Delia Derbyshire Day

Legendary electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire is being celebrated with a day of events in Manchester on Saturday 12th January, including specially-commissioned new music that will also be played in other cities too.

Delian Mode by Brigitte Archambault

The first ever Delia Derbyshire Day will highlight the amazing work of Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001), the ground-breaking electronic music composer who worked for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop as well as other studios and is most famous for realising the original Dr Who theme in 1963.

This year is the 50th anniversary of Dr Who and Delia’s iconic original theme, and the event at Manchester’s Band on the Wall venue, will launch the celebrations, with film, music and more.

Behind the event are a trio of producers - female Manchester based artists working in music and sound. Experimental electronic artist Caro C is one of them, and she told us about the huge respect she has for Delia, and the work she created without the electronic kit people like Caro now have access to.

Caro C Magnus Gyllenhammar

It took Delia a month to produce the Dr Who theme, and she was renowned for spending nights in the Maida Vale studio working on pieces. How she mixed without multi-track is inconceivable today!

She was very experimental and musical, avant-garde. She played the first electronic music gig in Liverpool in the 60s along with the musique concrète guys and Berlioz. Yet her otherworldy sounds are embedded in the consciousness of so many families, through her tv work.

Caro and her two fellow organisers have been paying sonic homage to Delia, after spending time with her archives at the University of Manchester. Calling themselves Delia Darlings they are Ailís Ní Ríain (contemporary classical), Naomi Kashiwagi (gramophonica) and Caro (formerly known as caro snatch) and will each perform new work that’s been commissioned for the event and will also tour with it.

Naomi Kashiwagi

On Delia Derbyshire Day itself there will also be a mini symposium with experts including Mark Ayres - composer and BBC Radiophonic Workshop archivist who knew Delia, and David Butler, a Screen Studies lecturer who helped bring the archives to Manchester, which include a wealth of unpublished music, as well as Teresa Winter who is researching Delia’s creative processes and impact.

Canadian film director Kara Blake will introduce a screening of her award-winning documentary The Delian Mode and also take part in the post-screening panel discussion. There’a a listening party of rare Delia music and the evening event will feature the premiere of the three new commissions by Ailís, Caro, and Naomi, with live visual accompaniment by Kara Blake. DJ Tukatz will play Delia Derbyshire inspired experimental music.

Ailís Ní Ríain

Caro told us more about how Delia has inspired her, and the kit she herself is using for the Delia Darlings tour.

As a creative music maker using technology, I am particularly interested in how Delia made her music at The Radiophonic Workshop – especially the period pre-synths and drum machines.

I rely on, and often take for granted, the panoply of tools I have at my fingertips and I have a very modest studio set up at home. Multi-track recording, a few bits of hardware and too many virtual instruments, processors and software effects galore. Yet in the 60’s and early 70’s most of these tools were simply not invented or readily available. I became increasingly curious about the how, when I hear so many effects and multi-track loops going on in Delia’s electronic music.


Caro has changed the way she usually performs for the Delia Darlings piece. Her key tools are a Macbook Pro, Digidesign Mbox 2 audio interface, Ableton Live 8 and Akai MPK Mini (MIDI interface/keyboard/triggering).

This will be the first time I will be on stage with a laptop. I used hardware (drum machines, sampler, synths) up to now but for this piece I wanted the studio sound to be able to be produced on stage. I ‘composed’ the piece in Logic first so I am merely using Ableton as a sampler really.

I have a very simple and straightforward set up laptop wise really. I consider myself more of an artist than a musician really - I have a vision for what I want to do and the tools I have get me there at the moment.

As well as the first live laptop set up I will have my usual set of effects all going through a good old Behringer Eurorack UB802 that a friend has lent me. I like to use guitar pedals for my voice and other instruments, for which they were not designed.

My trusty favourites are the Boss pedals - DS-2 (distortion) and the particularly fun PS-2 (pitchshifter/delay) which are fun to feedback on themselves and rock out live. On this occasion I will also be playing with a retro Realistic Reverb unit which sounds more like a distortion unit to me and the Akai E2 Headrush aka KT Tunstall’s wee bastard. This is a tape style delay and loop pedal which is also fun for layering up vocal noises live with.

And finally my first synth - the Korg Poly 800 (Mark 1) that I bought way back when I started out on the music tech wayward path. It’s an analogue synth digitally controlled, and is my staple bassline provider.

Caro uses a Shure SM58 for vocals, but also has some more unusual gear ready to go, in homage to Delia who even played a green metal lampshade.

Other instrumentation will include a ping pong ball and ruler for this piece. I am a found sound enthusiast and so was Delia, so it seems only fitting that I learn to play (and record live) the ping pong ball and ruler.

I will be taking people on a journey through different genres as she did, from high brow to low brow, through the 60s and 70s, synth pop, techno. Delia made ambient music well before anyone else.

I am of course going for contrast here - the pretty basic technology I employ is worlds away from the time consuming, skill demanding and craftsmanship of the Radiophonic Workshop times. I am particularly interested in the pre-synth, pre-drum machine times of the 1960’s. Delia was lining up and playing a few tape machines in sync. The original beat matcher (with no mixer ladies and gents). I also really like how they used sine tones and matched them to pitches as opposed to everything being tuned to A=440 Hz today (in my mainstream music culture).

The Delia Derbyshire Day project was awarded funding from the Arts Council England, PRS for Music Foundation and Quebec Arts Council, and we think it would be great for it to tour more widely, something Caro says the Darlings would welcome!

  • Delia Darlings will perform in Liverpool (FACT - Wed 16 Jan), Sheffield (supporting Eccentronic Research Council - Fri 18 Jan) and Newcastle (Star and Shadow Cinema - Sun 20 Jan).

The touring event will involve a screening of The Delian Mode with an introduction to the film and Q&A with director, Kara Blake and performances of the three new commissions by Ailís Ní Ríain, Caro C and Naomi Kashiwagi with live visual accompaniment by Kara Blake.

Delia Derbyshire Day 2013 event booking details

Date: SAT 12 JAN 2013
Time: Mini symposium: 3pm - 6pm
Evening event: 8pm - 10.30pm
Place: BAND ON THE WALL - 25 Swan Street, The Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 5JZ

Tickets: Full Day: £10 Early Bird (before Dec 12), £12 after; Afternoon event only: £6; Evening event only: £7.50; Concessions available