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Disco Sledgends: Sister Sledge are back on tour but among joy there’s heartbreak

FEW bands can truly claim to be as synonymous with a genre as singing siblings Sister Sledge are with disco music, so their return to the UK this week — for a 40 Years Of Disco arena tour, alongside Tavares, Boney M and Rose Royce — is sure to be the hottest ticket in town. The 1970s power group are known for a slew of huge hits, such as He’s The Greatest Dancer, Lost In Music and We Are Family — and, in the 1980s, their UK number one, Frankie.

The four sisters — Debbie, Kim, Kathy and Joni — started singing together in 1971 at school, finding success three years later when they performed in Zaire with acts such as James Brown at the Rumble in the Jungle boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

The same year they performed at the Tokyo Music Festival and were mobbed at the airport.

So did success come as a surprise? ‘We got off the plane and there were thousands of people waiting for us on the tarmac with posters. We had no idea. Debbie still had rollers in her hair,’ laughs Kim. ‘It was a shocker.’

This UK arena tour is set to delight the masses here, so what can we expect from the shows? ‘A whole lot of hits, a lot of energy, a lot of fun and a big party,’ says Debbie. Kim adds she’s looking forward to spending some time in the UK, which she describes as ‘a second home,’ and won’t be leaving until she’s had scones and Yorkshire puddings.

Family values: The sisters, from left, Kim, Kathy, Debbie and Joni in 1973 PICTURE: GETTY

The sisters reached the peak of their success in Europe during their disco heyday, with Kathy leaving to pursue a solo career in the late 1980s. They went viral in 2015 when their performance for Pope Francis featured nuns dancing and singing, ‘I’ve got all my sisters with me.’

Although the sisters are on upbeat form today, the last year hasn’t been easy. Joni died suddenly of natural causes, aged 60, in March 2017.

Was it a difficult decision to keep performing? ‘When Joni first passed, we had a concert to perform just a few days later in Louisiana. We couldn’t cancel it,’ says Kim.

‘Not doing it never crossed our minds. But at that show there was so much love from the audience — it was like they were grieving with us and they were holding us up.’

Kim says of the question, ‘The first thing that came to my mind was Martin Luther King when he was marching in Selma. He was put in jail. A reporter asked him, “You’ve been arrested, is that the end of the march?” and he said, “No, we’re going to march.” He was focused. Performing is what we were created to do.

‘For us at that night, performing at that concert, everyone’s prayers and energy and the love they had for Joni poured out. There was a unity of spirit on that stage and in that audience. It comes from deep within.’ Debbie and Kim will be joined on stage by singer Tanya Tiet for this tour. She’s been working with them since 2012.

‘I feel very blessed to be part of this legacy,’ says Tanya.

The group don’t show any signs of slowing down. They’re in talks to feature in their own biopic, are looking forward to performing with members of their family on this tour — Joni’s son is a member of the band — and returning to the UK for some classical disco dates in the summer. Get ready to party!

The 40 Years Of Disco tour starts on Thursday in Leeds, tdpromo.com/40-years-of-disco

Sister acts

Haim

Style: Indie pop

Most popular hit: Want You Back

Californian siblings Danielle, Este and Alana Haim grew up listening to their parents’ 1970s classic rock albums, and have made music together since they were kids. They all play more than two instruments and say they are ‘squeamish’ about being labelled a ‘girl band’. Este won thousands of new fans after goofing about behind Cheryl and Liam Payne at the recent Brit Awards.

Dixie Chicks

Style: Country pop

Most popular hit: Tonight The Heartache’s On Me

Natalie Maines and sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, from Austin, Texas, crossed over into the mainstream from their country and bluegrass roots in the 1990s. In 2003, Natalie said she was ‘ashamed’ of President George W Bush for invading Iraq and the band were blacklisted in the US, but found favour less than a decade later.

The Pointer Sisters

Style: Disco/R&B

Most popular hit: I’m So Excited

The Californians, who were raised on gospel music, have had several line-ups, their current one including a daughter and granddaughter of two of the original singers. Their most fruitful incarnation, involving sisters June, Bonnie and Anita, garnered three Grammy Awards and huge commercial success with hits including Jump (For My Love), Automatic and Slow Hand.

The Nolans

Style: Pop

Most popular hit: I’m In The Mood For Dancing

Oh, there were so many of them. The sweet-voiced sisters from Dublin were originally part of a family band, The Singing Nolans, that included their parents and two brothers. But Bernie, Linda, Colleen, Maureen, Anne and Denise had their biggest success as The Nolan Sisters, and then just The Nolans, in the 1970s and 1980s. They later reformed with an adapted line-up. Bernie, who died five years ago of cancer, acted on The Bill and Colleen is a regular on TV’s Loose Women.