They were three Cambridge schoolgirls who, in the vapour trails of punk rock, decided to form a band. Calling themselves Dolly Mixture, they dressed in a post-punk fusion of jumble-sale chic, often accessorised with Doc Marten boots. Debsey Wykes, Rachel Bor and Hester Smith were rather different to most girl bands of that time. More pop than agitprop, they admired The Undertones and 1960s girl groups like The Shangr-Las.Their guitarist Rachel was only eighteen when their first single, a cover of The Shirelles' Baby It’s You was released.
The producer was Eric Faulkner of 1970s teen idols the Bay City Rollers. He offered Rachel guitar lessons. He told her that she needed to learn her scales. She delivered this story to me with no apparent sense of irony. Also a good cello player, Rachel comes from a highly accomplished musical background. Both parents were orchestra violinists – her late father Edward Bor was a composer. Her aunt was the famous classical pianist Hilda Bor (1910-1993). The Bor family, incidentally, lived in the same Cambridge street, where Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett spent his early years.
Dolly Mixture, for all their youthful punk credentials were a tuneful bunch, who sang and played rather better than many of their contemporaries. In early days they toured with The Undertones and Bad Manners. While still in their teens, they were supported at a London venue by a little-known outfit called U2. There was something about these three East Anglian girls that a lot of people liked. The DJ John Peel, for instance, took a shine to them. Paul Weller signed them to his new indie label Respond Records. The label's first release, Been Teen was Dolly Mixture’s second single. This was how they met Captain Sensible, who, with his bandmate from The Damned, Paul Gray produced the disc.
"If you saw them live," an impressed Captain once told me, "…they made a big noise." Dolly Mixture were on the up.
Then, in 1982, something rather odd happened. Captain Sensible who'd just signed a solo deal with A & M Records, unexpectedly had a summer feelgood hit with a cover of the South Pacific song, Happy Talk. It went straight to Number One. The Damned's shell-shocked guitarist suddenly found himself rehabilitated as Britain’s newest and cuddliest pop star.
If this event had surprised Captain Sensible, it must have startled the three members of Dolly Mixture even more. They suddenly found themselves enlisted as his backing vocalists, lolloping around on Top of The Pops with him every week. For these bright young indie girls, it was something of a mixed blessing. Arriving in Paris by limo with the now internationally-famous Captain was one thing. But it took the spotlight off Dolly Mixture's own career.
Next, Sensible's follow-up single, 'Wot', which the girls also sang on, became a huge European hit. Fun as it was, however, two years of chart stardom in a supporting role, effectively stifled Dolly Mixture's career. In 1984 the band folded. Rachel Bor settled down with Captain Sensible and raised children. Debsey Wykes joined Bob Stanley’s band, St Etienne, drummer Hester Smith left music and British indie pop lost one of its finest female bands.
Over three decades later, Rachel, who has continued to play music whenever time permitted, is about to release a new and extraordinary album, Picture in Mind. Produced by Steve Lovell, her husband of twenty years,who passed away this spring, the album is a fusion of dream-pop and electronica. It's rather more, however. Her late husband, in an earlier life had been a top producer-engineer for artists like Julian Cope, Blur, Holly Johnson, Robbie Williams and more. In his last months Steve, Rachel, their son David and Rachel's son Syd from her first marriage to Captain Sensible, completed Picture in Mind.
It's rather more than a run-of-the-mill indie album. It's a thoroughly English collection of wistful autumnal songs. I found its mixture of light electronica and cellos irresistable. Two months ago I was dibbling around on the internet (when I should have been making a record) and stumbled across one of Rachel's compositions on a website. Having not been in contact for many years, I got in touch with her to ask whether there was a release date. She wasn’t quite sure, she said. Steve died earlier this year and… I lumbered into action. Phone calls were made to people whom I thought might best know what to do.
The album becomes available on Bandcamp and all digital platforms this month. Nobody with any sense approaches a record label nowadays. They move too slowly, they make terrible decisions and they often don't pay enough. I thought that for now, at least, Rachel's work should be immediately available to stream, download and to buy as a CD. Especially as some of those Dolly Mixture fans were still waiting.
Picture in Mind by Rachel Love, is available on all streaming platforms as well as to download or buy as a CD on Bandcamp.