Cora Bissett’s return to the stage of the Adam Smith Theatre next month is much more than just another date on her Scottish tour. It’s a homecoming – and a very personal one too.
What Girls Are Made Of was one of the big hits of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last August – critical acclaim and full houses every single night.
Now it comes to the theatre where the story began.
Darlingheart were part of a thriving indie music scene in and around Kirkcaldy circa 1990.
They were also the band which almost made the big-time.
They signed a record deal – reportedly the biggest in Scottish music history – toured with the biggest names, and recorded an album before Phonogram dropped them from a mighty great height.
Throughout it all, lead singer Cora, kept a daily diary.
The discovery of those hand-written books as she cleared out the family home following the death of her dad, sparked this remarkable stage show.
It’s the story of her rollercoaster journey from growing up in Glenrothes to sharing a stage with Blur and Radiohead.
It’s also a story of growing up, and finding the path you always wanted to explore.
And it all started when Cora answered a n advert in the Fife Free Press from a band looking for a lead singer.
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“The advert in the classified section for an indie band mentioned The Pixies and REM . I thought ‘Yes! That’s me!” she recalled.
“I was really into music at the time – Patti Smith’s Horses album had a huge impact – and I really, really wanted to sing in a band.
“There was a great scene back then in Fife with a real DIY ethic. We’d organise our own gigs, do our own flyering with bucket and paste – proper old school!
“I went for the audition and got it. The guys had been working hard playing in bands for 10 years and this was their big push. They had studio time all lined up. I stepped in at the right time and in the right place.
“We got on the radio, we got a manager … it happened so quickly.”
Plans for university were jettisoned as she teamed up with Darlingheart and embarked on an incredible journey that shaped and changed her life.
Looking back, she recalls how her parents took an incredible huge leap of faith and let her pursue her dream.
“I was 17, and just out of school – I wasn’t even legally old enough to sign my record deal. My mum and dad did it!
“I was giving up university to start touring with people in a rock band they barely knew and a manager they’d never met. They came to the pub and signed my contract.
“They must have been terrified for me, but they still did it. They didn’t stand in my way!”
Now a mum herself, Cora admits she looks at her daughter and wonders how she’d react if the roles were reversed.
“Would I do it? I know too much about the industry, but I would have to let her make her own mistakes and have that journey.”
And what a journey it was.
Darlingheart went from rehearsing in Dave Arcari’s studio up in the Gallatown in Kirkcaldy, to cutting their debut album and landing prestigious support slots with the biggest names in the industry.
Their songs were on the radio. The big-time beckoned.
For the best part of two years they lived in a transit van, criss-crossing the country to gig after gig, and doing everything to make this dream come true.
And then it stopped.
Phonogram number crunched the sales figures, and dropped them.
“It didn’t last long for us – we had some had crazy highs and lows” recalled Cora.
“It was pretty brutal when it ended. You go from being the hot potato to no-one wanting to speak to you. That’s pretty tough.”
The stage show – complete with a live band which actually performs Darlingheart material along with some great songs of the era as well as playing key roles in the story – tells the story of what happened next.
In Cora’s case, that led to a career in theatre where she has directed and starred in a string of acclaimed, award-winning shows, starting with her debut Roadkill and embracing work such as the Glasgow Girls.
She also had her daughter and lost her dad; life changing moments which are woven into the very heart of this story.
“It isn’t just about the music. It’s a great story – it cracks along at a proper pace too” she said.
“It is the story of the band and that whole music industry battle, but it’s also about hitting a different age in your life.
“I’ve got a young girl now. My dad has gone. All things come together.”
The discovery of her teenage diaries along with a box of cuttings, carefully collated by her dad, began the journey that led to this show.
The clippings include those very early cuttings from the Fife Free Press, each one telling a story of a step on a journey some 25 years ago.
The show has struck a chord with audiences of all ages, and wowed the critics, but bringing it to the Adam Smith is something special.
“It’ll very surreal going back, and being up on stage singing my old songs from the band 25 years ago,” said Cora.
“That’s where the band started out. We played the Adam Smith. I’ve no idea if I’ll look out and see loads of my old school pals!”
The stage show is also going international with dates in Brazil.
“I’ve no idea what they’ll make of the Fife accent there – if anything the Fife speak cranks up so who knows what they will make when I mention Leven and Cardenden, but they will have their own equivalents.
“When you write, the more specific you are in your story the more weirdly universal it becomes.”
What Girls Are Made Of is at the Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy, on Tuesday, May 7, and Wednesday, May 8. Ticket details from the box-office or www.onfife.com