Kitty, Daisy and Lewis - Swing out sister, brother, sister
The siblings were bullied for wearing retro clobber, but they kept the Fifties vibe, and are playing Glastonbury
Friday 20 May 2011
Kitty, Daisy and Lewis are a trio of siblings – Kitty, 18, Daisy, 22 and Lewis, 20 – from north London, who play thigh-slapping traditional rhythm and blues and hillbilly swing. With their quiffs and 1950s vintage look, which they have had ever since they were at primary school, it is as if they are transported from another era. Most endearing is that they recruit their mum and dad as backing musicians for their live shows, which includes Glastonbury this summer.
"At the beginning it was just us," says Kitty. "Then we dragged our parents into the band for live shows. They didn't want to do it at first. They were too embarrassed. My dad used to hide behind the speakers."
I meet the clan in their local pub in Kentish Town, near to the family home, where they still all live together. They release their first entirely self-penned second album, Smoking in Heaven, later this month, which includes their new single "I'm So Sorry", complete with plenty of trumpet solos.
Despite not having any mainstream chart success, this band have a very high-profile fanbase. Coldplay's Chris Martin personally hand-picked them for his US tour in 2009. "He was late on stage because he was jamming with us backstage in the dressing room and Kitty was trying to teach him harmonica," recalls Daisy.
"I'd just left school after my GCSEs," says Kitty. "I came down the stairs and mum said, 'Do you want to go on the Coldplay tour?' We were thrown in the deep end." They appeared in Dustin Hoffman's 2009 film Last Chance Harvey when they performed their remake of Johnny Horton's song "Mean Son of a Gun". Their 2008 single "Going Up the Country" was used in the closing credits of Jake Scott's film Welcome to the Rileys. Amy Winehouse is also mad about the family band.
"A month ago Amy dragged me into the kitchen of her local pub in Camden," says Daisy. "She said, 'I can't believe I'm with Daisy from Kitty, Daisy and Lewis!' and offered me chocolate Easter-eggs."
The band's sound is a mix of old-fashioned 1940s/1950s rhythm and blues, blues, roots music, jazz, country and western, Hawaiian, rock'n'roll and ska, which makes it impossible to pigeon-hole. They hate to be called a rockabilly band – "because that is just not what we are about," says Kitty.
They were teased at school for their quiff hairstyles and got called "Elvis" all the time. "Mum used to send me to primary school in old cowboy shirts with my quiff," says Lewis.
"I was called a farmer's wife when I went to school in old Fifties shirts," laughs Kitty.
"It wasn't so much a fashion thing," explains Daisy, who is getting married in July. "It's just the quality of clothes, after the Fifties, went downhill. Mum has an eye for old stuff and shopped in junk shops. We've always been wearing this stuff. It's who we are. It's what I feel comfortable in."
Kitty, Daisy and Lewis Durham started playing in their band in 2001, after they became a fixture at the Come Down and Meet the Folks Sunday-afternoon country and rockabilly club at north London's The Golden Lion pub with their parents, as young kids. "We would sit in the front row on three chairs listening to the bands. Then we'd get fired up and go home to play music," recalls Lewis.
Big Steve of the Arlenes, who ran the event, asked Lewis, then 10, to come and play banjo with him, and Kitty, then seven, joined him on drums. Daisy, 12, picked up her accordion for their next stage appearance. Soon they were headlining their first gigs in pubs as Kitty, Daisy & Lewis, while their school friends were at home doing their homework. Their first single "Honolulu Rock-a Roll-a" was released in 2005 on Resonance FM-linked label Oof!. Then, after a corporate gig in Topshop, where BBC Radio 1 DJ and Bestival curator Rob da Bank was DJ-ing, da Bank signed the teenagers to his indie record label Sunday Best. They released a second single, "Mean Son of a Gun", in 2006, followed by "Going Up the Country" and "(Baby) Hold Me Tight" in 2008.
In 2008 they released their self-titled debut album, which was a mixture of bluegrass, jive, and rhythm and blues covers their dad used to sing to them when they were children, together with new material, also released as a 10in vinyl album. In 2007 they produced a compilation album of their favourite music, A-Z – Kitty Daisy and Lewis: the Roots of Rock'n'Roll. The family home was always littered with musical instruments of all types.
"Mum and dad weren't the type of parents to say, 'put it down, you might break it,'" says Daisy. They listened to Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Wynonie Harris rather than modern music.
"We like the old sounds of records we listened to as kids and they are sounds we want to hear in our music," says Lewis. "If you listen to a Muddy Waters record you can hear two notes, and from that you can work out loads of other tricks." The whole family would jam together in the front room and spontaneously break out in song. "You'd be sitting on the sofa and someone would start playing," says Lewis. "One by one the others would enter the room and before you knew it a whole frenzy was going on. For us to play music with our parents is the most natural thing in the world to do."
The siblings are self-taught multi-instrumentalists who sing and swap instruments during songs. These range from banjo, glockenspiel, accordion, ukulele, harmonica, an electric lap steel guitar that Lewis built, to more traditional instruments such as guitar, drums, and piano.
Their half-Norwegian mum Ingrid Weiss – who plays double-bass – used to play drums in Kurt Cobain's favourite post-punk band, The Raincoats. When she turns up at the pub with the family dog, she looks conventional compared to the her three Fifties-inspired children. She is a keen collector of 1940s and 1950s dressmaking patterns, and makes vintage dresses for the girls.
Anglo-Indian dad Graeme Durham – who plays guitar in the band – owns and runs London's The Exchange mastering studios, which has done albums for Laura Marling, Foals, and The Chemical Brothers. He has produced and recorded Kitty, Daisy & Lewis's album at the vintage recording studio they have built at home. With 1940s and 1950s recording equipment, using ribbon microphones and tape, their homemade studio was inspired by Memphis's Sun Studios. This family is fixated with all things vintage, and releases music on vinyl, as well as digital downloads and on CD. Earlier this year Lewis opened his analogue recording studio in Soho's Riflemaker gallery, where the public could cut one song direct-to-10in disc. He collects and DJs 78rpm records.
"Old records have a pure and natural, open sound compared to music recorded on computers, which doesn't sound musical. When we built the studio at home we did bring in a computer. We heard it and laughed; it was so far below the quality of what we could do on tape recorders," says Lewis.
They have been referred to as the musical version of The Waltons because they smile happily on stage together. But, like any family, there are arguments – for them it's often on stage.
"Sometime we haven't decided what song to play for the encore, and dad wants "Paan Man Boogie", which we don't like anymore," says Daisy. "Dad's like, 'come on!'" There is also screaming, crying and walking out during rehearsals, and they give each other dirty looks, when mistakes happen. "But we're not going to split up over it," says Kitty. "We're a family. After five minutes, everything is back to normal."
'Smoking in Heaven' is out on 30 May. "I'm So Sorry" is out now, both on Sunday Best
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