Rise and fall of forgotten Scottish indie band to inspire new Fringe show

Cora Bissett's Fringe will chart her journey from being a teenager singer in an indie-rock band to motherhood.
Cora Bissett's Fringe will chart her journey from being a teenager singer in an indie-rock band to motherhood.
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She was the teenage singer in an unknown band who landed one of the biggest record deals in Scottish music history - only for their dreams to turn to dust when they were ditched by their label and landed £40,000 in debt.

Now 25 years on from indie-rock outfit Darlingheart’s tours with Blur, Radiohead and The Cranberries, Cora Bissett is to turn the daily diaries she kept into a major new stage show.

Bissett, who hit the big-time with her bandmates when she was just 17, will step back into the role of band leader when she lifts the lid on Darlingheart’s story for the first time at the Traverse Theatre during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The “rollercoaster journey” which will unfold on stage will see Bissett reflect on the words and actions of her teenage self, as well as explore what advice she will be giving her own two-year-old daughter, Naia.

Bissett, who left the music business behind to pursue an acting career, has gone on to become one of Scotland’s leading theatre-makers.

She has previously directed the stage musical Glasgow Girls, about the schoolgirl campaign against the treatment of asylum seekers in the city, and Full Tilt, which charted the life of rock icon Janis Joplin.

Bissett said the show, What Girls Are Made Of, was prompted by the death of her father, and the discovery of a scrapbook he had kept on Darlingheart, along with her teenage diaries.

Bissett, who is originally from Glenrothes, said: “It’s really weird. It’s almost like Darlingheart have been erased off the planet.

“But this all happened exactly 25 years ago. The internet didn’t even exist. There is hardly anything about us online.

“I was cleaning out the family home after my dad passed away and found a box with a bit of paper taped to the box with 'Cora’s clippings' written on it.

“I also kept a diary religiously from the age of 11 until I was 35. I was obsessive about it. Pretty much every day of my life was written down.

“When I read back on that period between the age of 17 and 20 I can hear in the words of a schoolgirl going into a big record deal and coming out the other end a very different person.

“There was a bit of a seed planted at the time. I didn’t really think it was a show, but it prompted me to revisit that place in my life.

“I became pregnant not long after my dad died. I was having a lot of new experiences with my baby girl. I was thinking a lot about what I wanted her to learn, what I will offer her, what are the big lessons I feel I could pass on to her, and what have I done in my life that is useful for her to learn from.

“At some point these two things started to conflate and I became really interested in that period of time when I went from schoolgirl to young woman.

“I just felt there was a story to be told about how you form yourself as a woman, what decisisons you take to become the woman you want to be, and how you navigate that path for your own little girl.”

The Fringe show will recall how Bissett was propelled into the limelight after answering an advert in the Fife Free Press newspaper for a singer for a band influenced by Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Pixies, R.E.M, and Throwing Muses.

Recorded at Abracadabra Studios, in Kirkcaldy, the band's first ever demo, of their songs Smarthead, Queen Bee and Short Stories, was enough to secure them radio play and a manager.

Six weeks later record companies were scrambling to snap up the band at a gig at the then Negotiants basement bar in Edinburgh.

Darlingheart signed for Phonogram, who released their debut album, Serendipity, but it failed to take off as well as expected, not helped by a damning review in the NME. After the band were dropped by their label they discovered they had fallen victim to an unscrupulous manager.

Bissett, who has shared the script with her former band members and won their backing for the show, added: “It was probably less than two years from the point where we were signed to getting signed to releasing the album and going on tour with all these big bands, and then getting dropped.

“I was just out of school - I had only ever had a part-time job. Suddenly we were going into an amazing recording studio, we were getting put in up these hotels, we were hanging out with all these bands and everyone is buying you drinks.

“It was incredible, but we were a bit of an odd bunch. The two guys in the band, Clark and Cameron, were a lot old than me and Cathryn. We never really entirely bonded as a band.

“I knew I was half-formed at the time. I didn’t know what I had to say to the world yet. When we were getting reviews saying that our lyrics were a bit teenage-angsty I was thinking: ‘I know, I know.’

“It was a bit of a mixture of living the dream and thinking: ‘****, what are we doing here?’ It was a bit of a mixed bag. When things started to go wrong, then went wrong quite quickly.”