Verity & Violet are a vocal duo that are making waves around London and the U.K. for their vintage look, fun, unique sound, and overall charismatic energy. The two artists behind this duo are Loui Batley singer, dancer and actor (Sarah Barnes Hollyoaks) and Musical Theatre actor, Jessica Dolman. We spoke them about how they got their ideas for their look and music, their experiences, and what’s in store for the duo.
iSing: Let’s start off with who is who.
Loui Batley: So, I am Violet.
Jessica Dolman: And in the band I am Verity.
iSing: Maybe you could tell us how you came up with the idea for Verity and Violet,
Loui: We went to a 1940s party, you know those sort of Blitz Nights that they have. Themed nights, just with our husbands. We dressed up as characters from the 1940s. They were GIs. And we gave ourselves names. I was Violet Kingsley and Jessica was Verity.
Jessica: Verity Swanell. We took it very seriously. [Laugh] And the idea for the band came from two out- of- work actors, drunk in a pub, well tipsy. Little bit of cider. We were like “Right let’s take control of our career. Let’s not just keep waiting for the phone and let’s do something that is ours.”. And we came up with a singing duo.
iSing: What came first the songs or the look?
Jessica: I think we appreciated that the most important part was the singing. Because that is ultimately what we were selling. So we put a lot of work into picking the right songs and testing lots and lots of different kinds of genres. But it was very exciting to get to that stage where we could talk about outfits and look.
Loui: Our look also has developed because originally we were doing the Victory Roll from the 1940s thing. Now, we have injected a bit of contemporary into our look.
iSing: Can you explain the band set up?
Loui: Just the two of us with our mics and tracks, which were all recorded with a band. So, they have got a full lovely sound.
iSing: Where do you get the tracks from?
Jessica: We had them recorded with a band in the early stages. It was quite a long, pricey, process, but we really wanted to put that work in initially. We had an amazing musical director, Jennifer Whyte (Les Miserable movie, Avenue Q). She went above and beyond to orchestrate the arrangements.
iSing: How do you get hired/booked?
Loui: We find places that we’d want to gig, and then we e-mail them with a lovely letter, music and images, asking if they are looking for entertainment.
Jessica: And of course for every 50 you send you would get one person interested. Now it’s mainly agents.
iSing: Did the agents come once you had been established?
Loui: In the early stages we wrote to a few that we knew, who people had recommended.
Jessica: They suddenly just all came calling and good ones as well for the type of work we do. And you can have as many as you want in the corporate singing world; it’s not like an acting agent or a manager. So, we just did a bit of research on them and if we liked them we said “yes” and it’s lovely because the more agents the more work.
iSing: Describe the typical kind of gig for you?
Jessica: There is no typical gig. [Laugh]
Loui: They vary., We tend to do kind of a couple of sets; like two 40 minute sets.
Jessica: Well, in terms of length it is like short, sharp bursts are always best to keep people interested. We mean this when we say it:; we are not divas. There are no huge egos here. If people want us for background music, reception music, where people aren’t necessarily watching and clapping and that whole sort of scenario that you are perhaps used to as a performer .
It ranges from that to pub gigs where people are really up for it and really into it,; to people being on stage and quietly watching and clapping after every song. Then in terms of gigs, we love a pub gig. We love singing at the Dorchester Hotel or the Savoy or doing London Fashion Week. It can be the most down to earth, sloppy, great pub to the most posh hotel in the world. To be honest you still get the same, we are who we are, and we like it all.
iSing: How do you go about deciding on and sourcing your outfits?
Loui: We have a lot of we look up online for inspiration and in magazines .
Jessica: And I mean, if Stella McCartney came calling we wouldn’t say “no”. But at the moment we just love sorting cute outfits from the High Street. There is nothing more exciting for us than going out having a glass of champagne and being like, “Right we have this amount to spend on Verity & Violet costumes, let’s go”.
iSing: Has your look changed since you started?
Loui: Going back to the name we were obviously vintage- inspired, but we’ve gone on to realise that perhaps we would become more original if we had a contemporary element. There are a lot of great Andrew Sister- type groups out there, doing the vintage thing brilliantly. We wanted to find something a bit more nicheé, so with the set list developing so is our look. So it is less vintage, though there is always a hint of old school glamour. But you will find us in just a cool outfit that has not rhyme or reason other than we loved it.
iSing: Both of you come from other performing disciplines. Loui, you started off in dance and have an acting background. You worked in television in a UK soap called Holly Oaks, as a character called Sarah Barnes.
Jessica: One second, I know this is not about me, but this is how I describe Sarah Barnes to people: The lesbian that fell out of a plane without a parachute. Pretty exciting life she had.
Loui: It was a fun character to play.
iSing: And then you died this tragic death.
Loui: Yeah, my Mom and Dad can’t watch (the scene). It’s really quite hideous. Watching yourself die and be splattered all over the Pennines is not nice.
Jessica: There were little bits of Sarah Barnes everywhere. [Laugh]
iSing: Who decided it was time for “Sarah” to go?
