is immediately apparent when listening to your music that you work incredibly well as a duo. What do you both individually bring to the table to help make such a unified sound?
Nancy: Well we have had 2 years now to perfect what we do, and over those 2 years we have really developed as players and singers and really learned a lot from being on the road together and arranging/writing songs together. I think a lot of why we work well together is based a lot on trusting each other, I think without trust both personally and musically things can get lost. Also not taking ourselves too seriously, we both really are in this to have as much fun as possible. I think one of the many things that Pearl brings to our sound is that she is a perfectionist with what we do and I think that is apparent in our arrangements of the songs. She’s a top class musician! I just like pop music, writing melodies and playing ukulele! It’s difficult to say what I bring individually to the project because we really are like peas in a pod. Maybe Pearl can tell you what I bring to the table?
Pearl: Firstly, I couldn’t do this with any other musician. We have an amazing connection that’s really strong and that carries through in our rehearsals and our performances. I have a great knack at arranging and making songs different and interesting to make us stand out. Nancy is awesome at Melodies and working out riffs on the ukulele for new arrangemensts and original. My strengths are writing lyrics, transposing and playing lead parts on the ukulele. These compliment Nancy’s strengths beautifully. I always say to new ukulele groups starting out, work on your strengths you don’t need to be able to do everything. We are a great example of this.
It’s great to see that you’ll be back at the GNUF this year, are you looking forward to it and what can we expect to see from you this time?
Nancy: Well GNUF was no doubt the absolute highlight of our gigging calendar last year. So we really can’t wait for it again and we are so humbled to be asked back for a second year. We met so many amazing people, from the wonderful folk who organise it to all the amazing acts that we shared a stage with. Plus we picked up a couple of fans too! Best bit for me was when Ritchie from the orchestra of GB asked for a picture with us. I nearly fell over!! Seriously great times.
Pearl: This year at GNUF expect more original songs in our main stage set and 2 ukulele workshops on both days. It’s all so exciting. We had a ball last year and even today we are still in contact with others who performed last year and have made some amazing ukulele friends.
What would you say to anyone even thinking about giving ukulele a go?
Pearl: Firstly, it’s a really fun instrument to play and it never fails to make me smile when playing. Secondly, be prepared to work hard and all your efforts will no doubt pay off. I currently play a valuable role within the Ukulele Club Liverpool, ran by Elaine Kinsella. I concentrate more on the performance and vocal aspects of the club, but I do teach basic ukulele to absolute beginners. The ukulele looks really easy but you have to be dedicated and put the practice in to get the hang of it.
Nancy: Do it! You won’t look back, it’s a wonderful instrument to play. I will freely admit that sometimes when things get tough down at the Mersey Belles HQ (not that it happens a lot mind), picking up the uke and having a strum can really take the edge off. Also being a ukulele player comes with a community of wonderful folk. If you decide to immerse yourself in it, there will be a ukulele club near you and in my experience they are full of really nice people who all love the ukulele. What could be better?
If you could work with one artist past or present who would it be?
Nancy: Well I think us Mersey Belles joining forces with Chaz and Dave would be a right laugh. We saw them recently in concert (thanks Leon Cave) and I think we would make for some good viewing and listening of course!
Pearl: I agree with Nancy, we love those guys. We both have a great respect and musical adoration for the artist Sia. We would love to work with her on original material.
Thanks to Nancy and Pearl for taking some time out of their crazy schedule to answer our questions. We look forward to seeing more from the Mersey Belles this year! Check out their website to find out where you can see them playing next.