Sister (Class) Act

She glided onto centrestage, waving her hands as if to mimic an undulating sea surface. Or perhaps she was pretending to be a Chinese opera singer, manipulating her imaginery water sleeves. Whatever she was doing, however she moved, Corinne Drewery did not merely walk out to sing: she slid along as if on a cloud, exciting the senses like a waft of the rarest perfume.

Swing Out Sister was performing for the first time in Bangkok last night at an unlikely venue: Sanam Suepa, an unremarkable field next to the King Rama V monument on Rama V Road. With their trademark style that’s evocative of intimate candle-lit settings, the band was singing before an audience that looked like that had come for a PAD rally.

The concert was, in fact, part of Signha’s Bangkok Decembery, an all-nighter featuring Thai bands such as Jetsetter, Groove Rider, and ETC. Crowd-pleasers as they were, their rock-for-the-neighbourhood vibe only heightened Swing Out Sister’s cool-as-jade act that effortlessly fused jazz, pop, and a good dose of sixties soul.

Despite the dismal crowd, Corinne Drewery and Andy Connell and their band mates sang as if they were crooning for a Royal Command Performace. They seemed oblivious of what was before them, with Ms Drewery directing her attention to the five-row-deep fans in the front, who lapped up Butterfly, Twilight World, Am I The Same Girl? with palpable glee, prompting the singer to tease, “you know the songs better than we do!”.

She sang and moved as if intoxicated by her own music, delivering each verse with the same silkiness as her sleek bob and draped jersey dress. Sure, her voice lack the power of, say, Lisa Stansfield, and she does not enunciate like Shirley Bassey, but 25 years after the band was formed, Ms Drewery still sounded as smooth and sparkling as when Breakout became the group’s first smash hit.

Despite having levelled off in popularity (they’re virtually unknown here in Bangkok), they have remained well-loved in Japan, where they are, according to the BBC, “revered as minor deities”. This is hardly surpising when Swing Out Sister predates fashion-crowd fave and “sophisti-J-pop” mavens Pizzicato 5.

In the end, the band lavished fans with an encore (unlike the preceding acts) of Breakout, sung second time round to a rousing and danceable beat. When I left the park past midnight, with ETC cranking it up in the background, I wished it was cocktail hour in Capri.

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