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Darby Mills has new group after long Headpins career

Performers from ‘80s bands to play one of their first shows in Victoria
Darby Mills, who spent much of the last three decades as frontwoman for the Headpins, has a new group — the Darby Mills Project. They're performing Friday at the Tally-Ho in Victoria.


What: The Darby Mills Project with the Farkle Garage Band
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m. (doors at 7)
Where: Tally-Ho Sports Bar and Grill, 3020 Douglas St.
Tickets: $20 at Tally-Ho Sports Bar and Grill


Darby Mills is starting over in 2016, leaving behind a career with one of the most popular Vancouver rock bands of the 1980s.

Mills is officially a solo artist for the first time in years, having spent much of the past three decades as the frontwoman for the classic rock group Headpins. News that she has left Headpins will be a surprise to some, but Mills had no intention of hiding her departure from the group during a recent interview to promote her Friday-night concert at the Tally-Ho in Victoria.

“I am no longer with the Headpins,” the 56-year-old said from her home in Vernon, where she was born and raised. “A few business decisions that the leader of the band was making I was not game with.”

Mills said she informed Headpins members of her decision in December and had agreed to stay on until the end of 2016, presumably to honour the band’s previous tour commitments. Due to what she calls “situations,” she decided to make an early exit in August. “It’s unfortunate, but what can you do? You’ve got to be happy with yourself and happy with your decisions.”

Mills and the newly formed Darby Mills Project will play one of their first shows as a unit in Victoria, but members of the group have plenty of stage experience, Mills said. The project was culled from three bands that ruled the B.C. club scene during the 1980s: the Knobs, Wildchild and Steelback. The latter group gave Mills her start in 1978, when the Vancouver rock scene was humming.

“It’s wonderful because we have that camaraderie already and that mutual respect,” Mills said of her bandmates, joking: “We were there at the same time and know how much of a sh--show the ’80s were.”

The Headpins started as a side-project for Chilliwack members Brian McLeod and Ab Bryant, and future Loverboy drummer Matt Frenette. The group underwent further changes before settling on the lineup that produced 1982’s Turn it Loud, released in the U.S. on the label that was home to AC/DC. A successful second album (1983’s Line Of Fire) and tours with several prominent rock bands at the time (including Whitesnake and KISS) led to the assumption that the Headpins would be one of Canada’s next big exports.

That never materialized. Mills — whose trademark blues-inflected voice remains in fine shape — also had some chances with projects of her own during the early ’90s, but those didn’t pan out, either. “That era, videos were king. Video killed the radio star — that’s what was happening. I could not compete with the likes of [’80s singer] Jody Watley.”

There is no pension in rock ‘n‘ roll. As such, she’s ready to play as a solo artist some of the same bars and clubs she did 30-plus years ago with the Headpins. “There’s nothing in rock ‘n‘ roll, I hate to break the news to ya. It’s a high five and ‘You guys sounded awesome.’ It’s a crazy business.”

She hopes to reinvent her career in the years ahead, but vows to retain what made Mills such a likable frontwoman in the first place. “I just happened to trip and stumble into the Headpins, which made me a character that fronted that band for those years. I don’t regret it, but I became prolific at being that character. It’s wonderful to have the experience to do other things.”

Those in attendance Friday night will find Mills in fine shape. She taught taekwondo for years and her voice shows few signs of rust. Her fans from way back will find much to like about the Darby Mills Project, she promised. “I’ve got disco in my roots, country in my roots. I’ve listened to just about every genre and dislike very few. If the sound and the groove move you, what difference does it make who’s playing it or what it’s called? To me, music is a feel, it’s an emotion.”

She will miss playing sets under the Headpins banner, though her hits with the group will fill a prominent place in her new project’s setlist. Does she see a reconciliation in her future? Perhaps not. Time is ticking and Mills has things she wants to cross off her bucket list.

“[The Headpins] were playing wonderful shows and supporting some massive acts, and it was all wonderful. But it was not fulfilling ... I hope to have 10 more years in this industry and there are things I would like to accomplish in that time. If not now, when?”