Living in the Okanagan, when I hear the word vintage I think of wine. When someone adds the word rock, as in vintage rock, I think Darby Mills and the Headpins.
Mills was recently on stage at the Kelowna Community Theatre this February, performing with students and instructors from Wentworth Music at their Back to the '80s performance. She sang Don't it Make you Feel like Dancing, with the school band and Never Look Back from her 1992 Unsung Heroes solo album, with the teachers at Wentworth. From the audience it was hard to tell three decades had gone by since the Queen of Canadian Screamers took to the stage.
"We've gone through a generation or two in the 30 years we've been turning it up loud," said Mills, who resides in Vernon, B.C. "I enjoy things like this," she said of the Back to the '80s performance. "It's time to invest my career in a different manner. Singing isn't all there is anymore. I'm not 19 and on the road. I have a husband and kids now. There's not a lot of work out there for us 50 plus rockers. It's not like I'm Mick and being offered a million dollars to get on stage."
Mills likes that she can share her experience with up and coming musicians. "I'm not on the road all the time now and I have at least two life times worth of experience and I can tell them the do's and don'ts of road life. Right now I have the opportunity to give my experience to those who might want it. Music is what I've done my whole life and although I may not have words of wisdom, I have words of what not to do."
Mills enjoys talking to kids about her experiences and answering questions about being a full time musician. "One of my kids is very artistic. I can see him being a producer or something," she says. "As he put it, "I'd love you to come talk to the kids in school 'cause you have the experience that you can only hear about from someone who has done it.""
Mills doesn't just share her musical know-how with kids. She's has been a full on instructor at Kees Taw Kwon Do in Vernon for eight years now. As it says under her bio, her rewards are "Watching when a student 'gets' what it is you have been trying to teach them. Seeing a student rise to the challenge and understand that they have done so."
No matter how may years have passed since the '80s and what she is doing now, Mills is a professional musician at heart.
"There isn't a lot of clientele for the 50 plus rocker in bars these days. The people that want to come see us are trying to keep their kids out of the bars. The Headpins still do shows and now we're doing festivals and such where the over 45 crowd can come and bring their kids. The last six summers we've gone out with Nazareth on tour. We've got dates on the website for the summer and I've got a few more coming out. We'll probably get in 20 gigs this year," she adds, "We will be at Funtastic in Vernon this summer."
Mills is also considering writing again but admits she needs a co-writer. "I hear the melody but I can't do it on my own. I can't accompany myself on guitar. I am not a player to any extent. The few songs I did write back in the day when I had something to write about made sense. I've started to write again. I just needed to find stuff that was worthy of writing about. I am just starting to get into the headspace where I have something worthy to say."
As for rock 'n' roll, Mills says there is hope. "Rock and roll is cyclical. I think true rock and roll is coming back. I love Adele. She is a really about the music and lyrics and being the singer. She takes it back down to the roots making it about a singer onstage singing a song. It's not about theatrics and 27 dancers and all the big spectacle some have made it."
Mills truly is about the song and the singer. To those who loved her then, and those who still love her now, it's easy to see she's still Darby, after all these years.