The picture above is of Debsey Wykes.
Debsey was one third of Dolly Mixture, an all-girl group formed by three teenagers in 1978. The other members were Rachel Bor and Hester Smith. The trio are probably best known for providing the backing vocals to a string of hit singles released by Captain Sensible in 1982. In later years, Debsey would sing backing vocals on one of the best-loved songs by Saint Etienne. Here’s a bit more info…..
The three girls who made up Dolly Mixture were all under 18 years of age and friends at school in Cambridge. In one of their early interviews, they said they wanted to be a cross between the Shangri-Las and The Undertones, the latter being a band they got to support on tour. Debsey played bass, Rachel was the guitarist and Hester pounded the drums, with all three contributing vocals.
They would go on to support Bad Manners, getting good press for their shows and surviving the insanity of the boisterous new wave/ska audiences who followed the headliners, and shortly afterwards they accepted an offer from Paul Weller to sign to Respond, the new label that he had just set up. In due course they would release two singles on said label:-
Both 45s were produced by Captain Sensible and Paul Gray of The Damned and led to the former asking them to perform backing vocals on his forthcoming album. To the astonishment of everyone concerned, the first single lifted from the album, a cover of a Rodgers and Hammerstein composition that had first featured in the musical South Pacific back in 1949, went to #1 and the members of Dolly Mixture became well-known faces thanks to regular appearances on Top of The Pops.
This led to an increase in interest in the trio but instead of embracing the fame, which likely would have seen them pigeon-holed into some sort of Bananarama-lite outfit, they went down a more experimental route, including chamber-pop, releasing material on their own label that inevitably failed to capture the public’s imagination. Dolly Mixture split in 1984, albeit the trio remained involved in music in different ways.
Debsey teamed up with Saint Etienne in 1993, adding her backing vocal to this:-
It was part of a double-A side single along with Hobart Paving and reached #23 in the charts. She would accept the invitation to tour with Saint Etienne and has remained involved with the band ever since, in both the studio and on stage, without ever formally being made a member.
Worth also mentioning that Debsey and Paul Kelly, (her partner in life and who has long also been involved musically and visually with Saint Etienne), formed Birdie in the late 90s, releasing a handful of singles and two LPs around the turn of the century.
mp3 : Birdie – Folk Singer
I think it’s fair to say that, for someone who isn’t a household name, Debsey Wykes has carved out a deservedly successful career in the music industry, going back some 40 years. I wonder if she had any inkling this would be the case back in her days at school in Cambridge….