Version 4.0: May 2015
- Who is Virginia Astley?
- Is Virginia related to composer Edwin Astley?
- Who were the Ravishing Beauties?
- Who were Victims Of Pleasure?
- What other artists has Virginia worked with?
- Isn’t Pete Townshend related to Virginia?
- What is the connection between Virginia and Martin Stephenson?
- Is it true Virginia is writing a book?
- What records did The Ravishing Beauties release?
- What is She Stood Up And Cried?
- What was the first Virginia Astley record released?
- Have any of Virginia’s records made a big impact on the charts?
- Is Virginia still writing and recording today?
- Where can I buy Virginia’s records?
- What happened to the rest of The Ravishing Beauties?
- What happened to the people in Virginia’s band from the 1980s?
- What does ‘A Bao A Qu’ mean?
- Has Virginia ever performed on TV or radio?
- What is The Woodlanders project?
- Is Virginia Astley related to Rick Astley?
Virginia Astley is a UK singer/songwriter who has enjoyed an extensive music career since the early 1980s. Her material is often been labelled under classical/ambient, although the particular melodic charm of her compositions – as well as her soprano-style of vocals – gives her a unique style that is difficult to assign to any one genre.
Virginia released most of her early material in the UK, notably on labels such as Why-Fi and WEA. She later released work on her own label Happy Valley via Columbia Nippon in Japan.
Yes, in fact Edwin Astley is Virginia’s father. Edwin Astley is probably best known as a TV theme composer responsible for the theme music to shows such as The Saint, Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased) and Dangerman. He was also responsible for the arrangements of several of Virginia’s songs, such as ‘A Father’, ‘Charm’, ‘My Smallest Friend’ and ‘I Live For The Day’. Edwin Astley died in 1998.
Virginia, along with college friends Kate St John and Nicky Holland, formed The Ravishing Beauties when Virginia was offered a support slot for The Teardrop Explodes in 1981. The Ravishing Beauties supported the Teardrops during a residence at Club Zoo in Liverpool. Following this, they then accompanied them on the Teardrops’ 1982 UK tour. The Ravishing Beauties also embarked on a few low-key concerts of their own throughout the early part of 1982. The songs were mostly compositions of Virginia’s, notably many of the tracks that appeared on her 1982 EP A Bao A Qu. The Ravishing Beauties split in summer 1982.
The first band Virginia played in was pop/rock outfit Victims Of Pleasure. In 1980 the band placed an ad in the music press looking for a keyboard player, which Virginia answered. Virginia performed with Victims Of Pleasure for a number of live gigs. She also played keyboards on their debut release ‘When You’re Young’.
Outside of working on her own projects, Virginia has often collaborated with other musicians throughout her career. A complete list would be quite extensive and would read like a Who’s Who of the music industry. However, she has worked or performed with artists such as Pete Townshend, Vic Godard, Anne Clark, Anna Domino, Richard Jobson, Dave Ball, Troy Tate, Martin Stephenson and Silent Poets.
Pete Townshend actually married Virginia’s older sister Karen in 1968 which made him her brother-in-law. Pete and Karen have since divorced.
Martin Stephenson is probably best known as being part of The Daintees – a band that came out of Newcastle through Kitchenware records. Martin first met Virginia when she let The Daintees stay in her flat whilst the band were recording locally. They remained in touch and Martin later played as part of Virginia’s band when they played in 1985.
A lot of joint projects were discussed such as an EP on Kitchenware (that would feature both Virginia and The Daintees) and also a tour of live performances around London bandstands. Although neither of these projects reached fruition, Martin went on to play guitar on Virginia’s recording of ‘I Live In Dreams’ (later retitled ‘Shadows Will Fall Behind’) and they enjoyed a duet on the song ‘Synergy’ which featured on the Daintees’ 1986 EP Inferno.
Martin wrote a song called ‘Rain’, which featured on the 1987 album Boat To Bolivia, which he described as "my most favourite song I’ve ever written and it’s especially for Virginia Astley". Virginia also contributed to the songs ‘Even The Night’ and ‘The Wait’ which featured on the Martin Stephenson And The Daintees’ 1988 album Gladsome Humour And Blue.
Virginia has been working on a number of literary projects over the years, including plans for a novel set in Dorset, a multimedia project titled The Stories Of The Fields, which explores the idea of how fields were, at one point, given specific names and the stories behind that naming. She is currently working on Keeping The River – a non-fiction book that explores the River Thames and the lives of those who work and live on the river.
Virginia has also written poetry for many years and has received the Dorset Prize for Poetry for her work. Her first book of poetry titled The Curative Harp was published in 2014, which was also a co-winner of the 2014 Fool For Poetry Competition.
No records were actually released by The Ravishing Beauties, although the song ‘Futility’ was featured on a compilation tape credited to the band. A lot of the material the band performed during their live concerts featured on Virginia’s solo EP A Bao A Qu.
She Sat Down And Cried (sometimes also referred to as She Stood Up And Cried) was originally listed as a potential record release by Virginia via Belgian record label Les Disques Du Crépuscule, as well as their UK subsidiary Operation Twilight. It was said at the time to have featured a series of piano pieces along with “non-human voices”. John Foxx (who was a shareholder in Crépuscule at the time) was also suggested as a producer. Although a contract was apparently drawn up between Operation Twilight and Why-Fi (Virginia’s record label at the time), it was never signed and the project was shelved.
