When the Daphne’s Flight project brought together five of the most notable female voices in folk, it was deemed to be a triumph.
Their 1996 debut album of the same name was critically acclaimed, and its supporting tour popular.
All singer-songwriters in their own right, Christine Collister, Melanie Harrold, Julie Matthews, Helen Watson and Chris While continued to forge their own paths in music.
There have been occasional reunions, but it was only last year they released a follow-up, Knows Time, Knows Change.
The Guide caught up with Melanie to find out what brought them back together.
‘It was a chance meeting. Chris and Julie [who regularly perform as a duo] were doing a gig on the Isle of Man, where Christine lives. They met up and were chatting, and Julie was saying: “Good lord, do you realise it’s 21 years next year since the album? Do you think people would be interested..?”
‘Phone calls and emails went out and everyone said: “Yeah, what a great idea. It was one of those magic moments where everyone was ready to have a new adventure. And so we made this lovely album two Septembers ago and toured it in May 2017. It was really successful and we were getting standing ovations.
‘It’s such a pleasure to come back after 20 years, and make all these brilliant harmonies, and it really works. I think it surprised all of us how well it worked.’
The album was recorded in Chris and Julie’s home studio in just 10 days: ‘They’ve got this smashing little studio here, and Julie’s a brilliant engineer and producer.’
One of the album’s highlights is a cover of Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding, on which Melanie takes the lead.
‘I’ve been working with developing choirs and arranging for choirs, and one of the projects I did with a smaller choir, they brought that out. I’ve loved that song for ages, so I had this arrangement floating around anyway. I brought it in and tweaked it and Daphnified it - I knew that all of us singing on it would take it to another level. I’m thrilled with it, I think it’s such an important song.’
The reunion tour also yielded a live album, which was released at the start of this month, and the band has been thrilled with the results.
‘It was fantastic – I did a solo live album about three/four years ago and I was looking for something like that that ticked all the boxes for the Daphne’s – you know the material so well that it’s just working really well, and then with it being live you get this whole extra level of energy and I think that’s what our live performance is, and I think the live CD has captured that.’
The group’s first gig was at Cambridge Folk Festival in 1995, where as Melanie puts it, they ‘gatecrashed’ Christine’s gig, ‘it went down an absolute storm and off we went.’
Melanie and Christine were the initial nucleus of the group, and they brought in the rest.
‘It’s such a rare treat to sing alongside such wonderful singers. It’s an extraordinary thin, because all of us individually have our own distinctive voice, but when we come together the harmonies blend remarkably well, the slots and the spaces are there. It’s worked out very organically.’
When the albums have been put together, things have been worked out very democratically with each artist bringing two songs to the table for potential inclusion.
And as Melanie reveals, things are going so well they’re not going to wait another 20 years to follow this one up – they’re already looking at a third album.
‘We’re planning to do another one next year. We’re just going to crack on while it’s there. We’ve all brought in five songs each this time, and we’re going to work from there.
‘We’ve already got five new songs to put in the set and they’re going really well.’
It’s also reinvigorated Melanie’s interest in her own solo career.
‘I have been off the road for a few years. I’ve been working with choirs and working with voice therapy, so I was still working with expressive arts.
‘Coming into Daphne’s was like coming back home, I was going back on stage thinking: “Oh, I remember this!”
‘It’s been inspirational, I’ve been inspired to write songs for Daphne’s, and that’s got me writing songs for myself again. I’m doing the occasional gig, but most of the performances are with Daphne’s.’
Through her work in vocal therapy Melanie has worked with those suffering mental health problems.
‘I think what was invisible is becoming a lot more visible, people aren’t hiding it – they’re not hiding the “shame” of mental health.
‘There’s this idea of people not being able to speak about it, because they were isolated and separated. There is a real issue particularly with teenagers and those in their early-twenties, there’s a very high suicide rate, particularly for young men.
‘I was working in a hospital unit, and just the idea,’ she lets out an audible sigh, ‘of being able to let the breath go and let the sound go, it crosses that bridge so that you can become visible and you can be seen and heard – and it doesn’t necessarily have to make sense.
‘Part of mental health is that you don’t seem to be able to make sense of yourself or the world, and just being able to make sound and breath, it kind of bypasses that, your system gets oxygenated and your spirits are lifted.
‘Those who got it, got it. Some people looked at me and thought I should be in the hospital and not them,’ she laughs.
The Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham
Tuesday, September 25