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Road To Roundhay Pier

The Rhythm Sisterography

I think to my childhood and remember the amazing music my parents played (The Beatles, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, Dusty Springfield, Carol King, Motown and lots more varied and wonderful music).  They also loved a good party.  My sisters Julie, Debi and I soon realised we could only be part of the fun if we put on a show.  Big sister Julie worked us hard making sure every lyric and dance step was perfect, even dressing us up to impress - blackening our teeth with mum’s makeup and ripping some old clothes for ‘Rag Doll’ by The Four Seasons. 

I always had so much fun with music; it felt so natural to write, sing and perform.
Debi and I were in bands from an early age, meeting our first band members on a train home from a Madness/JoBoxers concert in Manchester.  Eventually we became The Mice and signed to a local management company through whom we then met Bill Byford.  Pretty soon we were renamed the Rhythm Sisters whilst drinking coffee with Charlie Gillett in Bill’s kitchen in Halifax and then the pace really began to hot up.

The Time was Right

Something magical was happening; Debi, Bill and I were turning up at certain pubs on their folk nights trying out the new songs we were writing.  The response was amazing, we were very soon booked to play lots of folk clubs and festivals around Britain.  We believed the time was right to record our songs, so we booked into a recording studio in Leeds for four days and invited some musician friends (The Acoustic Army) to join us with a firm promise of a bottle of Jack Daniels for each person who made it through to the end of the sessions.  

The finished product was ‘Road to Roundhay Pier’ and both Tony K at Red Rhino and Charlie Gillett at Oval picked up on it immediately. We were up and running with an imminent record release and a publishing deal too.

One member of the Acoustic Army was Chris Halliwell, who became a permanent member of The Rhythm Sisters, adding the beautiful sounds of his Dobro and his Tiple alongside the laconic wit for which he soon became infamous.  We supported The Proclaimers on two extensive tours and we enjoyed our summers at the WOMAD festivals and many other festivals throughout Europe and Scandinavia. 

There are so many fond memories from that time: eating reindeer meat with the LA band ‘Wall of Voodoo’ in a tepee at The Midnight Sun festival in Lapland. It was four in the morning and outside an Artic blizzard raged around us but we still all managed to write a song about mixing reindeer meat with industrial strength vodka whilst relaxing only six miles from the Russian border.  Later that same week, I remember being much closer to home, sitting in a doctor’s waiting room in Leeds, watching a lady reading a Rhythm Sisters centre spread in the Sunday Times and knowing she was reading about us……...wow! 

Frantic Pace

The pace became still more frantic. ‘Road to Roundhay Pier’ received impressive reviews throughout Europe and everyone seemed to want ‘in’.  On one particular day for example, we went from an early morning photo shoot for ‘Vogue’ magazine, to recording a track for the Johnnie Walker show on Radio One, to appearing on TV’s ‘Friday Night Live’ with The Eurythmics to playing a midnight gig at the Albany Empire in Deptford.

Additional musicians such as Bruce Foxton, Steve Jones, Ian Livingstone joined the ranks and Norman Cook, the Fat Boy Slim himself was drafted in to produce a series of demos.  Then we met the brilliant Yorkshire musician, Bill Nelson at a party and wound up doing an album with him called ‘Willerby’.  It was an interesting experiment but it had little to do with the direction we had originally set to follow with the Rhythm Sisters. 

New Album

Tell Me how long the Boat's Been Gone

Far closer to our original ideas, our latest third album: 'Tell Me How Long the Boat's Been Gone'   builds on the roots established by our first album:  ‘Road to Roundhay Pier’.  The vocal themes have matured and the instrumentation has evolved from acoustic to semi-acoustic, adding the JoBoxers' Chris Bostock, who I married.  I’m sure they’ll be more music to come, after such a long sleep there’s many dreams........

Mandi Laek 2008




Bill Byford: ‘the third Rhythm Sister’

Bill Byford was born in Normanton, West Yorkshire and has always been regarded as the ‘third Rhythm Sister’.

Debi and I first came across Bill when we were working at Off Beat recording studios in Leeds where he was recording some demos.  We were taken by his worldly and professional approach and we struck up an immediate rapport.  As a result of that first meeting we began working together developing a strong, creative working relationship.

We used to pretend that Bill was our big brother because as two young girls swimming in the most vicious sharks’ pond in the world, we thought that a ‘fraternal’ image presented by Bill might afford Debi and me protection which we might not otherwise have had.

I bumped into Bill during Christmas 2005 in the Coach & Horses pub on Cambridge Circus in London and since then, we have started writing together again towards possible projects in the future.  He is still obsessed with Leeds United, Yorkshire Cricket Club and ‘The Fall’.  Nothing changes.

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