Delia Derbyshire takes centre stage in Noctium Theatre's "Hymns for Robots"
I am obliged as ever to Heather Kincaid at the Belgrade Theatre for her heads-up on a new music centred production.
Local innovator and icon of 20th century music Delia Derbyshire will be the focus of a new production by Coventry company Noctium Theatre next month.
Created with the support of the Belgrade Theatre as part of its Springboard talent development programme, "Hymns for Robots" tells the story of Coventry-born electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire, now best remembered for groundbreaking work on the original "Doctor Who" theme tune.
After a successful run at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival that saw them scoop up excellent reviews, Noctium Theatre now head back to the Belgrade with their latest work – the follow-up to their warmly received debut, "The Country Doctor".
Inspired by Delia Derbyshire's own inventive and experimental approach to her work, "Hymns for Robots" combines Delia-esque strange sounds and "weird wobbulations" with Noctium's own distinctive visual style to produce a heightened, immersive theatrical experience.
Raised in Coundon in the late 30s and 40s, Delia Derbyshire went on to earn a place at the then-girls' grammar school, Barr's Hill, before winning a scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge. Later, she joined the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, where she helped to create the iconic theme music for "Doctor Who".
This was only the beginning of her career, however: less widely recognised are her massive contributions to electronic music more broadly, which has led to her being described by some as "the mother of modern music", cited as an influence on bands ranging from The Beatles to The Chemical Brothers and Pink Floyd to Orbital.
Now Noctium are joining a growing chorus of voices calling for her extraordinary work to receive the recognition it deserves, strengthened by the success of Coventry's City of Culture 2021 bid.
Noctium Theatre is comprised of Coventry University graduates Connor Alexander, Jessie Coller and Charles Craggs, and is supported as part of the Belgrade Theatre's Springboard scheme. As a registered charity, the Belgrade relies on the generous support of audiences, funders, corporate partners, members and donors to fund programmes such as the Springboard initiative.
Press comments on "Hymns for Robots"
"Constantly engaging, absolutely hilarious and unbelievably charming"
"super-smart recreation of the life of a pioneer"
"a production that does credit to [Delia's] brilliance in a manner that respects her idiosyncratic career"
Edinburgh Festival Listâ˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…
"as accomplished as it is charming"
Backstage on the Fringeâ˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…
"atmospheric and instructive"
All Edinburgh Theatre
"an informative, engaging show… entertaining a plethora of senses"
"Hymns for Robots" shows at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry from Wednesday 19th until Friday 21st September. Tickets are available to book now by calling the box office on 024 7655 3055 or visiting www.belgrade.co.uk where prices are even cheaper.
Honorary Doctorates for Delia Derbyshire & Pete Chambers
The practice of universities awarding honorary qualifications often seems to result in the famous, rich, powerful & previously honoured getting additional honours from institutions based in areas they have no obvious direct connection with. Doubtless these transactions are of mutual benefit.
Not so Coventry University, which has a distinguished record of honouring those who have made significant contributions to the local community & frequently those overlooked (often scandalously) previously. Thus figures such as Jerry Dammers & Pauline Black have been awarded distinctions as has Coventry music inspiration & legend Ray King (Vibert Cornwall) and on Monday 20th November 2017, Delia Derbyshire (sadly posthumously) and Pete Chambers received Honorary Doctorates at a Degree Congregation at Coventry Cathedral.
Delia, who died in 2001, received her award "in recognition of her longstanding contribution to the field of electronic music". It is difficult to imagine any other individual from our area who has had such a profound and wide influence on contemporary music & after the Two Tone exhibits, the area in Coventry Music Museum dedicated to her is the second most cited specific reason for visiting by its visitors. Best known for creating the sounds of "Dr Who", both the theme & incidental music & Tardis/Dalek sounds with her colleagues such as Dick Mills at the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop, Delia also crafted a wide range of work for television & film & later on with musicians such as White Noise & Sonic Boom: much of the vocabulary of modern electronic music has its roots with her. Most people who understand her work are outraged by the lack of credit & recognition in her lifetime, so the celebration of her 80th birthday (or what should have been) this May, at which fans such as Jerry Dammers performed at Coventry Cathedral & the Music Museum, the naming of "Derbyshire Way" in the city for her, a blue plaque ion her childhood home (unveiled by Colin Baker & Nicola Bryant) plus this award by the University go some way towards a belated act of justice. It was great to see Delia's partner Clive Blackburn (pictured here with Pete Chambers) collect the award on her behalf.
Pete received his Honorary Doctorate "in recognition of his significant contribution to the musical heritage of Coventry" and like Delia, was the subject of an eloquent eulogy before the presentation, detailing his contributions as a journalist with so many publications, the foremost local music historian & above all for both celebrating the local musical heritage by conceiving & creating a museum for the music of Coventry & Warwickshire and for his long commitment to supporting & fostering emerging talent to add to that heritage.
Much of this story was unpicked later in much finer detail at a special "Sounding Off" event at Coventry Music Museum after the degree ceremony. On this occasion, Pete, who has so often been the one asking the questions at such events, was himself quizzed by the BBC's Brody Swain, who along with such figures as Stuart Linnell, Ray King & Coventry Lord Mayor Tony Skipper had attended the earlier ceremony to celebrate their friend's award. Pete also signed the Coventry & Warwickshire Music Door of Fame.
Entertainment at this event was kindly provided by some special verse from the Museum's Poet in Residence, the Archbishop Nick Knibb and a performance from Crokodile Tears' Chris Sidwell who had broken his holiday in North Wales especially to honour Pete.
