Monday, July 25, 2011

Gilly Darbey - A Coventry Singer's International Success


My Space (hear some of the songs Gilly sings ) - Hallelujah, Just Like a Woman, All Night long, Cravin' a Man's Blues, I Miss My Son, I Envy the Wind, Hurricane Blowin' Through.

I grew up over the road from Gilly Darbey, in Willenhall Wood, Coventry. I hardly knew her, she was more my younger sister's age. By the time Hobo Magazine was up and running in the early to mid 70's she was playing Coventry folk clubs. It was at the Charterhouse pub, Terry Rd. in Coventry I first saw her perform with her guitar to great acclaim for her young voice. Around 1974 her name cropped up in many of the folk club posts in Hobo.

For a while, in 1974, she was managed by Craig Ward of the Coventry Sunshine Music agency. Craig says "  I managed Gill for a short while back in the 70's at Sunshine. She had the purest voice I have ever heard in my life. Seem to remember hawking a demo round the record companies for her, but folk wasn't really happening commercially at the time and we got nowhere. A real talent though and no surprise she did as well as she did." There is now a poster bleow that came from Craig from when Gill  was on the bill with Jake Thackery in 1974.

At the time she was a rising star on the local folk club circuit but I never knew what became of her until recent years, I came across her website and e mailed her. Gilly now lives in New Zealand and her website biography makes interesting reading.

Gilly says her singing career started in school, joining various groups and then forming her own all girl group called Mosaic.

Gilly also started to "perform solo at local folk clubs in her home town of Coventry, she was still only 14. Gilly was a rebellious pupil and left school as soon as was possible, to join an Irish showband of all things. She had a great time learning the ropes, and was well chaperoned by the boys in the band."

At 16, she answered an ad in Melody Maker "for girl singers to form an English equivalent of the "Three Degrees". Gilly got the job! Along with two others, she underwent the star treatment doled out by "MCA" records and "Bell" records. However, as with a lot of these record company fiascos,(at one point Gilly was the only one singing all of the parts and the other two were just to create a three girl image), it all went botty up and Gilly was once again solo.

After that Gilly returned to the folk scene and joined Streetband who were about to do a busking tour of Europe. She had a great time despite being arrested twice (busking was illegal then)! Eventually she returned to England as a soloist and the Streetband became the One Eyed Jacks with bass player Martin Allcocks.

Gilly Darbey in Waterfall
Soon she would hear " Waterfall", Keith Donnelly and Martyn Oram, perform at the Lanchester Poly in Coventry. She fell in love with the songs (mostly written by Keith Donnelly), This started a new chapter in Gilly's life and career, and a partnership with Keith that lasted for nearly 20 years.Though they no longer perform together Gilly and Keith are still great friends, and Gilly still performs a lot of his material.

They became very popular on the folk scene both here and abroad. A highlight at this time was to open Cambridge Festival on Main Stage1. Gilly remembers it particularly well as she had taken up skydiving and had to be helped on stage with crutches due to a slightly mistimed landing!

Waterfall toured constantly throughout Europe and further afield, including trips to Belize, Cyprus and the Falklands. They also did a T.V. special for the BBC called "This Is Waterfall." (Watch it on You Tube here Definitely worth seeing for the ridiculous outfits that they came up with on a shopping spree in London! The trio released two albums to much acclaim, "Three Birds" produced by Johnny Coppin, and "Beneath The Stars" produced by Phillip Goodhand-Tait.

After Martyn Oram left Gilly and Keith toyed with several new names and for a while were called "Little Aeroplane", releasing an album of the same name, this time produced by Richard Digance. Then they changed the name again and became "Nothing By Chance", the name of a Richard Bach book that Gilly was reading at the time.

Once again a new chapter began as "Nothing By Chance" were taken on by Jasper Carrotts' management company, after a succesful tour with him. They went on to support such noticeables as Van Morrison, The Hollies, and Tori Amos, to name but a few. During which time they appeared at almost every major venue throughout Britain and Ireland, with numerous T.V. appearances, including several on "Pebble Mill At One".
(More tracks by Waterfall on You Tube if you click back to the site.)

They were spotted by a BBC producer whilst doing a Phil Cool support, who loved what he saw and wanted to turn them into huge, and I mean huuuwwwwwwwwg T.V. stars.
They had their own T.V. special for the Beeb which received critical acclaim, (a clip was shown on "Points of View") and was swiftly shown again at a prime time on BBC1. Gilly and Keith then spent 6 months working with the people at BBC Pebble Mill on a six part series. At the last minute politics between London and Pebble Mill meant that the TV series was vetoed.

Undaunted Gilly and Keith then made an album called "Ghosts Of Love". The album was produced by John "Bonny" Acock and Mick Dolan at Stevie Winwood's fantastic studio down in Gloucestershire, and features many fine guest musicians including Phil Beer of "Show of Hands" fame and Al Marnie, bass player with Chris de Burgh, This was swiftly taken up by "Chrysalis" records. They started a 90 date country wide tour in their own right. The album was receiving rave reviews, and receiving radio 1 and 2 air play. Unfortunately "Chrysalis" were being bought out by big bad nasties "EMI", Nothing By Chance became tiny, tiny fishes in a huge sea, got sucked through some other fishes gills, and ceased to exist!

Gilly returned once more to a solo career which she is still doing, including some major festivals around the world.

