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Don't try to pigeonhole Doris Brendel

Daughter of renowned pianist Alfred Brendel has very much followed her own path

Trish Lee

trish lee


01635 886663

Don't try to pigeonhole Doris Brendel

Some may remember last year’s Newbury Spring Festival concert at St Lawrence Church, Hungerford, when the great British pianist Imogen Cooper, with her colleagues Henning Kraggerud and Adrian Brendel, brought an all-Beethoven programme to the venue. A creative and innovative cellist, whose versatility encompasses contemporary, jazz and World Music, Adrian is the son of distinguished pianist Alfred Brendel. but what you may not know is that Alfred’s daughter from a previous marriage, Doris, is also a musician who has very much followed her own, very different path and apart from first-class musicianship, she puts on incredibly visual shows, “with outlandish steam-punk costumes and even laser gloves”.

Doris Brendel, the rock musician based near Henley-on-Thames, will release her latest album Mass Hysteria on September 1. It is another fine record, made jointly with Lee Dunham (ex-Primary Slave), and it is hard to pigeon-hole with a rich mix of rock, pop, prog, world and acoustic styles, writes NICK DENT-ROBINSON. It also features stunning artwork, with a cover designed by surrealist Igor Morski. The whole approach is very original with each song making a piece of a musical puzzle combining to create a vast soundscape. Unusually, the duo are supported by the same musicians throughout the album with Sam White on drums, Jacob Stoney on keyboards and Ewan McIntosh on bass. Lee Dunham asked John Mitchell (Lonely Robot, It Bites) to mix and master – which has resulted in a more cohesive approach with a uniquely powerful sound that marks out this record as something rather exceptional. The album will be available on CD, vinyl and download – with the CD featuring three additional tracks to the vinyl version

DORIS Brendel is without question one of the most accomplished and exciting live singers anywhere and her performances are amazing, combining superb musicianship with an outlandish stage presence and state-of-the art special effects. She and her band hope to resume touring with Fish in September.

Yet, Doris didn’t have the most likely background for her life as a powerful rock and blues singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Born in Vienna, where she lived her first 12 years, she is the daughter of Alfred Brendel, one of his generation’s finest classical pianists. Her mother, Iris Hermann-Gonzala, was formerly an opera singer and ceramic artist.

Now into her 50s, Doris is still frantically busy writing and making music. She first found fame fronting up The Violet Hour, a short-lived funk/ blues/jazz band which attracted a cult following – thanks to Doris’ distinctive vocals – at the start of the 1990s as they toured with bigger names like Marillion and Nils Lofgren.

Doris sang in a style some compared with Janis Joplin and she played flute, Irish whistle, saxophone and guitar. Few of the fans who saw her then would have known – or cared – about Doris’ family background or her origins living in Vienna. In those earlier days Doris avoided using her family name, not wishing to draw attention to her heritage.
“Adapting to England at the age of 12 wasn’t hard for me,” Doris says. “I had travelled extensively with my mother. We visited America every summer because my dad often worked there and so I was very used to speaking English. I’d already heard people like Abba and the Bay City Rollers on school friends’ radios in Vienna. I knew English was the language of popular music. But it wasn’t until I started listening to Beatles songs that I really appreciated just how the English language was so right for song lyrics – and what an art song-
writing could be.

“Arriving in England was incredible,” Doris remembers. “Suddenly there was Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen and, much later, people like Radiohead – all just amazing, though my record collection still included Holst’s The Planets and Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf plus a bit of Mozart as well as some Bulgarian folk music. My taste has been eclectic from the start...

“I’d had six years of classical violin lessons and soon learned guitar chords. Writing songs on that guitar became my therapy, an antidote to solitude. Suddenly being immersed in an English boarding school pushed me into socialising. And one of the very first things I did was to start a band.

“I continued performing through my school days and later at university in Leeds where I read German and English. I was gigging all the time I was there. Acoustically at first, performing my own songs solo, but I also supported a lot of other people. It built my confidence and helped me earn extra money. I had wealthy parents but, from the beginning, I wanted to be independent – insisted on it – and I’ve always found ways to make money.

“Then I was in a funk and blues band before being invited to join The Violet Hour around 1990,” Doris said. “I contributed songs like Better Be Good and Could Have Been and I was their vocalist plus played whistle, saxophone and guitar.
“We were signed by Sony and toured with Marillion, John Farnham and Nils Lofgren. But The Violet Hour only made one album, The Fire Sermon. Despite all their talent, the band weren’t destined to be around for long. I left in 1992 expecting to clinch a solo record deal. But that didn’t happen. In fact, all of a sudden, many things went wrong.”

This was a tough time for Doris. Her relationship with her boyfriend suddenly unravelled, leaving her with a big mortgage to pay on the country home she still lives in amid the Chiltern Hills. She couldn’t even drive a car, having never had lessons. And Doris was at a crossroads in her career.

“Fortunately, I am good in a crisis,” Doris said. “I gave myself a couple of weeks to reflect and then I went into action mode.” She quickly filled the house with lodgers to help with her expenses. She took driving lessons and passed her test, did several temporary jobs and launched into various musical projects. These included setting up an acoustic and a cappella group – just called ‘Doris’ – with Sam Brown, Aitch McRobbie and other talented singers.

Then Doris formed a rock band called Holy Cow with a guitarist, a bassist and top rock percussionist Richard Newman on drums. With her skill in playing many instruments and her vocal virtuosity, Doris was soon in big demand. She was doing a wide range of work in various rock bands, covers bands and made several big-selling dance records with the Virgin and London labels which led to many invitations to perform in clubs. She has also worked with Alvin Lee, Joe Brown, Gary Moore, Herbie Flowers, Steve Marriott and Nils Lofgren and became highly regarded across the music business.

Much of this work was lucrative. But Doris continued writing her own material and over the next years she released a series of beautifully-crafted albums, each with an eclectic mix of attractive, innovative material, expertly produced and very prettily packaged. More recently Doris has toured extensively with Wishbone Ash and with Fish, for whom she sang backing vocals on his soon-to-be-released album Weltschmerz.

Doris Brendel and Lee Dunham have now worked together for several years. They received many plaudits for their recent albums Eclectica and Upside Down World. Their new release Mass Hysteria deserves even more stunning success.

For more information about Doris Brendel and the release of Mass Hysteria, go to

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