A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get myself along to a Glasgow staging of the theatre show ‘What Girls Are Made Of’, which itself had first come to prominence and huge acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year.
The show was the brainchild of Cora Bissett, one of Scotland’s leading lights in the world of theatre whether in an acting, writing or directing and it was based on her own experiences as a teenage indie pop-star (of sorts) back in the mid 90s.
Cora was the singer in Darlingheart, a band from Glenrothes, which is a town just a few miles north of Kirkcaldy where my beloved Raith Rovers FC play their home matches. Over the course of some 80 minutes, the tale unfolds of how a 17-year old kid, having answered an advert in a very local paper looking for a vocalist influenced by Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Pixies, R.E.M, and Throwing Muses, found herself within a matter of months after working up a demo, whisked off to London to sign a very lucrative contract with a major label, only for it to go very badly wrong.
What Girls Are Made Of proved to be a superbly conceived show, with Cora playing herself, switching effortlessly between the now, when she is a reflective and street-wise 40-something and to her past, whether at home with her family, in the studio or on stage with her bandmates or in the ‘wilderness’ years as she tried to piece things back together on the back of the band’s failure to crack the big time.
The show is, without any shadow of a doubt, helped by the performances of the three other members of the cast, all of whom portray, with great energy, a multitude of characters including the other members of Darlingheart, the Bisset family and a range of real-life folk from the music industry. There’s a nostalgic feeling about it all for much of the time, and the band’s experiences on the road with the likes of The Sultans of Ping, a then largely unknown Radiohead and a beery, leery falling apart at the seams pre-Parklife Blur, are recounted with self-deprecating humour. The show did often feel like a gig, albeit in short bursts around the narrative which really takes a grip after the band has broken up as Cora reflects on life, love and loss – the laughter among the audience soon gives way to sobs and tears. One reviewer said:-
“What Girls Are Made Of has the capacity to lift you up and break your heart at the same time, and the audience gave a well-deserved standing ovation for this multi-talented cast.”
Darlingheart were dropped by the label after two singles failed to crack the charts and the debut album, Serendipity, had been subject to a particularly vicious review in the NME, much of which was an attack on the teenage frontwoman, with accusations of her being manufactured and talentless.
The irony, of course, is that the band were far from manufactured and talentless, albeit the music that was being released didn’t stand out too much from the crowd. They were just four working-class kids, being very badly advised and guided by unscrupulous folk out to make a quick buck out of the work of others, and who were chewed and spat-out when someone said they were no longer flavour of the day. I’ve one single in my collection, picked up after Jacques the Kipper had included it on a compilation tape back in the day:-
One of the other actors in the show was someone I recognised immediately – I was surprised to see them on the stage as I hadn’t realised they had moved away from simply being part of a band into the thespian arena. Tune in tomorrow for more.