By Keith Sharp
When Vancouver-based Spotlight Productions decided to shoot a documentary on former Headpins’ lead vocalist Darby Mills, the Vernon B.C resident decided it would be appropriate to release a new recording in conjunction with the national broadcast of her TV special (set for the second week of April).
So on November 4th 2017, Mills herded her Darby Mills Project band members; Randy Gabel, Ricky Renouf, keyboardist Doug Rasmussen and drummer Ed Cliffe into Vancouver’s Russian Community Centrel to lay down a live set which featured three Headpins’ classics (“Dancin”, “Feel My Body” and “Turn It Loud”) seven key tracks from her two previous solo albums (`Flying Solo” and “Never Look Back) plus five classic covers which have become staples of her live performance.
With Darby Mills Project “Live” and “The Queen Of Scream” documentary set to be broadcast on the Telus TV channel, Mills Is hoping that all of this attention will distance here from her previous band while giving concert promoters and talent agents a re-evaluation of her new project.
“Part of the reason I stopped playing with The Headpins was because they had no intention to expand. They had this attitude that they had this thing going and were content to just run things out,” explained Mills. “I had to make the change while I still have the energy to go out there alone and try to conquer whatever roadblocks I faced.”
Of course. It’s not easy to establish a separate identity from a band you have been the vocal focal point of since the early Eighties. Especially when The Headpins are still active as a touring band with vocal replacement Katrina Lawrence.
Mills released her first album, `Never Look Back’ in 1991 during her first hiatus from the band, and although she returned to a newly formed Headpins in 1993 following the death of band leader/guitarist Brian McLeod and spent a further 25 years touring the band’s hit catalogue, she still felt the urge to record new material.
Finally summoning the courage to form her own band and record her “Flying Solo” album in 2016, Mills has faced the hurdle of trying to establish The Darby Mills Project as a separate entity while still trying to obtain dates at venues which also book The Headpins.
Mills achieved some recognition in 2017, performing at the Canna Fest event at Grand Forks BC and traveling east to play at festivals in Mattawa and Cornwall Ontario as well as club dates in Toronto and Kingston. But she is now hoping that the national exposure afforded by her TV documentary and the release of a 15-track `Live’ album which shows the “Queen Of Scream’s” vocal dexterity, will allow her to cement new business contacts.
Citing the impact of Melinda Friedman and the decision of her Spotlight Productions to create a documentary about Mills and her day to day life, Mills said “It was like the Gods came together and decreed that I needed a career boost. Melinda and her crew came to Vernon and literally camped on my lawn for seven days. They interviewed me, my husband (and manager) Brian, they shot me playing golf with my girlfriends, covered our CannaFest concert and then shot our live gig at the Russian Hall. Problem was that they had about 70 hours of material to edit down to 22 minutes.”
Mills says the release of her Live album and personal documentary has provided a much needed career boost. “Doing this has helped me to move on with my career,” she allows. “Now, when I hear my voice, I don’t automatically think Headpins, I think me! It’s important for me to find that closure.
The Darby Mills Project will officially debut their new album Saturday April 7th at the Fairview Pub in Vancouver and are set to perform at the Tipsy Pig in Calgary May 24th, the Edmonton Century Casino Friday May 25th and Better Than Fred’s in Grande Prairie on Saturday May 26th with future dates to be announced.
Engineered by Ron Obvious, and distributed by True North Records, `Live’ not only updates Headpins’ classics like “Turn It Loud”, “Feel My Body” and “Dancin” but also reprises her own compositions like “Bad Bad Boys”, “Monkey”, “Don’t Stop” and “Cry To Me”. Yet the real payoff off is Mills’ interpretations of Nazareth’s “Hair Of The Dog”, Ian Lloyd’s “Louie, Louie”, Janis Joplin’s “Another Piece Of My Heart”, Aretha Franklin’s “You Make Me Feel (Like A Natural Woman)” and even a spirited cover of Kiki Dee’s “I’ve Got The Music In Me”.
Mills agrees that festivals, casinos and soft seater theatres are the ideal performance venues for her Project. “Bars are for the younger kids, I would like to find the right venue for my demographic, somewhere they can relax and enjoy our show without having to wait until midnight for us to come out into a crowded bar”.
But with the combination of classic Headpin tracks, a variety of classic covers that really showcase her vocal prowess and some surprisingly strong original tunes, The Darby Mills Project has crafted a set list which packs a wide appeal. “Anyone who comes to our show will leave knowing they have heard a set list of classic songs they will be familiar with and we are looking forward to performing our set for as many people as possible.” For further information link to www.darbymills.com