Her first solo CD "One", is really a showcase CD, trying to show some of these differing sides to her voice, though mostly aimed at the "folk scene". It was recorded totally live at the famous Red Lion folk club in Kings Heath, Birmingham. The infamous Jim Mcphee who ran the Red Lion F.C. signed Gilly up for his agency, Acorn Entertainments, as soon as he heard her doing a resident spot at the club. This is what he had to say about her first appearance there:

She had everyone so captivated that-
1. I forgot to start recording untill she'd nearly finished the first set.
2. The audience were spellbound - you could hear a pin drop.
3.The latecomers entered the room and stood silently, transfixed until she'd finished her song - AND THAT'S NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE!
4. I forgot to start the recording for her second set.
All in all I was so gobsmacked that I said I would try and get her some work.
Unfortunately Jim underwent a major operation and decided to end the agency.

Gilly incorporates many different genres of music into her sets, believing that a beautiful song is a beautiful song no matter what genre it comes from, and that if she believes the words the audience will too. With her ability to "feel" a song and to pass that feeling on to her audience, genre is often transcended.
Her haunting voice was used for the title track, and incidental music for the BBC drama "The Tennant Of Wildfell Hall" which has been shown worldwide, and by the same composer, Richard G. Mitchel, for a video of the World Cup,(The Coupe de la Gloire-also available on CD) during which he referred to her as Gilly te Kanawa!! Listen out for her Kiri impression on track 6, "Sunday Prayer".

More recently Gilly has joined up with Maart Allcock for some gigs. The few they have done so far have really taken the audience by storm, including The Mill, Banbury, Godiva Festival, Coventry, and Warwick Festivals.

The demo Maart and Gilly did for the BBC producer was made MP3 of the month for October 2001 on This is what they wrote...

MP3 Of The Month...Gilly Darbey- "Ain't No Use Baby"

"Dim the lights, I want to set the scene. It's August and we're at the Cropredy festival, Fairport Convention has just gone off stage and the chatter of well contented, happy people are all around us. Most people are heading out of the main site for either their tents or transport home. We're not leaving the field - We're going to wait for something magical to happen. We walk to the left hand of the stage and pass through the security gate. At the back of the stage there is a tent. Artists and their friends are milling around outside it and the sound of the blues floats out. Inside the tent is "Sugarland Slim" cranking out an impromptu session featuring the extraordinary voice of Gilly Darbey who we have chosen as our MP3 of the Month for October. "Ain't no use now baby" features the talents of Martin Allcock and hopefully will be included as one of the tracks on a planned collaboration album in the not too distant future. Sugarland Slim have also hinted that Gilly may guest with them on their next release."

And indeed she appears on Sugarlands new CD "Texan Calypso". A song Sean wrote especially to duet with Gilly, called "Dirty girl, Lousy Guy". After recording the track Sugarland had a gig locally and invited Gilly along. This is a review from Relayer. A web site dedicated to bands in and around Bedford, though the reviewer had travelled much further afield to see Sugarland Slim.

".... and then the singer announces a short break .... and invites Gilly Darbey to get up and entertain us. Gilly and Sugarland Slim got together in the small hours at the Cropedy Festival, and they were equally knocked out with each other.... playing and singing through the night. Gilly has been invited to duet with Sean on a number on the new CD.... I'm looking forward to that - she has a superb voice with an incredible range, and treated us to a short set, mostly solo's (guitar/vocal) ...... Jeff solo's on a couple.... great sound! "You'll have to excuse me, I'm a crap guitarist!" she says, before playing very well indeed! Loud applause, from a smallish, but very appreciative crowd ...Wow, what a singer ..... very enjoyable indeed!" The CD is now due out, so check the guys web site for release details.

The year 2000 saw her expanding her horizons with a successful tour to Australia and New Zealand. Since that first tour Gilly has returned several times to growing enthusiam from the audiences in the southern hemisphere. Appearing at some of the countries most prestigeous folk and blues festivals and venues.

Spring 2004 saw the release of her second solo CD...."Blues Movin' In", which is more bluesey than the first solo CD and has really captured the essence of Gilly's voice.
Spring 2004 was spent touring in Australia and New Zealand, with the prestigeous Australian National Folk Festival over Easter in Canberra, and a live appearance on National Radio in NZ. Gilly went down a storm at the National, especially the huge 3000 seater Badewang Hall where she sold out of CD's at the first concert.
Then a return to the UK for more gigs.
Summer 2004 was spent moving to NZ where Gilly now resides.
Autumn gigs included Hong Kong Festival and the end of the year saw her at the huge and wonderful Woodford Festival in Queensland, Australia

2006 saw Gilly recording some songs for Gordon Giltrap and performing them as his guest at the Symphony Hall, London in March. Gordon Wrote of her.......

"You are and always will be one of the finest singers I have ever had the privilege to listen to"

2006 saw her embark on another tour of New Zealand, including a live spot on TVNZ "Good Morning Show". Then back to Australia for the National Festival in Canberra.

2007 and Gilly is now making a name for herself in her new home New Zealand, with great reviews for her appearance at the Queenstown International Jazz Festival, Waipara Wine and Food Festival, and the Alexandra Blossom festival, one of the largest festivals in the South Island, she has also just been confirmed to appear at the Parihaka International Peace Festival in 2008, which is a real honour. Check out their website at Parihaka Festival.

Her new CD recorded in Australia at Rob Longs wonderful studio in Newcastle, with Rob playing guitars and drums and Liz Frencham of Jigzag playing double bass, has received rave reviews in NZ Musician.
October 07 sees her embarking on a tour of NZ with her band to promote the new CD, see date sheet for details.
Gilly has recently joined up with Dunedin based Texan musician Terry Ebeling and the band are starting to get gigs around the wine and food festival, corporate circuit.

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