Loui: I wanted to leave, so I said I’d like to leave at the end of my contract. Then they came up with this idea. I think they thought I would be like “oh I don’t want to die.”. I was really happy. I had done six years in Hollyoaks and I didn’t want the temptation of going back. I wanted to make a clean break. It was amazing, but I’m done and I want to do other stuff now. So I was really happy that I died a hideous death. [Laugh]
iSing: And Jessica you have a musical theater background. What are the similarities and differences between the disciplines that you have been in before and what you do now? And how has that prepared you for your singing career?
Jessica: We met on a panto years ago. W, what I loved about Loui, and perhaps what you could call her discipline, was that she just sang, she just sang from her heart. She learnt the notes and sang them and meant the words. It was so pure and so gorgeous. It was really, really inspiring for me to be around.
I wanted to be more like that because I was all controlled and use to singing Fantine from Les Miserables. Hitting all of these notes so perfectly or at least trying to be perfect.
Coming from quite a disciplined three years of, being taught to sing technically perfectly, not that, of course I wasn’t taught to sing emotionally as well. But I think that got lost a little on me with all the technique. Then being around Loui made me just want to start again and just sing from the heart, because the most beautiful sound is an honest one. That was the main difference that I’ve found between the two of us. [Laugh]
iSing: So Loui, what is the difference between what you are doing now and what you have done in the past, if we compare it to, say, to your dance in particular?
Loui: I think dance was good for discipline. Dance really helps with discipline and being respectful of people. The difference now is we are our own bosses and we can create. We are in control, which is really lovely.
Jessica: Yeah. And I think when I did a bit of part-time work initially and then took that step where I realized that we could probably just do Verity & Violet and that be our living. Obviously, we both still would like to do other things performing- wise. But, taking that leap where Verity & Violet is our income, then being disciplined is vital. You know especially Monday to Friday. If you have got a gig that’s fine because you are going to turn up to that gig and you are going to be as good as you can be.
Loui: You have to be proactive.
Jessica: Right. What are we going to do today? Whether it is separately and it’s admin or whether it’s together and rehearsing. You could end up weeks passing and you haven’t done a thing because you are ‘your own boss’. And obviously everyone who is self-employed must find that. I still set my alarm and I get up.
Loui: To keep the gigs coming in you have to be on it.
Jessica: And then you are allowed that glass of wine on Friday night. [Laugh]
iSing: Any ‘worst moments’ on stage?
Loui: What is our worst?
Jessica: Giggles if you want to call that bad. Because laughing is a wonderful thing. But we all know you can’t sing when you are laughing.
Loui: Yeah, one gig we were doing two full days from 9 until 5. Short sets, but all day…
Jessica: What was that song that they wanted us to do every five minutes?
Loui/ Jessica (spontaneously start singing): “If I knew you were coming I would have baked a cake, baked a cake”
Jessica: Because it was the Cake and Bake show!
Loui: So they wanted us to do that song and three other songs. They said, “For the first half an hour could you just sing that song?”
Jessica: We lost the plot. [Laugh]
Loui: I said, “We can’t just sing that song ALL day. People will think that is all we can sing”. They said, “Oh can you do it every other song?”. By the second day this song, it was like, “If…I knew…you were…coming I’d mumble, mumble” (voice peters out). We just got quite delirious towards the end. It just took one thing and I could not stop laughing to the point where it was like “please let this be over.”.
Jessica: If one gets the giggles the other has to take over. Normally one of us can get it together. So on that occasion, I think I did about an hour of solo singing. [Laugh] Trying to get it together. But it has happened to both of us. It’s lovely to laugh and then you laugh more when you are not meant to be laughing.
Loui: And the odd, dodgy lyric that comes out sometimes…
Jessica: And that’s me. Loui is incredible with lyrics. Maybe it’s her Hollyoaks script learning days. I know my lyrics deep down. [Laugh] I really do. I get them right most of the time. But when I don’t I carry on and I make them up, and that makes Loui laugh.
iSing: Proudest professional moment to date as the duo?
Loui: Well, the south of France was pretty gorgeous.
Jessica: We did a gig at the Café in Antibes. It was a proud moment but just also very gorgeous, o. One where you pinch yourself. You are looking at the mountains and sea. It’s a gorgeous audience and they are, like, dressed in beautiful clothes. The champagne is flowing, the sun is setting, and you’re kind of going, “We are getting paid to do this?”
Loui: It was beautiful. Other proudest moments?
Jessica: Our own cabaret.
Loui: In April last year. We put on our own cabaret show. We had all of our friends and family. That was pretty cool because it was our own thing and it was more of our gig.
Jessica: That was really cool. We sold out the Pheasant Tree. It’s a small venue, but it was so exciting to have an all sell-out show that was just ours. I would love to do that more often.
iSing: Top tip for any one wanting to transition to become gainfully employed as an act?
Loui: Find a genre and a look that you love, that makes you happy and that you enjoy doing. Because, when we gig we enjoy it. People notice, saying things like, “Ooh you really look like you were loving it and love what you do.”
Jessica: I’d say that’s really good advice. Let’s say you are an actor or musical theater actor and you are being sent out for auditions and you are auditioning for a role. The difference is that if you want to start a little business and get paid to sing in a different way, which we are doing, it is about creating your own niche. Finding something you really love so you are excited to perform.