“Singing Is My Happy Place.”
by Gill Sherry
“I was always shy at school.”
Having seen Debbie Campbell perform live as part of The Splinters, I find this very hard to believe. Particularly as the band describes itself as the loudest and most rockin’ cover band to play at your local and favourite pubs!
“I was painfully shy,” Debbie insists. “I wanted to join the choir at primary school and I was the only person in the school to get knocked back. For years, I thought I couldn’t sing.”
Music, however, still played an important role in her childhood. She remembers eagerly awaiting the latest issue of Smash Hits and covering her bedroom wall with posters of Adam Ant.
“In the 80s we were spoilt for choice. The music was just phenomenal. I wanted to be a punk but I was too shy.”
There’s that word again. It doesn’t matter how many times she says it, I still can’t equate it to the confident woman sitting in front of me. I’m about to ask when and how the transformation took place but she preempts my question.
“I was living in Barassie and I went along for singing lessons. A wee leaflet came through the door… a new music school was getting opened up. I was 23. I still didn’t believe in myself but the woman told me I had a lovely voice.”
Two months later she was singing solo at a concert in Troon Town Hall.
“I thought I was going to pass out!” she says, recalling that terrifying moment when she stepped onto the stage. “I sang Another Suitcase in Another Hall from Evita. I still get nervous but as you get older you lose your inhibitions, it’s more excitement now.”
Shortly after her debut stage performance she joined Ayr Amateur Opera Company, singing another Evita classic, Don’t Cry for me Argentina, at her audition.
“That’s probably my favourite musical song of all time,” says Debbie. “I just went for it. I got in and it was the best thing I ever did. I was a total novice but I loved it. I made some lifelong friends there.”
As a result, she was cast as Gladys, the comedy mother figure in Copacabana, performing on stage at the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr. She followed this with the only female role in Jesus Christ Superstar, playing Mary Magdalene in front Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
“That was a special show. It was the centenary show, 100 years of AAOC.”
Debbie also played the part of Nancy in Oliver but then took a step back from performing to spend time with her partner, Robert, and young son, Lucas.
“I remember being in the bath one night,” she recalls. “I hadn’t sung for a while… and Robert popped his head in and said:
‘Debbie, I’ve got your friend Neil on the phone… how do you fancy playing Goldilocks?’ I was 43!”
Although she was, to use her own words, ‘no spring chicken’, she accepted the part and performed in the production at Kingcase Parish Church in Prestwick. It was a successful return to the stage and it led to another opportunity for Debbie.
“One of my friends that was there… her husband was in a band and they were looking for a new singer. So at 43, having just played Goldilocks, I was being asked to go and audition for this new band.”
She tells the story as though it’s the unlikeliest thing ever to happen and I’m starting to see signs of that shyness she felt as a child. It shows in her lack of self-confidence as an adult.
“I still doubt myself,” she admits. “I think creative people always doubt themselves… that’s just the creative nature of our characters.”
Perhaps she has a point. Anyway, back to the band…
“I didn’t really audition,” she continues. “I just kind of turned up and played and they said: ‘Yes, you’re in the band!’ We were called Before Harriet and we were playing a lot of rock and punky stuff which I was just embracing. Then we got a new drummer… and we changed our name to The Splinters. We felt we’d splintered off in lots of different directions and… we all had different tastes.”
As lead vocalist, Debbie was singing plenty of her favourite tracks including those by Blondie and Annie Lennox. I have to admit, her voice lends itself pretty well to those classic rock anthems.
The current Splinters line-up consists of two men and two women: Debbie, Andy Harrower, David Galloway and Hayley Northorpe. “We feel like a punky Abba,” she laughs.
When it comes to inspiration, Debbie is quick to mention her brother. Scott sadly died in a car accident at the age of 23 but she believes she has plenty to thank him for.
“My brother was really into his music and he influenced my taste in music when I was growing up. I looked up to my brother, he was so cool. My partner, Robert, is the same age that Scott would’ve been and it’s quite funny because he’s got the same taste in music that my brother had. Robert is so knowledgeable about music and has been very supportive of my develoment.”
She also credits her good friend, Scott Nicol, for much of her musical energy.
“He’s like a big brother to me,” she says. “He’s been so instrumental in getting my creativity. I’ve learnt a lot from Scott. He’s got a great passion for encouraging young talent. And old talent!”
She’s referring to herself and although she laughs as she says it, I can sense that self-doubt creeping back in. But Debbie has so much to be proud of. Including her contribution to her community during lockdown.
“Through lockdown, Scott and I got together and did concerts outside nursing homes. The very first one we did was Queens Care Home in Prestwick… down on the beach on a cold, cold day. Seeing the residents and the staff in the window with their masks on, it was heart-breaking. We were singing to them. I had a tambourine, Scott had his guitar. Honestly, it was very emotional.”
Thankfully, the music scene is beginning to return to its pre-COVID best and Debbie is back to performing in pubs and clubs across Ayrshire.
“Prestwick and Troon tend to favour classic rock. I find Kilmarnock is maybe more punky. Arran’s great too… any venue’s good as long as you’ve got the crowd on your side, that’s what makes it.”
As well as singing with The Splinters, Debbie also sings with Scott Nicol and sometimes with the multi-talented Ken O’Hara. She also sings with her friend from Glasgow, Patrick Smith, as one half of The Cactus Friends, as well as with Michael McClusky as Burness.
“You’ll find that in Prestwick, even in Ayr and Troon, all the musicians know each other. We’ve got each other’s backs. Prestwick is a great town to live. If somebody cancels a gig, we do our best to try and cover it. That’s how important music is.”
Music is certainly important to Debbie. “Singing is my happy place,” she says with a smile. “They say that smells can take you back to past memories. It’s the same with music, it instantly takes you back. And through the love and power of music, people are drawn to you.”
No doubt she’s hoping we’ll all be drawn to The Twa Dugs on Friday 16th December when The Splinters play live in Ayr. I wonder if they’ll sing Kajagoogoo’s ‘Too Shy’? Probably not.