Friday 22 March 2019

Derby Browne

Derby Browne is a singer, producer and one of the Bugle Babes. From Clontarf, she lives in Donnycarney, Co Dublin

In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

If I've got a show coming up, I don't need an alarm. The music starts in my head at four in the morning, and I wake up with worry. My whole system starts to change because I have to prepare something so huge, and stand in front of so many people that night. On the day of a show, you can't be as you normally are.

I look out of the window, to see what kind of a day it is. I like looking at the Dublin Mountains. I live in Donnycarney. My house is known as the eccentric house at the end of the street. The door is painted salmon pink, and there are lots of pink flowers in the window box. I've got a cast-iron bath in the back garden. It came with the house but I didn't want to dump it, so I painted it pink and put flowers in it. My environment is really important to me and affects how I feel.

I've got two lodgers in my house, but I like to wake up with no one around so that I can think. Then I go down to the kitchen for breakfast -- homemade muesli with lots of seeds and nuts, and a banana and a yoghurt. Then it's tea from a flowery cup and brown toast. I take honey with everything -- it's for energy and vocal lubrication. I give my leftover crusts to the birds in the garden, and feed the neighbour's orange cat, who sleeps under the bath in the garden.

I slightly watch what I eat, but I give in to my cravings -- I have to have what I want to eat when I want it. There's a restaurant in Clontarf called Kinara, and I often have cravings for their food. A couple of times a week I go down there for lunch, or, if I'm having a really stressful time -- they can tell by looking at me -- they give me a menu and a gin and tonic.

If I'm doing a show that day, I'll try to keep the back door closed, as the neighbour's cat creeps in, goes up to my room and gets into my bed. Then he yells when I pick him up to throw him out. I don't need that hassle. After my breakfast has digested, I'll do two hours of singing practise -- scales for about half an hour and then half an hour of songs -- going over the phrasing and breaking the songs down. I try to make everything as true as possible. I like the songs to be a little bit quirky, perfectly imperfect, but sometimes that clashes with my arranger, Cian Boylan, as he likes everything to be slick and smooth. We have our moments.

I do three different shows. There's Pigalle -- it's the life and story of Edith Piaf, paralleled with my story of going to Paris. Then my Italian show -- La Dolce Roma, which was inspired by Fellini. The third show is called The Andrews Sisters Show, starring The Bugle Babes. They're a group I set up last year. I always wanted to sing the songs of the Andrews Sisters. We have more shows coming up soon. We did our first show last year in the National Concert Hall.

The shoes were the first costume piece I picked -- I got them in that shop, Buffalo. The girls were the hardest to find. I thought they'd all jump at the chance. Some thought it was just about wearing pencil skirts and red lipstick, but there's so much hard work before you get to that. The songs are very hard to learn, and the harmonies are really close together.

There's no music in my family. My late mother wanted to be an actress, but her mother wouldn't let her because she thought it was a profession for loose women. My father plays the piano a little bit. He's my number one fan and advisor. He always turns up for my shows in a lovely jacket and cravat, and I can see his eyes sparkling with pride.

Some of my shows are French and Italian and I think that's because I don't feel that I'm Irish at all. I was adopted, as were all my siblings. I did feel a bit different in school as I was the only person in my class who was adopted. I suppose that's why I've always been drawn to unusual things. But to me it felt normal to be adopted. I dreamt up all sorts of stories. I used to imagine my mother was a princess. Eventually I found out that I was partly Irish.

I don't meet the girls on a day of a concert. There's so much to do and I'm totally strung-out that day. I make sure that my costume suitcase is packed. There are so many fiddly things to bring, like stockings, hair clips and make-up; it's like moving house. On the way to the theatre, I usually have to stop off in town to get some eyelashes and seamed stockings, just in case of a ladder, or a wobbly eyelash.

I like to arrive at the theatre as early as possible, around 3pm. Myself and the girls do the soundcheck, and I make the foyer look pretty with gingham tablecloths, flowers and tea-lights. Then to get in the mood, I put on Forties' music. After the soundcheck, the band go for a bite to eat, but we don't get a break. We still have tons to do backstage, like taping our set-lists onto the mirrors and lining up all our costumes for each change. Even having shoes buckled can seriously set you back a half minute, which is a long time in a song.

The dressing room gets a bit chaotic. Cian Boylan, the musical director, pops in occasionally looking for a set-list, or to see if we need help with straightening the seams of our stockings.

Once we are finally on stage, the show flies. We have brilliant fun. Straight after, I'll go out to meet the audience and sell and sign CDs. Often people tell me that the show brings back memories of living through the war.

Then it's back to the dressing room, and bit by bit I pick up all the debris of stockings, bras and dresses turned inside out. I take off my lashes, then I carry all my cases and CDs and costumes out to the car -- it takes about five trips. This is where I need an assistant or a boyfriend.

When I get home, I make a cup of tea. In bed, I read a few lines from Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca and fall asleep. I keep hearing the sounds of the Andrews Sisters, swimming around in my head, like a carousel in a dream.

See 'The Andrews Sisters Show' featuring the Bugle Babes at: The Helix, November 8, tel: (01) 700-7000; Cork Opera House, November 13, tel: (021) 427-0022; the Arklow Bay Hotel, December 4, tel: (0402) 32309; LIT Millennium Theatre, Limerick, December 5, tel: (061) 322-322; Town Hall Theatre, Galway, December 13, tel: (091) 569-777. For further information on Derby and her various upcoming shows, see

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