British girl group blends ’60s sound, modern voice

Gwenno Pipette pauses a beat before acknowledging her real last name, which — shocker — is not Pipette at all.

The singer also doesn’t play up the fact that she used to perform in “Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance.”

She keeps quiet about the awards she won overseas as a solo artist. In a way, she’s left behind Gwenno Saunders — her real name. Or, at the very least, she leaves that person behind when she dons a polka dot dress alongside her two singing partners.

“We don’t tend to use our full names, because they’re all different,” she said, riding aboard a Tokyo train. “We’re Pipettes.”

All for one, and one for all.

The British girl group, which plays Thursday at Seattle’s Crocodile Cafe, are more Shangri-Las than they are Andrews Sisters or TLC. Their songs are all pulled taffy and sugarcoating. As soon as the strings swell on the second track of their cavity-inducing debut, “We Are the Pipettes,” it’s hard to pull away. Like those matching polka dot dresses, their sound is classically recognizable, if not entirely in fashion.

That said, the group’s lyrics have a modern bent.

Unlike the 1960s girl groups, an at times passive lot that waited for “Johnny Angel,” the Pipettes sing about their own one night stands. When the Pipettes harmonize on “Tell Me What You Want,” it comes off as a command, not a request.

A glance at song titles exposes the group’s other love. “It Hurts to See You Dance So Well,” “Dance and Boogie,” and the strike-a-pose tune “Pull Shapes” revel in the fun of a good beat. The latter sums up all three, as the group sings, “I just want to move, I don’t care what this song’s about.”

“Well, love and dancing,” Saunders said. “I think it’s that simple. It certainly is in our world.”

The group formed in 2003 in Brighton, England, after guitarist Robert “Monster Bobby” Barry and photographer Julia Clark-Lowes decided to revive the jubilant dance music of the 1960s, encouraged by the reaction such songs got during Barry’s DJ sets.

Some reports play up Barry’s early role in the group, when he served as a de facto leader, dubbing him a Svengali akin to Phil Spector. Saunders seems to bristle at that idea, calling it “not true at all” and giving Clark-Lowes equal credit for forming the band.

“They’re far more comfortable with the idea that there’s some boy behind the whole thing, and we’re sort of puppets in a way,” she said of such reports. “I mean, it just reflects far more on the person than it does on us.”

Really, this is a band in the truest sense. Cut off one head — say founding member Clark-Lowes, who left the group to focus on another project — and another springs up, like Saunders, who joined fellow Pipettes Rebecca “RiotBecki” Stephens and Rose “Rosay” Dougall in 2005.

The members of the group, which includes the four-man backing band the Cassettes, all write songs. And the lyrics, broad as they are, sort of advance the idea that this is not one person cracking open her diary and setting a page to song.

“There’s not so much room to be like, ‘Well, you know, I did this today, you know, I broke someone’s heart,’ ” Saunders said.

While some have dismissed the group as a novelty, their 2006 UK debut earned generally positive reviews. Still, they’ve yet to light up many marquees’ in the States, playing clubs like Seattle’s Chop Suey and that upcoming gig at the Crocodile.

With a sound that, at least in the 1960s, screamed mainstream appeal, they could graduate to bigger venues soon, now that their album has earned a major label release in the U.S.

That’d be fine with the group. Saunders said the band members talk about what they want to do on a larger stage with a bigger budget, like add some pyros.

“It would be quite nice for us to sort of hang from the ceilings, things like that,” she said. “Trapeze.”

Until they get airborne, they’ll be clapping together, striking their poses in one-two-three order, and trying to get a crowd to move its feet, if by imitation alone.

“You can’t really expect anyone else to want to dance to your music if you’re not dancing,” Saunders said.

Reporter Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455 or

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