Headpins’ lead vocalist Darby Mills got a glimpse of her own mortality early this summer, when Dan McCafferty, lead vocalist of Scotland’s Nazareth, a band the Headpins had frequently toured with over the past 10 years, was stricken by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease which has forced him to pull the plug on the band after 45 years..
“Bands are getting to that age where people are starting to drop like flies,” observed Mills from her Vernon B.C habitat. “Dan’s situation is a warning to everyone. This might be your last time people so get up of your asses. We are getting to the age where there may not be a next time and that really is a scary thought.”
Mills, original bassist Ab Bryant, original drummer Bernie Aubin and Tony Dellacroce, who replaced the late Brian (Too Loud) MacLeod on guitar along with second guitarist Alfie Galpin, have been touring steady in Western Canada for the past 18 years since re-forming after MacLeod’s death in 1993. Aside from the re-release of their first three albums (1982’s “Turn It Loud”, 1983’s “Line Of Fire” and the final “Head Over Heels” in 1985”, The Headpins haven’t recorded any new material, but that might be about to change.
“I am working on something, it could be with the Headpins or it could be a solo project,” noted Mills. “I did a solo album in 1991 – “Never Look Back” when The Headpins fired me in 1987 (she was briefly replaced by Chrissy Steele). It didn’t do well at the time, but listening to it again, I think it’s still pretty decent, maybe it was a little ahead of its time. So I am thinking of re-recording some of the tracks for a future release.” It’s a project she is working on with producer Mark Greenhalgh who operates One World Music in the North Okanagan BC area.
Mills is also one of six artists (along with Lee Aaron, Helix’s Brian Vollmer, Coney Hatch’s Carl Dixon, Killer Dwarf’s Russ Dwarf and Famous Underground’s Nick Walsh) who re-recorded one of their previous hits for inclusion in the “Metal On Ice” E.P, released by former Nelly Furtado/Helix guitarist Sean Kelly as a promotional item for his new “Metal On Ice” book which is an ode to his Canadian rock heroes. She also joined forces with Walsh, Vollmer, Aaron, Dixon and Kelly to record a new track, Metal On Ice.
“Re-recording `Don’t It Make Ya (Feel Like Dancing)’ was a very emotional experience without Brian (MacLeod) being present in the studio,” explained Mills. “Sean (Kelly) and his players were very respectful of the original arrangement , they didn’t want to take any liberties, but at the same point, when I’m singing the song I am saying to myself, should I take some liberties here, what do I do!?”
Mills announced everyone is getting back together early in the New Year for a Metal On Ice concert and she plans to be in top shape for the event. Recently retired as a Tae Kwan Do instructor after 15 years, Mills is now developing a freestyle work-out program involving some kick boxing and even some ballet moves.
“I had gone from working out five days a week, six hours a day to doing `nothing’” ,admitted Mills. “So I am looking at my empty basement and thought to myself, I like working out so why don’t I do something creative. I was doing these routines, just grooving with kicks, so I thought why don’t I share this with people who also want to get in shape so I thought of producing some instructional videos I can post on my website. I am calling my program `Freestyle Zero Impact – Totally W.T.F’”
At their onset in 1982, The Vancouver-based Headpins had no problems finding concert gigs, in Canada, in the US and even in Europe where they successfully toured with Whitesnake. Lead by guitarist/producer/songwriter Brian MacLeod, bassist Ab Bryant, drummer Bernie Aubin and Mills’ distinctive vocal pipes, The Headpins’ racked up multi-platinum sales for two successful albums; their 1982 debut “Turn It Loud” and their 1983 follow-up “Line Of Fire” for Toronto indie label, Solid Gold Records.
With huge national radio exposure for tracks like `Don’t It Make Ya (Feel Like Dancing)’, ‘Just One More Time’ and ‘Feel It (Feel My Body)’, the band earned the reputation of being one of the loudest Canadian rock bands on the circuit. However Solid Gold went bankrupt as the Headpins were recording their 1985, release “Head Over Heels”, Mills was replaced in the band by Chrissy Steele and moved on to record her own solo record.
Unfortunately, MacLeod collapsed on stage one night and was eventually diagnosed with sarcoma cancer of his upper chest, which developed into bone cancer, and although he bravely carried on working with Steele on her 1991 solo album Magnet To Steele, he eventually succumbed to his illness on April 25th, 1992.
After a few years off, Aubin, Bryant and Mills decided to reform the band, filling out the lineup with Dellacroce and Galpin. “I still love getting on stage and the bands that have survived and continued to play are better now than they ever were”, noted Mills. “No disrespect to Brian but I think the present band is much better than we were in the early 80’s, we’ve all honed our chops to a sharper edge.”
[youtube width=”600″ height=”338″ video_id=”gYzySRvLD_0″]
Unfortunately, without record company support, The Headpins, like so many other Western Canadian bands, find themselves on a repeated carousel of the same clubs and casinos with very few opportunities to play in Eastern Canada.
“We have done The Rock (Newfoundland), Halifax and some Eastern festivals but Toronto has just escaped us,” fumed Mills. “And the clubs out west are declining, it’s basically a casino tour out here and you can only play these places so many times before you wear out your welcome.”
“Clubs out East want us to play but they don’t want to pay us enough to make it worthwhile”, continued Mills. “We are at a point in our careers where I don’t want to leave home just to gain the exposure, we don’t need it! I can’t afford to do it for free.”
Operating more like weekend warriors than a steady touring band, Mills has been active with her martial arts classes, Aubin has developed his Canadian Classic Rock talent agency, which books the Headpins and both Dellacroce and Bryant are both accomplished computer programmers.
“Still, I do love to perform and sing our hits, the audiences are always surprised just how many hit songs we did record and I am still eager to push my career forward,” concluded Mills. “I still want one more kick at the can, record that one more record and maybe find a way I can keep singing for the next 20 years. I know I’m not 20 anymore but I still have that experience and drive to succeed.”
– Keith Sharp