Delia Derbyshire Day is one of the 3 main strands of my work. I instigated what is now a registered charity and make stuff happen with some amazing trustees. Delia Derbyshire’s archive is here in Manchester and I thought this has to be a gem of electronic music heritage, so let’s make a fuss of it. We now do (electronic) music education (workshops and in schools/colleges) and live music events inspired by the late great electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001).
My old sound engineering school, Spirit Studios, have come on board as MCR venue sponsors for our DD Day 2019 project and event (23 NOV 2019). Here’s a litle interview I did with them about Delia, our Delia Derbyshire Day work and what’s happening this year as part of our “Electric Storm 50” project.
DELIA DERBYSHIRE DAY: Caro C
Project manager of Delia Derbyshire Day, Caro C, sat down with us to discuss this
year’s event, what Delia Derbyshire means to her, and why Delia is still making waves 50 years later.
Thanks for sitting down with us today Caro. Just to start, can you tell us a little bit more about
Delia Derbyshire for those who may not know who she is?
Delia Derbyshire was a composer, a musician, an electronic music producer who was a pioneer in
the development of electronic music in this country. She was born in 1937 in Coventry and
evacuated to Preston during the war. For Delia, the air raid sirens and all clear sounds were the
beginning of her interest in electronic music.
After studying maths and music, Delia decided to pursue a career in music, and worked for the BBC
Radiophonic Workshop department from 1962-1973. She was one of the longest standing members.
11 years was a considerable amount of time working in a department where people were only
meant to stay for 6 months due to lack of ‘real instruments’!
At the time they used a multitude of technical and creative techniques to produce music and sound
effects. It’s been said that Delia’s favourite instrument was a green lampshade that had a lovely
‘gong’ quality. She used to sample it and use it in compositions, studying its harmonics to create
Basically, Delia was sampling before samplers, mixing without a mixing desk, and synthesizing pre-
synths. She was renowned amongst her radiophonic colleagues for being a ‘whizz’ at crash syncing:
getting tape machines to sync together like dj-ing with no mixer.
Wow. So, not only was she a pioneer for electronic music, but she was also a female pioneer in the
60’s. Do you think the attitudes towards women in the industry have changed much since then?
I think our work environment reflects society, so in terms of equal opportunities we still have a way
to go, but I’ve definitely seen progress.
There are initiatives now and there are also lots of women doing it themselves, saying ‘we’re here,
we’re making ourselves visible, we’re making ourselves heard’, so I think media organisations are
doing a lot more to show women that are starting out that there are loads of us.
It’s really interesting because you’ve mentioned the role the media plays in helping women be
more visible in the industry, but do you think there’s something more they could be doing?
There’s more to be done but I am heartened by actions like the PRS Foundation Vanessa Reed’s
work with an initiative focused on having a 50/50 gender balance in the industry by the year 2020.
And, most importantly, just generally informing students of these organisations and initiatives like
“Normal Not Novelty” that aim to help women in the industry and provide support and guidance.
That’s really cool. Delia is usually known as the woman behind the Dr. Who theme, but she’s done
a lot more than just that. Can you elaborate on other projects she’s worked on?
Yeah, so Ron Grainer actually composed the track. He knew he wanted to work with the BBC
Radiophonic, so he brought Delia and Dick Mills his notes, who created the music in a little room in
40 days. She also did a lot of other TV themes, incidental music, and music for radio. Beyond the BBC, she
also created music for theatre and sound design for varying projects including The Royal
In addition to this, Delia is also a key member of White Noise whose seminal album ‘An Electric
Storm’ is an electronic classic. Although the album was not massive on its initial release, it is now
considered a visionary and influential work for its time in 1969.
Given all that she’s done, how would you say Delia’s work is influencing people nearly two
I’ve worked in over 30 primary schools across Manchester delivering an ‘Introduction to Electronic
Music’ course to students, and the Dr. Who theme is always a great starting point. The students are
amazed at what she produced ahead of her time, especially when they appreciate this was a time
before undo buttons.
One young girl told me Delia was inspiring because she didn’t give up despite the sexism and barriers
she faced. So cool that she worked that out for herself.
So, how did the idea for Delia Derbyshire Day come about?
When I was studying Studio Engineering at Spirit Studios, back then it was SSR, my artist liaison
person Tullis Rennie at the then Futuresonic festival told me that Delia’s archives, had just arrived at
the University of Manchester. These archives were her personal collection of tapes, working notes,
correspondences, school notebooks, and more. I was immediately intrigued. Considering she is
referred to as one of the ‘godmothers of electronic music’, I knew I would have to listen to some of
this work. So, I approached Dr. Butler at the University about the archive and the possibility of
setting up a project where women composers could look back at the archive, see how Delia worked,
and be inspired to produce new work informed by her work, tools and techniques.
I therefore invited composer Ailis Ni Riain and artist Naomi Kashiwagi to be involved, and it was Ailis
who came up with the idea of a ‘Delia Derbyshire Day’: a symposium and live event where we could
present our creative responses to the archive. We worked together as ‘Delia’s Darlings’ to produce
the first event, which was held at Band on the Wall in January 2013. It was funded by Arts Council
England and the PRS Foundation (Women Make Music Fund), and was sold out with features on the
Today programme on BBC Radio 4.
The interest and demand for our work only grew, so I took it forward, producing more Delia
Derbyshire Day events, developing an education stand, and in December 2016 we registered Delia
Derbyshire Day as a charitable organisation. David Butler, who I first approached about the project,
is now the chair of our board of trustees and we have the support of the Delia Derbyshire Estate
which is crucial to the integrity of the growing organisation.
That’s very impressive! What are you most excited for this year’s event?
This year’s activities honour the 50 th anniversary of ‘An Electric Storm’ by White Noise. We are
looking forward to shedding some more light on Delia’s work beyond the BBC. David Vorhaus will be
involved. He worked closely with Delia on this album and talks of Delia as his teacher in terms of
tape manipulation and bringing together the worlds of physics and music, so that’s going to be really
amazing to hear from him.
We have commissioned artists to create their own audio-visual “electric storm” inspired by White
Noise’s album. We are about looking back, but also about the now and looking forward, showcasing
the exciting potential of being creative with technology now. I’m also excited to see what comes
from our “Create Your Own Electric Storm” workshops.
Delia Derbyshire Day seems to be going from strength to strength with further funding support from
Arts Council England, The Granada Foundation, and Musicians’ Union, as well as sponsorship from
Sound on Sound magazine, and of course Spirit Studios.
That all sounds very exciting. Before you go, can you tell us your favourite piece of Delia’s work?
That’s a hard one. I guess if I had to choose only one, it would be ‘The Dance from Noah’ a four on
the floor minimal techno kind of thing from 1971. I came across it via the archive and as it was
created for a kid’s programme. Ace!
THANKS FOR SITTING DOWN WITH US CARO. WE’RE SO EXCITED TO BE PART OF THIS YEAR’S DELIA
DERBYSHIRE DAY AND WE CAN’T WAIT TO SEE IT ALL COME TO LIFE.