She was the Fife-born 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 ended up being ditched by their label and £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 diaries she kept into a 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.
It will see Bissett reflect on the words and actions of her teenage self, as well as explore her relationship with 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 directed the stage musical Glasgow Girls, about the the treatment of young asylum seekers, and Full Tilt.
Bissett said the new 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 own teenage diaries.
The Fringe show will recall how Bissett was propelled into the limelight after answering a newspaper advert for a singer for a Fife band influenced by Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Pixies, R.E.M, and Throwing Muses.
Bissett, who is originally from Glenrothes, said: “It’s almost like Darlingheart have been erased off the planet. It all happened exactly 25 years ago. The internet didn’t exist.
“I was cleaning out the family home after my dad passed away and found a box with a bit of paper taped to the top which said: ‘Cora’s clippings.’
“I also kept a diary religiously from the age of 11. Pretty much every day of my life was written down. When I read back on the period between the age of 17 and 20 I can hear the words of a schoolgirl going into a big record company and coming out the other end a very different person. 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.
“The two things started to conflate.
“I 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.”
Within weeks of recording a demo, record companies were scrambling to snap them up. But the album they released for Phonogram failed to take off and after they were dropped they discovered they had fallen victim to an unscrupulous manager.
Bissett: “It was probably less than two years from the point where we were signed to getting dropped.
‘‘I was just out of school – I had only 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.
“I was only half-formed at the time.
‘‘We were getting reviews saying that our lyrics were a bit teen-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?’
‘‘When things started to go wrong, they went wrong quite quickly.”