However, according to Virginia, She Stood Up And Cried only every existed as a title for a possible album. “I think that was probably a song album that I thought of. I seem to remember that that was maybe something to do with Richard Jobson… I suspect it was perhaps an album title that I had, provisionally thinking at some point I’ve got to put together an album and call it that.”
Virginia’s debut release was the A Bao A Qu 10" EP released on the Why-Fi label in January 1982.
Virginia’s highest chart entry was a No. 7 placing in the UK independent charts with ‘Love’s A Lonely Place To Be’ in 1983.
Virginia has focussed more on writing projects in recent years, although she still performs music with her daughter Florence and also collaborated with her on two self-produced CD releases: The Words Between our Words in 2006 and Maiden Newton Ecliptic in 2007. Both feature spoken poetry by Virginia and Florence on harp.
There are no current releases by Virginia available, although secondhand copies of her extensive catalogue are available from various sources, notably specialist record dealers as well as online resources such as www.ebay.co.uk
Kate St John contributed oboe and cor anglais on some of Julian Cope’s early solo albums. She’s also performed with Strawberry Switchblade (notably on the stunning ‘Trees And Flowers’ single). Kate went on to become part of The Dream Academy before embarking on a solo career herself. She was also a member of Channel Light Vessel. Kate and Virginia have also collaborated together on each other’s projects over the years.
Nicky Holland continued working with The Teardrop Explodes, before moving on to work with Fun Boy Three and Tears For Fears. She also embarked on a solo career and has released two albums. She currently lives in New York.
For a brief period, Virginia worked with a regular number of musicians used for live shows and recordings: Anne Stephenson (violin), Jocelyn Pook (viola) and Audrey Riley (cello).
Jocelyn Pook has, in the past, done various session work, notably for the This Mortal Coil album Blood. She also wrote the music for a series of TV adverts for the Orange telephone company and has also embarked on a solo career – specifically with the release of her album Deluge – and composed music for the soundtrack of the Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut.
Jocelyn has continued to write film scores, including The Merchant of Venice and Heidi. She also scored the music for The Government Inspector – a Channel 4 programme that was nominated for the Original Television Music award in the British Academy Television Craft Awards.
Audrey Riley has been cellist in the contemporary music outfit Icebreaker and also worked with the likes of Dubstar, Lush, Moloko, Coldplay and Sing-Sing. Audrey was also part of the 4AD project The Hope Blister. She was also first to play the English five string electric cello back in 1993.
In 2002 Audrey also staged a live performance entitled A Change Of Light featuring original compositions commissioned by Audrey from artists including Gavin Bryars, David Lang and Damian LeGassik.
Anne Stephenson has enjoyed a long career working with a wide range of musicians and artists, including the Communards, The Manic Street Preachers, Roxy Music, Billy Cowie and Three Colours Red. Anne was also part of The Venomettes and later Marc & The Mambas – both Marc Almond projects.
Anne is also party of acoustic outfit Brilliant Strings and they have a website here:www.brilliantstrings.co.uk.
In 1998 she wrote and produced a Christmas CD Dance With Me Christmas Tree released in aid of Tourettes Syndrome and also composed with Gini Ball the music for the short film Now You Exist, Now You Don’t directed by Ekhi Rahmani. Anne currently lives in France.
The title ‘A Bao A Qu’ is taken from The Book Of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges and refers to a legendary animal taken from Indian folklore. The A Bao A Qu exists in the Tower Of Victory in the city of Chitor. Pilgrims climbing the stairwell bring the A Bao A Qu to life and as they continue their ascent, the A Bao A Qu’s shape approaches perfection and the blue colour it radiates becomes more intense. If the climber is a person who “has achieved Nirvana and whose acts cast no shadows” then the A Bao A Qu will achieve perfection. According to legend, the A Bao A Qu has only reached the tower’s pinnacle once.
The Ravishing Beauties have performed on the radio, notably for John Peel. Virginia also performed two songs for Radio 1 in 1983.
Around 1983, Virginia also appeared on TV for a performance of ‘Waiting To Fall’ for the music programme Riverside and there was also a planned performance for The Tube, which Virginia had to pull out of at the last moment. More recently, Virginia was interviewed for the 2001 programme Astley’s Way – a documentary on the work of Virginia’s father, composer Edwin Astley. Virginia features throughout the programme with her thoughts on the way her father worked. Jon Astley (Virginia’s brother), Hazel Astley (Virginia’s mother) and Pete Townshend also featured.
One of Virginia’s favourite writers is Thomas Hardy, particularly his 1887 novel The Woodlanders. This influenced an idea for a musical based on the book. However, Virginia was sidetracked during the making of a new album which at one stage was going to be called The Woodlanders but eventually emerged as ‘Had I The Heavens’. Some of the songs written, or at least inspired by, The Woodlanders musical appeared on this album such as ‘A Long Long Year’.
However, Virginia is still keen to complete the musical project and has also considered releasing an instrumental album using the songs from the musical.
In a word – No(!).