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Jazz singer turns cabaret artist and swing band leader

... with a little help from her ukulele
by the Fabulous Tricity Vogue
The ukulele and I met by accident, as is so often the case. I had a seven-piece band, The Tricity Vogue Slinktet, playing vintage lounge jazz versions of pop tunes and my own original tunes. I didn't play an instrument, so mine was the traditional role of “girl singer” - stand at the front, wear the frocks, herd the “cats” that jazz musicians always are. I'd always loved jazz standards and the world their lyrics conjure up, of smoky late-night bars, cocktails and heart-break. I wanted to be the woman in the songs, not just the woman singing the songs. That was the idea behind the character of Tricity Vogue, a larger-than-life diva who kept her gowns longer than her men. It was a character I was struggling to make very likeable to audiences. Then the ukulele came along, everything clicked into place, and my cabaret career proper as Tricity Vogue really began.

I'd been invited to compete at “Cheese and Crackers” cabaret night on the Battersea Barge, but my pianist couldn't do the date. My singing partner in the band, Lana Shelley, had a car boot full of ukuleles she used for a toddler music group called “Uke Can Do It”. She suggested we tell the audience our band had stood us up, and then perform my song “Big Band Blues” on ukuleles, with a kazoo instrumental. She and my pianist Rosa Conrad taught me my first three chords: C, F and G.

Did we win the cheese and crackers? No. But the audience were charmed. The lo-fi musical accompaniment to the high glamour image made the joke work at last. Love blossomed; I splashed out nearly £20 on a pink Mahalo of my own (which represented my weekly earnings at the time) and I started writing new songs on it – my first was “No Sleep Tonight”, about a booty call. I started getting solo bookings – just me and my uke. Around the same time, the band's bass player, who was also my boyfriend, dumped me. I played the ukulele as break-up therapy, in the spotlight. I'd become the woman in those old jazz standards for real.

Ten years on, I've gone full circle, and am a band leader again, as well as a solo cabaret performer, but this time, thanks to the ukulele, I'm not just the “girl singer”, I'm a musician as well, and part of a band of women who are among the finest musicians in London, if not the UK, if not the world. It's a bit like playing with the musical equivalent of the Avengers, but I don't feel intimidated, because my ukulele and I have ten years' stage time under our belts, and we know how to make people listen now, which gives the whole band – and the audience – the time of their lives.

In October 2016 I lead a tuition session on the noble art of song writing for USGB. This interactive workshop, by the end of an hour, produced a song ready for performance.

Tricity's albums are available from her website: The Blue Lady Sings, Calamitous Liaisons, Songs For Swinging Ukuleles, and The Tricity Vogue All Girl Swing Band: Live At Earl Haig Hall.

Photos: Tricity Vogue Slinktet by Sean Gibson, Tricity & Ukulele Fascinator by David Windmill,
Tricity Vogue All Girl Swing Band live at Wilton's Music Hall by James Millar