Most university students spend hours locked away in their bedrooms, panicking as they write out essays for their finals. But for three friends, Anneka Wass, Sally Taylor and Isabelle Moore, that wasn’t the case.
Studying for a degree in creative and performing arts at the University Of Portsmouth, the trio decided to put on a 1940s experience evening as part of their course.
Having always been fans of the music from the era, they formed a singing act called The Three Belles and the 22-year-olds staged an evening of entertainment in the bar at Portsmouth Guildhall.
Nearly a year later and they are back at the Guildhall on Friday, but this time in the main hall. In the meantime they have performed across the south and have a prestigious slot booked at this year’s Isle Of Wight Festival.
Speaking about how the group began, Anneka says: ‘We already had a passion for it. Sally was into Julie Andrews, Izzy was really into Ella Fitzgerald and Julie Garland and I was already into the Andrew Sisters. We just kind of grew together.
‘We were in our third year and we had to come up with an idea, so we decided to do a 1940s night to raise some money. It was based around the Andrew Sisters style and it ended up raising quite a lot.
‘We all got very high firsts for it.’
After they graduated, Sally and Isabelle started looking for jobs while Anneka thought about applying for drama school. But then they decided that maybe The Three Belles could work as a living, considering how popular it had been whilst they were studying.
Anneka says: ‘It was a massive leap. We moved in together and it was big decision, but it was definitely worth it.
‘We’re living in Hertfordshire at the moment because my dad had a flat there and needed a tenant, so we decided to move in there for convenience.
‘But we’re hoping to move down to Woking so we’re closer to Portsmouth and can easily get to London too.’
The Three Belles began by going to restaurants and other places in Portsmouth and singing a cappella, showcasing their talent.
Anneka explains: ‘Eventually it got to the point where people became interested and wanted to see us. We graduated in July and it just slowly started to all come together.’
The girls gradually started to drum up some interest and have since performed at birthday parties, weddings, vintage festivals and dozens of local events.
Their biggest to date was the Gunwharf Quays firework display last year, in front of a crowd of 14,000 people.
‘There were so many people,’ says Anneka, ‘and we had our own stage each. It was very scary but it was great, and we’ve done a lot of 1940s festivals and vintage fairs.
‘We’ve also performed on Spitbank Fort for a private function, that was brilliant fun.’
One of the people there was Dragon’s Den star and businessman Theo Paphitis, who tweeted the girls saying: ‘thanks needs to go to @thethreebelles they got me in the mood yesterday they were fab!’
Anneka says: ‘We tweeted him and he tweeted us back saying how much he enjoyed it. We put that straight up on our website!’
But it’s not all nostalgia and big band songs as the girls still spend a lot of time travelling around.
Anneka says: ‘ We always squeeze into one car. Last week we went to Sunderland and then Kent and there was a lot of time travelling. We couldn’t even remember the gig, we just remembered sitting in the car!’
With events lined up until October, The Three Belles have got a busy year ahead of them, but there’s one place they’re all looking forward to performing at this summer – the Isle Of Wight Festival.
Anneka adds: ‘We’re in the Hipshaker Lounge and we were asked to do it. We bumped into the guy who runs it and he said he was looking for entertainment. We’re so excited. It’s going to be a good weekend.’
They’ve even gone into the studio and started putting together original songs with their band, The Bevin Boys, which they’ve completely funded themselves. Their first single is Belles Are Swingin’, with two more tracks on the EP, You Didn’t Know About Me and Radio King Jive.
The single will be on sale at this Friday’s In The Mood event and any future gigs, while the girls are hoping to put it on iTunes this summer.
Anneka says: ‘Our drummer had some original songs and we put harmonies to them, which we’ve recorded. We’re with our band The Bevin Boys and it’s a similar 1940s vibe.
‘We’re just really happy to have an original song to perform. We wanted it out by the time we did In The Mood, otherwise we would have tried to do a couple more.’
Their success has come as a surprise to the three friends, and they can’t quite believe how many events they have lined up.
Talking about why they love the nostalgic music and performing it so much, Isabelle says: ‘There’s something about it that makes people want to get up and dance and have a good time.
‘It makes people happy and it reminds people about supporting each other and pulling together.
Sally says: ‘It’s great to make people smile. We’ve played an 18th birthday before, so it’s not just for the older people. I think this summer is going to be amazing and we’re excited about taking the next step forward.’
After The Three Belles’ first performance at Portsmouth Guildhall last year, local author Matt Wingett wrote a story about them called The Three Belles Star in We’ll Meet Again.
Released as a Kindle edition in January, a limited amount of hard copy editions of the book are being published to co-incide with the In The Mood event this Friday.
Set in the 1940s against the backdrop of the Portsmouth Guildhall, an air raid siren wakes a mysterious sailor.
His presence threatens the life of one of The Three Belles. Anneka, Sally and Isabelle – or their alter egos Betty, Gail and Dorothy – have to play detective to track down exactly who he is.
There are 325 copies available for £5.99 from lifeisamazing.co.uk, Waterstones and Blackwells in Portsmouth or Dead Man’s Glory and the D-Day Museum in Southsea.
BIG NIGHT OUT
This Friday night sees the big event that The Three Belles have been planning for some time.
In The Mood takes place at Portsmouth Guildhall and is a larger version of their final university show.
The girls have got the whole venue to play with, including the main hall.
Anneka explains: ‘Last time we were at the Guildhall we were allowed 200 guests, but this time it’s hopefully going to be 650.
‘It’s completely based around the 1940s. We’re going to have someone doing 1940s hairstyles and we’re going to have 1940s characters and they’ll have stories.
She adds: ‘We’re having the University of Portsmouth Big Band and The Bevin Boys and we’ll perform some songs. The Guildhall cafe is doing some 1940s food, and there will be 1940s cocktails at the bar.’
Tickets cost £15 from Portsmouth Guildhall on (023) 9282 4355, or portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.