Paddy Cummings likes to joke that he knows every song in the world bar 12. And you’d expect nothing less from a man whose band is named after an iconic Beatles track.
The singer and vocalist is part of Melbourne band Penny Lane and, as someone who describes music as a “beautiful gift” for couples to give their guests, he loves the way it can be used to create a bespoke wedding soundtrack.
“Music is one of the ways people communicate; it’s something they have a strong emotional connection to. And because a wedding ceremony is such an emotional thing, and a reception is such a joyous celebration, couples who incorporate live music into their day are really offering a beautiful gift to their guests.”
Here are Paddy’s insights into creating a live music soundtrack.
Bespoke ceremonies are the norm for modern couples, and one beautiful way to really give them a personal feel is with live music and a singer.
“The sound of a voice interpreting truly heartfelt lyrics creates a mood and a message; it’s such an intense and pretty experience,” says Paddy, who performs at ceremonies with fellow band member Alinta Burnell (pictured above).
“It perfectly ties in with what people are seeing when they watch a couple come together at the altar or the end of the aisle, or when the bride starts her walk.”
He nominates Stand by Me and Can’t Help Falling In Love as popular options but points to a wider variety of possibilities. “Alinta often sings the Eva Cassidy version of Songbird, or At Last by Etta James, while I do This Old Love by Lior and Saving Grace by Pete Murray,” he says.
It’s all about setting a vibe for the ceremony.
Once the business part of the day is over, it’s time for the fun. This starts with canapés and cocktails – plus a great backing beat.
“A bit of low-key jazz and laidback background music is nice for people to have a chat to,” says Paddy. “And what you need to remember is that often, people haven’t really been able to chat to each other until that point, so it’s about choosing music that is not very loud, but that people can still tap their foot to.
Think jazz, a bit of Bossa nova, Latin music and even some of the quieter sing-along favourites that people know, like Message To My Girl or (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.”
It’s about easy listening at its finest before people head into the reception to await the day’s two stars.
If there’s one part of a wedding with great potential to go viral, it’s the arrival of the wedding party at the reception.
You only have to look on Google to see inspirations ranging from dancing and sunglasses to backflips. The common note is an upbeat accompaniment, and it’s something Penny Lane – which can be a duo, a five-piece, add a second female singer or horn section – continues when it’s time to “play in” the bride and groom.
“The old standard is the riff from Everybody Needs Somebody by The Blues Brothers, so that’s always quite popular,” he says. “At the moment, though, a lot of couples like to use the chorus of Happy by Pharrell Williams, which is really infectious.
You usually just use the refrain and then you play it in full later.” It’s all about getting the celebration off to a flying start.
Dinner calls for something that, in Paddy’s words, enhances the ambiance without overpowering the room.
“You need to be mindful that people will be talking, so you don’t want to drown that out,” he says. However that doesn’t mean the music needs to be bland.
“Some younger couples opt for the kind of stuff you’d hear in a club, like electronic chill out music, while older people might like a bit of Creedence.
In between, there’s traditional favourites such as Sam Cook, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. We also find people quite enjoy some chilled out vocals, so we’ll do some Michael Buble, some Alicia Keys and some jazz and instrumental, even a customised playlist.”
It’s all about keeping it simple – complimentary but not forgettable.
“One of the things we encourage people to do is think about not just a song, but an interpretation of it as well,” says Paddy, who points out your band on the big day is the same as the one pictured on the website.
“People might say we’d really love you to do this Lana Del Ray song, or this Adele song, but do it in a really chilled out way.”
The key to any such request, he says, is to make sure expectation matches reality. “What we like to do is give the couple a copy of our take on the song beforehand, so the first time they hear it isn’t at the wedding when they’re walking down the aisle or starting their first dance.”
On a practical side this also helps to ensure, for example, that a carefully choreographed first dance ties in perfectly with the beat.
Even in this modern age, many brides still cherish the chance to connect with the man who came before all others.
And there’s many beautiful options to consider, from Butterfly Kisses to My Girl. The key is to pick something with meaning. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s happy, or sentimental, or melancholy,” Paddy says.
“It’s more that it should be relevant. We had one father-daughter dance which was to Little Ray Of Sunshine, and that was a really lovely one because it was a song that was on the radio when the bride was a little girl and it always reminded her parents of
Filling the floor
“One of the things couples sometimes do is overplan or overthink their music or set list, but we encourage them to eave the door open to see how things unfold,” Paddy says.
“If you think about it, everybody wants a piece of the bride and groom, so they have to work their way around the room, which mightn’t leave them much time for dancing.
So, while they might be firm on the fact they don’t want Footloose by Kenny Loggins or Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison, they’ve got 80 to 120 people of all ages and musical tastes who might enjoy them.”
He suggests people trust their band to read the crowd, gauge the mood and choose songs accordingly, from an ‘80s classic to Blurred Lines or Vance Joy.
“One of our jokes is to say we know every song in the world but 12, so if someone calls out something we can’t do, we say ‘oh that’s part of the 12’.
But if people want the Stones, we have them. We have Johnny Cash, we have Keith Urban, we know the crowd pleasers and we play them. And suddenly the couple looks around and the room is going bananas. It’s fantastic.”
A grand exit Paddy says the departure of the bride and groom is one of the most important musical moments of the night.
“I liken it to going to a concert, where you’re walking out afterwards and the last song kind of gets stuck in your head. People get in the car after the reception and they drive away and the last thing they hear is the clapping and the cheering and that final song.” So it’s worth making it memorable.
“Something we’ve done that people like is Big Jet Plane by Angus and Julia Stone,” he says. “The original song is pretty stripped back, so we do a feelgood version, which everyone sings along to.
I’m Yours is also very popular, while Drops of Jupiter by Train is huge at the end of weddings.” Then there’s also the classics, which are guaranteed crowd pleasers. Think Horses by Daryl Braithwaite, All Night Long by Lionel Richie and the ever-popular Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.”
Keeping it personal
Even though his band is named for a Beatles song, Paddy says it doesn’t focus solely, or even mainly, on the Fab Four. But occasionally, they come in handy. “We had a couple who got married on a beach, and for the recessional we did What Is Life by George Harrison.
We did that with a bit of acoustic guitar and it was beautiful.” With the flexibility to learn up to three new songs for a wedding, he encourages people to cast their net far and wide.
“We had a wedding recently where the groom’s favourite song, and that of all his uni mates, was Roxanne by the Police. So, we had that for the first song and then they wanted it for the last song, and then we had to come back and play it as an encore, and the place nearly fell apart with people crowd surfing and jumping around.”
And while the song mightn’t be something you’d usually expect to hear at a wedding, it’s not the lyrics that are the point. It’s the association people have with a time in their lives. “It’s the same with people who want to hear Khe Sanh or Run to Paradise,” Paddy says.
“It’s not the song, it’s how they relate to it.”
Which bring us nicely back to the Beatles, and the origin of that name. “The band had a couple of other names beforehand, but we had to change it again when it turned out we were sharing it with a band who was part of Triple J Unearthed,” Paddy says.
“I was actually looking through some albums for inspiration when I picked up one by the Beatles, saw Penny Lane and thought to myself: ‘Perfect’.