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Doris Brendel didn't have the most likely background for her life as a powerful rock and blues singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Born in Vienna where she lived her first twelve years, Doris's father is Alfred Brendel, one of his generation's finest classical pianists and her mother, Iris Hermann-Gonzala, was formerly an opera singer and ceramic artist.
Now around fifty, Doris is still frantically busy writing and making music.Sh e is releasing her ninth album, 'Eclectica', on 1st May on Sky-Rocket Recordings. Doris first found fame fronting up the Violet Hour, a short-lived funk/blues/jazz band which attracted a cult following - thanks to Doris's distinctive vocals - at the start of the nineties as they toured with bigger names like Marillion and Nils Lofgren. Doris sang in a style some compared with Janis Joplin and she played flute, saxophone and guitar. Few of the fans who saw her then would have known - or cared - about Doris's family background or her origins living in Vienna. In those earlier days Doris avoided using her family name, not wishing to draw attention to her heritage.
“Adapting to England at the age of twenty wasn't hard for me,” Doris told me. “I had travelled extensively with my mother. We visited America every summer because my dad often worked there and I was very used to speaking English. I'd already heard people like Abba and the Bay City Rollers on school friends' radios in Vienna. I knew English was the language of popular music. But it wasn't until I started listening to Beatles songs that I really appreciated just how the English language was so right for song lyrics – and what an art song-writing could be."
“Arriving in England was incredible,” Doris remembered. “Suddenly there was Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and, much later, people like Radiohead - all just amazing. Though my record collection still included Holst's 'The Planets' and Prokofiev's 'Peter and the Wolf' plus a bit of Mozart as well as some Bulgarian folk music. My taste has been eclectic from the start!
“I'd had six years of classical violin lessons and soon learned guitar chords. Writing songs on that guitar became my therapy, an antidote to solitude and misery. Suddenly being immersed in an English boarding school pushed me into socialising. And one of the very first things I did was to start a band."
“I continued performing through my school days and later at university in Leeds where I read German and English. I was gigging all the time I was there. Acoustically at first, performing my own songs solo, but I also supported a lot of other people. It built my confidence and helped me earn extra money. I had wealthy parents but I wanted to be independent and I've always found ways to make money."
“Then I was in a funk and blues band before being invited to join the Violet Hour around 1990,” Doris said. “I contributed songs like 'Better Be Good' and 'Could Have Bee'n and I was their vocalist plus played whistle, saxophone and guitar. We were signed by Sony and toured with Marillion, John Farnham and Nils Lofgren. But the Violet Hour only made one album, 'The Fire Sermon'. Despite all their talent, the band weren't destined to be around for long. I left in 1992 expecting to clinch a solo record deal. But that didn't happen. In fact, all of a sudden, many things went wrong.”
This was a tough time for Doris. Her relationship with her boyfriend, the talented producer and musician, Pete Brown (son of Joe, brother of Sam), suddenly unravelled leaving Doris with a big mortgage to pay on the country home she still lives in. She couldn't even drive a car, having never had lessons. And Doris was at a crossroads in her career.
“Fortunately, I am good in a crisis,” Doris said. “I gave myself a couple of weeks to reflect and then I went into action mode.” Doris quickly filled the house with lodgers to help with her expenses. She took driving lessons and passed her test, did several temporary jobs and launched into various musical projects.
These included setting up an acoustic and acappella group - just called Doris - with Sam Brown, Aitch McRobbie and other talented singers. Then Doris formed a rock band called Holy Cow with a guitarist, a bassist and top rock percussionist Richard Newman on drums. With her skill in playing a range of instruments and her vocal virtuosity, Doris was soon in big demand. She was doing a wide range of work in show bands, covers bands and made several big-selling dance records with the Virgin and London labels which led to many invitations to perform in clubs. All of this was lucrative. But Doris continued writing her own material and over the next years she released a series of beautifully crafted albums, each with an eclectic mix of attractive, innovative material expertly produced and very prettily packaged.
Doris's latest release 'Eclectica' has been another collaboration between her and Hertfordshire-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Lee Dunham (formerly in the band Primal Slave). The album spans pop, rock, prog and acoustic and World styles confronting happy and sad topics in Doris's usual angst-ridden, insightful way. Most of the tracks are Doris's compositions and she features on various instruments as well as providing lead vocals in her own distinctive husky, powerful style. As on many of Doris's albums, there is a cast of fine musicians playing an array of instruments with Wishbone Ash's Andy Powell making a major contribution on his guitar to the 'Love Ap'p track. This is another strong and impressive record from Doris. Arrangements and production values are outstanding throughout and the album artwork by surrealist Igor Morski is distinctive.
Doris will be touring to promote the new 'Eclectica' album. She is one of the most accomplished and exciting live performers on the UK music scene. Apart from first-class musicianship expect outlandish steam-punk costumes and even laser gloves at her gigs...a spectacle not to be missed!
Photographs by Piers Allydyce
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Sky Rocket Recordings
Nick Dent Robinson speaks to Violet Hour singer Doris Brendel about her unconventional musical career and forthcoming ninth album 'Eclectica'
Former Violet Hour front woman Doris Brendel talks to Nick Dent-Robinson about her extraordinary upbringing and latest solo album, 'Upside Down World'
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Fantastic folk-tinged debut album from angst-torn former front woman with 1990s rockers the Violet Hour, Doris Brendel
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