She is the cute and quirky founder of The Puppini Sisters, a unique girl trio The Financial Times credited with forging a new musical movement: ‘swing-punk – from their ‘sweet subversive swing…The Andrews Sisters on acid.’ Now popular in Europe, glamour girls, Marcella, Stephanie and Kate - all classically trained multi-instrumentalists – first met as friends at the prestigious Trinity College, London. Their signature close and jazzy harmonies span 1940s classics – such as Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and If It Ain’t Got That Swing to kooky takes on contemporary hits such as Beyonce’s Crazy in Love, The Bangles’ Walk Like an Egyptian, Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights and The Smiths’ Panic. Their CD output includes 2007’s gold disc winning Betcha Bottom Dollar and follow-up, The Rise and Fall of Ruby Woo. Signed to jazz label Universal Classics, as is Jamie Cullum, their new album, Hollywood, is due in November. Their international fan base spans the retro, arts and alternative scenes to mainstream, with well-known people partial to The Puppinis over Puccini, including Kate Moss, Sharon Osborne and Prince Charles. Here, married Marcella talks on migrating to London but loving her native Italy - and moonlighting on new musical collaborations including orchestral conducting with her whole body…

How did your major life move from Italy to London happen?

As a little Italian girl, a wannabe Maria Callas, I wanted to move from my native Bologna to go to London and get into the whole music scene. I had a dream to pursue and felt in London I could dare to be everything I wanted to be. Though I felt free, at times it was also uncomfortable and challenging. Low points were the bar-tending and squatting to make ends meet. High points were graduating from St Martins School of Art and first working in fashion at Vivienne Westwood – involving a lot of trips to Italy sourcing stock. Great, but I wanted to sing so I trained in music and worked from the bottom. After leaving Trinity College, however, Viv’s came in handy as The Puppinis wore her dresses on loan! We went from scraping a living singing in bars to performing on the Royal Variety Performance 2006, appearing on TV, supporting Cyndi Lauper on tour in the States and playing Glastonbury. London based since the ‘90s, I married an Englishman and have had an interesting and varied life.

When did you last visit Italy – professionally or personally?

I usually go back to Bologna to visit once every two to three months. I was there in May, recharging in preparation for the gruelling month of work I had in June. I stayed with my family and had a wonderful week of rest and sunshine. My house is on the hills and I love just sitting in the garden and contemplating the amazing view. Professionally, one of my recent highlights was a tour that included Bologna – and my whole hometown turned out! Three part harmony is a big tradition here. In fact, Italy has the most Puppini spin-offs.

What do you miss most about Italy in general or hometown Bologna specifically?

The thing I miss the most about Italy and Bologna in particular, is the completely different lifestyle. Aperitivo, the pre-dinner drinks with snacks offered by a lot of bars, is one of the loveliest things I know and a wonderful way of socialising. I love the long dinners and the moderate, convivial drinking. My friends and I are also very fond of sing-alongs and often break into some alpine folk song. Not everyone does that, but I think Italians are more spontaneous like that!

Where do you like to holiday in Italy and why?

I love Saturnia - the Tuscan hot spa - although these days it’s got way too popular and crowded. Usually, though, I go to Riccione, where my family has been going since both my parents were children. Most people from Bologna spend their weekends there from May to October.

What are your favourite Italian aspects of life from food to fashion to cultural personalities?

Food: Cicoria and Bietola. I am crazy about those wonderful greens and I drive my family crazy by demanding them at every meal when I’m in Bologna; with Parma ham on the side, of course. I am a girl of simple tastes.
Fashion: Italian style is all about looking sharp and elegant and I do love that. I love the quality of Made in Italy, and the love with which things are made.
Cultural personality: Probably Mina, as she’s been the most influential Italian singer of modern times, and is considered as a national treasure.

Does being Italian inform your performative work? Do you feel a common bond with other singers of Italian heritage such as Lady Gaga, Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera, Madonna?

I definitely consider myself Italian, although having lived in London for my entire adult life I now have the strange feeling of not really belonging entirely to either culture. I don’t feel British and yet I seem to have absorbed quite a good dose of British reserve and wryness. On the other hand, my sense of melodrama and my often silly sense of humour are definitely Italian! As a performer, I am aware of this duality, and also of feeling like an outsider. I don’t know if my experience of being an Italian can be compared to that of Lady Gaga or Madonna, but I definitely think that there’s a flair for performance that is quintessentially Italian. We have that in our everyday life, too.

What’s on the agenda for the Puppini Sisters?

The new Puppini Sisters album is out in November. Titled Hollywood, it’s an expression of our love for the old icons of the silver screen. We re-arranged some of the best-loved classics from old musicals, and wrote the title track, Hollywood. It was a brilliant album to make, and we are all really happy with it!

Also your new band to look out for?
Marcella and The Forget Me Nots are as different from The Puppini Sisters as it is possible to be. I’d describe it as art-indie-chamber-rock, or more simply as a love triangle between PJ Harvey, David Bowie and The Dresden Dolls. I write all the material and front the band, which includes electric guitar, bass, drums, bass clarinet and violin - or sometimes a string quartet. We only have one, long-suffering boy: the rest are fierce and beautiful women. We are just about to start recording our first album and I am over the moon about it.

Any other upcoming projects of note?
I am at the very earliest stage of writing a musical on a legendary figure from London’s famous Soho area, which is extremely exciting. I am collaborating with playwright Mark Davies Markham, who wrote the story and dialogue for Taboo, and with Stephen Coates of The Real Tuesday Weld. This is my first musical first collaboration of this kind and I absolutely love it.

And on conducting with the Russian Big Band?

After the death of one of Russia’s best loved Big Band conductors, George Garanian – with whom I had worked with the Puppini Sisters - his widow invited me to conduct the band for a big memorial concert held last year at the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow. In spite of it being my very first time, I managed to win over the 2,000 strong crowd with my unusual conducting technique. This involves using my whole body as opposed to just the arms… and I have since been asked back several times. I am back again in September for a mini-tour. It’s a terrifying and wonderful experience every time.

Final thoughts on any Italian theme of your choice?
Italy can sometimes be a bit of a fantasy to me, as I only ever see the beauty of it. I am very aware that in some ways things have not been so great for a very long time…It seems to me that there’s a sense of unrest both in the younger and older generations which I hope will result in a cultural revolution before too long. There is so much beauty, culture and depth of thinking in Italy, things cannot continue as they are. And when the cultural revolution comes, it will bring about a new Renaissance. I am sure of this!