Reunited after a 21 year gap in 2017, Daphne’s Flight brings together the talents of five highly acclaimed singer-songwriters: Julie Matthews, Chris While, Melanie Harrold, Helen Watson and Christine Collister for a veritable rootsy flavoured supergroup!
Last year’s Knows Time, Knows Change, the surprise (and belated) sequel to 1996’s eponymous debut, was accompanied by a successful UK tour which has now resulted in a third album from the quintet. The soon to be released Daphne’s Flight Live features a collection of songs from both their studio albums, along with several new choices, and arrives with a series of live appearances beginning at Oxfordshire’s Towersey Festival (24-27 Aug 2018).
“We all bring two songs to the table that we think will work as a group,” explains Chris While, of the group’s way of working. “These [songs] can be original new songs or covers, they can be old songs too that we think are worth re-working.
“If one or two of us don’t think a song will work, out it goes – obviously it can only work if the whole group loves the song. As everyone is very versatile and has vast vocal ranges, dynamics and experiences, the decision of who will sing what is really easy, and it just falls into place.”
Despite their long period of silence, everyone in Daphne’s Flight has remained close, often performing with each other in various combinations. As a result, they work well together, dividing roles between them.
“We are all very old friends now,” says Chris, who is also one half of a firmly established duo with Julie. “I have known Christine since the ’80s and Mel, Julie and Helen since the early ’90s. We want what’s best for each other and are a very supportive and diplomatic group.
“Of course, as we all live so far apart, really far – Essex, London, Sheffield and The Isle of Man – a lot gets decided on the phone, email and FaceTime regarding the managing of the group, but when we rehearse we spend up to a week together, which is really bonding and amazing, and the songs really flow.
“In between, I do the website, Julie and Christine take care of social media, and this year Mel and Christine have been doing lots of interviews and media stuff.
“Helen Watson grows marvellous vegetables and makes us laugh,” she adds with a smile.
The live album sums up the group’s approach perfectly, and finds them calling on a variety of influences from traditional and country (Susanna Clark and Richard Leigh’s ‘From The Heart’), to gospel and soul (Percy Sledge’s ‘Out of Left Field’).
“Daphne’s Flight is steeped in the heritage of contemporary and traditional music,” says Melanie. “Our repertoire ranges from the fantastical of myth and fairy tale to songs of land and plough, of growth and renewal. In our set there are tales of seas and safe harbours and anthems of political social and economic change.
“We unify these influences through beautiful layers of blended harmony, inspired arrangements and ‘stop you in your tracks’ singing,” she says. “We are a very British band of women with a world of experience, embracing the land of the Celts and the Saxons, the mountains of Appalachia and the basin of the Mississippi.”
Although Daphne’s Flight are very much active, all members continue to juggle the group with their own projects.
Says Chris: “Well Julie and I never seem to stop. We are performing in BBC Radio 2’s Friday Night is Music Night on the 9 November  with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s a life-long ambition of mine to sing with a great orchestra. The theme is Radio 2’s Ballads of the Great War. A lot of the songs were written by the brilliant Julie, and I got to sing many of them.
“Then we have the Ballads Of Child Migration UK tour (November), which is very exciting. The awesome line-up is Barbara Dickson, narrating, singer songwriters, me and Julie, Jew Lowe, Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow, Boo Hewerdine and John Doyle. And the band, as always will be John McCusker, Michael McGoldrick, Andy Cutting and Andy Seward … wow! The show is a very levelling and emotional experience and the music is beautiful with a large screen featuring testimonies from former Child Migrants.”
And then there’s a certain significant birthday looming …
“2019 is the 25th anniversary of the duo,” Chris confirms. “Julie and I will be recording a new album in the spring followed by a busy festival season in the summer all leading up to a big autumn tour to celebrate our silver jubilee!
“As well as all the wondrous things that Chris has mentioned we have coming up, I’m also excited to have been asked to be part of another songwriting project in 2019 that commemorates the 100th anniversary of the peace celebrations after WW1 along with Greg Russell, Findlay Napier and Bella Hardy,” interjects Julie.
The others are just as busy.
Helen: “I have been working with Snake Davis (horns) and Dave Bowie Jnr (double bass) for several years now, and we have gigs coming along into next year. No plans for any solo stuff now. Happy in collaboration!”
Christine: “I’ve been blessed with numerous collaborations over the intervening years and there was a ten year period where I was a predominantly solo performer. More recently I’ve been working with a brilliant Australian guitarist – Michael Fix – and have worked in Australia for a number of years, and we’re now branching out into the UK performing scene, with a handful of shows this November, and a three week tour in October 2019. We have one studio album, Shadows and Light, and a second one in the making ready for next year’s UK tour.
“I also have a delightful but intermittent musical partnership with Dave Kelly (of Blues Band fame) … we have a live CD with our band The Traveling Gentlemen from 2006, but only a few weeks ago performed as an acoustic duo at the Vancouver Island Music Festival. We enjoyed it so much we’re planning a duo tour for next May,” says Christine, whose first two studio albums, Blue Aconite and The Dark Gift of Time, have been re-released “as a double CD package with a foreword from myself talking about my thoughts on then and now. Quite a ride!”
Melanie: “I am working a new CD of original songs with Harvey Summers at Broadoak Studios in Bexhill. I also develop, write and arrange for performing amateur a cappella choirs. In June, Vocal Chords Choir launched Songs of Protest in aid of Praxis at The Conway Hall in London. In the autumn of 2019 we will be presenting our project on Home and Homelessness. Trade Winds is a multi-access European women’s choir that develops collaborative cultural exchanges with choirs throughout the community.”
So where does that leave Daphne’s Flight?
“We plan to do more,” says Christine, suggesting new material for a 2019 studio album will be aired for the first time at Towersey.
It seems Daphne’s still in flight…
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The reunion gig – Cambridge 2017: