A Unique Style

Virginia Astley is a UK singer/songwriter whose achievements have perhaps been overshadowed by more ambitious and commercial artists. Possessing a unique soprano style of singing, Virginia's delicate vocals fit in seamlessly with her piano and flute driven melodies.

Virginia's delicate vocals fit in seamlessly with her piano and flute driven melodies.

Coming from a musical background (her father was Edwin Astley - responsible for 60's TV themes such as Dangerman and The Saint), Virginia took up piano at 6 and flute at 14. After leaving school, she studied at the Guildhall School Of Music.

After a brief foray into the world of contemporary pop as keyboardist with pop outfit Victims Of Pleasure, Virginia wrote, arranged and performed music with Skids frontman Richard Jobson for the album The Ballad Of Etiquette. This collaboration continued when Jobson moved to Belgian label Les Disques Du Crépuscule. Virginia contributed her services for the Crépuscule compilation The Fruit Of The Original Sin, but her most notable contribution was as part of The Dream Makers (in collaboration with filmmaker Jean Paul Goude) for a cover version of La Chanson d'Helene (Helen's Song) – an early example of Virginia's distinctive vocal style.

It was during this early 80's period that Virginia started to give serious consideration to releasing her own material. Despite early ideas by both Crépuscule and their UK wing Operation Twilight, nothing came of these plans.

In 1981 Virginia signed to the small UK label Why-Fi and immediately recorded a series of songs. Old school friend, Jo Wells (Kissing The Pink) and old university friend Nicky Holland both contributed as did Tony Butler, Mark Brzezicki and Peter Hope-Evans. During this period, Virginia received an offer from another Why-Fi artist - Troy Tate - for a high profile support slot with The Teardrop Explodes.

Initially skeptical, Virginia overcame her doubts about performing live and set about recruiting a band. This wasn't a difficult task as she brought in Nicky Holland and another university friend - Kate St John. Becoming The Ravishing Beauties, the trio joined the Teardrops in Liverpool during the Winter of 1981 for a series of dates at a small Liverpool club and remained with them for their UK tour in the early part of 1982.

Why-Fi released Virginia's follow-up to the A Bao A Qu EP with the catchy pop of Love's A Lonely Place To Be

The Ravishing Beauties

Why-Fi capitalised on the situation by releasing the 10" EP A Bao A Qu. Virginia's debut release featured songs she'd recorded the previous year (which had also been performed during The Ravishing Beauties live set). Virginia also found time to play piano on brother-in-law Pete Townshend's album All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes.

Following the end of the Teardrop Explodes tour, The Ravishing Beauties continued performing live on their own. But internal problems manifested themselves and the band split in the summer of 1982. The same year, a chance meeting at Crépuscule with singer/songwriter Anna Domino led to Virginia working with the musician for Anna Domino's mini LP East And West.

In 1983, Why-Fi released the catchy pop single Love's A Lonely Place To Be. This single thrust Virginia into the musical limelight, but cracks started to appear in her relationship with Why-Fi. Unhappy with the level of support the label was giving her, Virginia left and founded her own label - Happy Valley. This led to Virginia's debut album From Gardens Where We Feel Secure being released in the summer of 1983. Virginia had always considered this album to be a side project, but the evocative charm of the album, blending natural sounds with delicate piano and flute pieces, got a resounding thumbs up from the music press.

The same year, Why-Fi decided to quickly capitalise on Virginia's high profile with the release of Promise Nothing - a compilation album of the songs she had recorded on the label. Meanwhile, Virginia had been working on new material and also assembled a loose working band around her. This included old friends Anne Stephenson and Jo Wells and Audrey Riley (later to be 4AD's resident strings arranger). The first fruits of these sessions were two new songs: I Live In Dreams and Tree Top Club.

The title, Hope In A Darkened Heart, hinted at optimism

Darkness Has Reached Its End

1985 was a busy time for Virginia in terms of record releases. The haunting Waiting To Fall turned up on the Some Bizarre compilation If You Can't Please Yourself You Can't Please Your Soul. Virginia also released a new record on her own label: the Melt The Snow EP.

Virginia had also signed a new deal with the Elektra label - a deal that saw the release of a new single, Tender, in September 1985. A follow-up single, Darkness Has Reached Its End, saw Virginia switch to parent label WEA when it was released in November the same year.

Virginia began writing and recording material for a new album. Amongst the songs under consideration were a new version of live favourite Tree Top Club. Ryuichi Sakamoto, formerly with Japanese electro-pop band Yellow Magic Orchestra, had been a longtime fan of Virginia's and came onboard as producer. The album also included a duet with former Japan frontman David Sylvian called Some Small Hope The songs for the new album had a darker edge, lyrically. The title, Hope In A Darkened Heart, however, hinted at optimism.

The album received good reviews and a Japanese release would be successful enough to persuade Nippon Columbia to offer Virginia a Japanese deal. This resulted in a 1989 reissue of From Gardens Where We Feel Secure on CD, which also featured bonus tracks Sanctus and the Melt The Snow songs.

Twenty years after its original release, Virginia's debut album has managed to find a new audience

Virginia, meanwhile, had taken a back seat and instead concentrated on raising daughter Florence. In fact it wasn't until the 1990's that she would return to working on her own material. In 1992, this resulted in her first solo album since 1986's Hope In A Darkened Heart. All Shall Be Well was a fine collection of songs that featured a number of stirring melodies, including the title track itself. Among the tracks on the album was My Smallest Friend, which also saw Virginia's daughter Florence helping out on vocals!

The following few years were also something of a creative lull, broken by a new album in 1996 - Had I The Heavens - once again released by Nippon Columbia.

Breaking The Silence

In 1997, she embarked on more collaborations with other artists and musicians. She sang on a track called Don't Break The Silence for the Japanese band Silent Poets which featured on their album For Nothing. She also sang on the track I Will Miss This Holy Garden which featured on Silent Poets' 1999 album To Come.

2003 saw the remastered reissue of From Gardens Where We Feel Secure complete with a brand new sleeve design. Twenty years after its original release, Virginia's debut album has managed to find a new audience.

More recently, Virginia has written a musical based on Hardy's novel The Woodlanders. She is now trying to take this forward to being staged - possibly somewhere in the South-West early in 2007. She has also been exploring ideas for another instrumental album in the style of From Gardens Where We Feel Secure. Not content with pursuing musical projects, Virginia has also found time to turn her hand to writing. Her literary projects include working on a novel as well as an interest in producing her own poetry. She has a very exciting multi-media project The Stories of the Fields coming up and has also produced a mini-CD with her daughter Florence of poetry accompanied by harp.

Mailing List