Rachel D’Arcy, ukelele mistress for the Facebook generation

Please ‘Like’ me. Please please ‘Like’ me.
I like you, oh won’t you like me too?
It’s just a little button on your computer screen
Please won’t you press it, oh don’t be so mean
We could be friends in cyberspace
Share our photos; connect the human race.

These are the tongue-in-cheek lyrics of jazzy chanteuse Rachel D’Arcy, from her song Like Me, perhaps her signature song to date. The words are accompanied by her jaunty ukelele strumming and the bassy backing of imposing beat boxer Alex Blake-Pink.

George Formby it ain’t. Listen to some more tunes here.

It’s always exciting to discover emerging talent on the London music scene, and Rachel D’Arcy, self-appointed mistress of the ukelele, would appear to be the real deal.

Her singing style is a delicious cross between Nina Simone and Amy Winehouse, fused with the urban heartbeat of beat box. Her lyrics and covers are playful and personal, while her consummate confidence as a performer is all the more extraordinary when you find out she only picked up the ukelele and began gigging two years ago.

Although still holding down a day job at a Soho sound studio, she is to be found most nights in a range of West End bars and assorted London venues (see below) as part of the duo D’Arcy and Pink. The couple gig week-in, week-out, on average four times a week.

So what’s the story behind this enigmatic songstress?

Rachel comes from green and pleasant Newmarket, and is the daughter of a racehorse trainer, who encouraged her to try to become a jockey/trainer after leaving school at 18.

Thankfully for all of us the jockeying gig didn’t work out – despite a few trips to Kentucky, USA, to learn the trade – and Rachel came to London to do a one year theatre course instead. A random meeting then led to an office job at The Spectator PA-ing for, of all people, its then editor, Andrew Neil, who now hosts BBC2′s The Politics Show.

But with Rachel’s creative juices bursting for an outlet – not to mention a few filing errors at The Spectator –  she soon discovered that office life wasn’t her calling and returned to Newmarket somewhat burnt by City (office) life. Then after having been given a ukelele by a friend, embarked on learning to play it using the self-help videos on YouTube as instruction (yes, really). A possible trip to China in an orchestra provided the motivation – in an application to join the trip she had told them she could play the uke even before learning any chords!

She takes up the story: “I taught myself to play for an audition. I got a bit obsessed and started writing songs and doing gigs and then it sort of took over my life – so I’m sort of learning on the job.”

“After I finished the theatre course I wanted to carry on singing, so I found a guitarist to work with and also started singing at Jam Nights at Ain’t Nothin But Blues in Kingly Street.”

Last year she teamed up with beat boxer Alexander Blake-Pink, and the duo only recently dubbed themselves D’Arcy and Pink. This summer they recorded an EP which will be available soon.

Naturally she cites a range of influences and obsessions: “I’ve always loved old school rock’ n’ roll, jazz and soul music. I grew up listening to Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Otis Redding, and at one point got so obsessed with the Beatles after my mum showed me one of their films that I actually seriously wanted to marry Ringo Starr. I love the energy and authenticity of music from yesterday.”

She’s also inspired by the lyrics of that period in music: “I also love its sense of humor and ability to tell great stories. I love the fable-istic oddities of old folk songs and try to incorporate that into my songs and I love the simple powerful structure of old standards.”

Lyrically she says that the gravelly Tom Waits, the hard rockin’ Lou Reed and “to a point” Jack White are influences. She says she now listens to a lot of blues, jazz and gypsy jazz but also likes current trends like dubstep.

Here she is singing the Amy Winehouse classic, Love is a Losing Game on YouTube.

Not half bad eh?

She cites Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Judy Garland as “massive” influences: “Whenever I hear a Billie Holiday song I practically have a fit – especially I’m A Fool To Want You. She is just so good and so individual, you know it’s her straight away.”

Her set is a 50/50 mix of covers of songs of the above and her own songs. Most of her material can be heard seen on YouTube and the fantastic SoundCloud. (Word to the Wise: If you aren’t using SoundCloud, I really urge you to check it out, pronto.)

Her singing experience was gained while doing the one year acting course at the National Youth Theatre between school and her office work. There she gained experience of doing musicals and performing. But like many of her jazz/rock heroes she has no musical training. Clearly, in the music game, on-the-job experience is all it is cracked up to be.

So what’s her plan now that she has been performing without a break for almost two years? ” My musical goal is just to be outstandingly good, and produce material that is different and challenging, while working with outstandingly good musicians who I can learn from. And to keep learning and keep improving and keep moving.”

She is clearly inspired by the London music scene: “I think the scene in London is great, there are so many good venues and people are really supportive and encouraging. It’s a great place for new musicians to thrive and cut their teeth. I’ve met a lot brilliant musicians that I would love to work with just by doing as many gigs as I possibly can.

D’Arcy and Pink are musicians to watch out for. They are delighting crowds in small venues wherever they play. If you are a lover of Winehouse, Simone et al you will surely not be disappointed.

D’Arcy and Pink’s tunes on SoundCloud (Rachel’s descriptions are goven after each song name):

Robots. It’s about the distance between us.

Like. It’s about our incessant need to like and be liked and spout absolute drivel online…

What Would Jesus Do

Hey Little Lamb

A video by One Take Films.

Some of the venues that you are likely to find them playing at:

Ain’t Nothing But Blues bar – 20 Kingly Street, London
Powers Bar – 332 Kilburn High Road
Live Lounge, Hippodrome – Leicester Square, London
Earl of Portobello Pub, Goldborne Road, London W10
The AlleyCat Bar, 4 Denmark Street
The Great Exhibition, 193 Crystal Palace Road, Dulwich
Experimental Cocktail Club (ECC), 13A Gerrard Street,, Chinatown
The Regent, Balham

The Spice of Life Pub, 6 Moor Street, Soho

Gerrys, Dean Street

Ruby Sings, Ronnie Scott’s Bar, 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month
Old Vic Pit bar
Three Blackbirds Pub, Newmarket

Also played:
EAT Festival, Wilderness Festival, Mitch Winehouse presents at Raffles, Scrawl Theatre opening party, Hop Farm Music Festival, Jubilee Street Party, Silverton Street.

Appeared on:
ITV’s Daybreak

Featured in ES Magazine


Rachel D’Arcy on Twitter: Rachel_DArcy

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