Footage & stills of both events can be found at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.1427587487353971&type=3
"Delia @ 80" events at Coventry Music Museum
Friday 5th May 2017 would, in a perfect world, have been the day Delia Derbyshire celebrated her birthday. Instead, as she sadly passed away in 2001, music fans from far & wide congregated in her home city of Coventry to celebrate her life & work with events at Coventry Cathedral, The Herbert, The Tin and the subject of this article, Coventry Music Museum.
Delia is popularly known for her pioneering work at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, developing original pieces and then realising them for radio and television, in the process creating techniques & a vocabulary which has shaped all subsequent electronic music. Unsurprisingly, artists such as Pink Floyd, The Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin, Orbital etc etc have acknowledged her influence: without her innovations, aspects of their own work would have been significantly different & probably inferior. At the height of the Beatles' fame, Paul McCartney visited her with the view of working together on an electronic version of "Yesterday": a project which sadly like many other 60s ones never came to pass. Her later work included the highly influential album "An Electric Storm" as part of the band White Noise.
On Friday 5th May, the first event was the workshop led by Innovation of Sound's Matt Cattell for the "Arts Award" group from Grangehurst Primary School led by their inspirational music teacher Vicki Russell. I have heard the rough mix of the song they created in honour of Delia & believe me it will knock your socks off in terms of quality & originality when you hear the finalised mix. The children contributed vocals, the melody, instrumentation and the riff & it is truly fitting for a tribute to Delia, proving how much potential talent our children have if given the chance to develop it in an era when music & other forms of creativity in schools is increasingly marginalised.
In the afternoon, we were privileged to hear an extremely detailed talk by Delia's closest Radiophonic Workshop colleague Dick Mills, who illustrated with audio files how each track of the "Dr Who" theme was constructed note by note and then physically joined up with tape along a Maida Vale Studios gallery. He also took us through the "TARDIS" noise, the Dalek voice and other iconic pieces from the sci-fi classic & other programmes on which the worked.
On Saturday 6th, a very busy day commenced with a most interesting talk by one of Delia's last musical collaborators, Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember from the band Spacemen 3 (among others), with whom she worked on the EAR albums "Vibrations" and "Continuum". This was followed by a wonderful performance by electronic music maestro Morocco Dave and a DJ set of Delia pieces by Coventry musical legend Jerry Dammers, a longtime Delia fan. Jerry interspersed the tracks with a series of comments on each & how he saw her work, at one pointing calling on the appreciative audience to give a round of applause for Delia.
The final guest was well known Coventry musician Andi Wolf: the many readers who have seen Andi play will not mark him down as an electronic music performer (and he did kindly play a number of his own acoustic songs which went down extremely well), but his link with Delia was his purchase of her former home & subsequent discovery of many items of hers, all of which are now preserved for posterity, though he did bring along some fascinating facsimiles of her early artworks for those attending to view.
There is one final act, necessarily one which cannot have too large an audience given that it will be held on an active building site, when Museum Curator Pete Chambers BEM's long campaign to have a road named after Delia will see the official unveiling of "Derbyshire Way"
Many photos & film clips of the "Delia @ 80" events can be found on the Coventry Music Museum's Facebook site:https://www.facebook.com/groups/Covmusic/
Road to be named after Delia Derbyshire
After a campaign led by Pete Chambers BEM, Director of The Coventry Music Museum & top Coventry and Warwickshire music historian, a new road is to be named after Coventry Music electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire.
A delighted Pete Chambers said, "I firmly believe that if she were alive today Delia would have triple 'D' status, she would be Dame Delia Derbyshire, sadly that will never happen. So it's wonderfully fitting that there is something in her native Coventry dedicated to this very special lady. Originally it was to be named Derbyshire Road, but I suggested 'Way' instead, so it gave a double meaning, as Delia was a genius and strong personality and really did do things in her own way. It's fitting as we bid for the City Of Culture 2021, that the bid does not ignore our music heritage, and that people from around the world know Delia was a Coventry legend, a woman who influenced The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Orbital, The Chemical Brothers and even Pink Floyd, indeed, she is considered by many to be the Mother of Progressive Rock.
Next May the Museum will celebrate what would have been Delia's 80th Birthday' It's hoped there will be an official ceremony at that time, when Derbyshire Way is officially named."
The Coventry Music Museum has a permanent display dedicated to Delia, which was opened by her partner Clive Blackburn last year, it was here that signatures were collected in support of the road naming. In fact, after the Two Tone material, the single most specifically cited reason for coming to the Museum cited by visitors is to the Delia Derbyshire display.
Councillors Linda Bigham and Gary Ridley were both key players in the success of this initiative.
"The diversity of Coventry is matched by the diversity of our music. It is a pleasure to see Delia Derbyshire honoured here, where she was born and where electronic music flourishes" said Councillor Bigham.
"Delia Derbyshire produced sounds in the 1960s which were at least twenty years ahead of their time. A true pioneer of electronic music, she achieved this without the modern equipment that producers had in the 1980s and 1990s. Perhaps best known for the theme tune to Doctor Who, Delia will remain a national treasure and this is a fitting tribute to one of Coventry's most celebrated daughters." Councillor Ridley
Delia Derbyshire is best remembered for creating the iconic Doctor Who theme and bringing awareness of electronic music to the masses. She was inducted onto the Coventry & Warwickshire Music Wall of Stars in 2012. Derbyshire Way will be part of a new housing estate off Blackberry Lane, Stoke Heath in Coventry, on the former Lyng Hall School playing fields.