Delia Glaister died peacefully in St John's Hospice, Lancaster, on Wednesday 19th March at 11:30am

Delia Glaister. 1933-2008. An appreciation.
by Alan Duckles

Delia, who died on the 19th March, after a long and courageous battle with cancer, was well known as one of the finest blues and gospel singers in the country. Her voice, of unusual timbre and pitch, combined with an unerring ear for the nuances of the material, put her well ahead of most of her contemporaries. An aspiring soloist from the age of six or seven, she was impelled to sing the blues after discovering the music of the great Bessie Smith, who became her idol. But this was only one of her areas of interest. Folk music of all kinds, and also the gospel singing of such exponents as Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe were equally attractive to her, and provided rich additions to her vast repertoire. She had a truly astonishing range of material – gospel, folk, standards, vaudeville and lowdown blues were all within her grasp, and she could switch style and mood in an instant. A truly remarkable talent.

Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, Delia concentrated on folk music, in association with Greg Stephens, with whom she frequently broadcast on BBC Radio’s “Folkweave” programme. Some time after the programme went off the air, Delia joined the newly-formed New Riverside Jazz Band of Lancaster, in about 1982, thereby renewing a long-standing friendship with cornettist Alan Duckles, with whose band she had sung in the late Fifties, and early Sixties. This was the band which originated the now-famous Jazz at the Outgate Inn sessions, which continue to this day. Festival work followed, and a couple of trips abroad, to Rendsburg, Lancaster’s twin town. 

Around 1993, she was invited to join the Quayside Hot Stompers, led by Tom Culbert, which became the focus of further festival activity. The recordings Delia made with both bands ensured that her voice became known nationally and internationally, as copies found their way around the world. She was heard on local radio in New Orleans, in a programme devoted entirely to the music of the Quayside Hot Stompers. Her church concerts with the New Riverside Band were heard and appreciated across the North-west. These programmes were her particular pride, and invariably contained at least one example of her rare talent for a capella singing.

Altogether, Delia was a talent to be reckoned with, and one who will be sorely missed.

Alan Duckles (RIP 2018)         

An article on jazz & blues singer Delia Glaister, written by Sue Parish,
and reproduced by kind permission of the Lancaster Guardian

When Delia Glaister was a little girl a piano-playing postman started her singing. She's now so in demand for her stirring performances that one promoter has booked her annually for the rest of her life!

Delia sings jazz, blues, spirituals and gospel. Her voice is rich, resonant, and amazingly low. She picks unusual material and makes it her own, and whether accompanied by a single piano, or by a riproaring New Orleans jazz band, is one of the most distinctive singers around. 

As a child she was surrounded by music: "My dad played banjo and ukulele - my mother played the gramophone! I wanted to be Shirley Temple and be in the pictures - I used to tap dance on the linoleum. And then when I was six or seven I used to go next door, where they had the only piano in the street. The chap who lived there was a postman, and he used to invite me in to sing."

As a teenager she sang in choirs, including one based at Lancaster's Co-op store, and began to develop as a soloist. "We used to go to Ed's Coffee bar on New Street - someone played the guitar, so I sang. I'd sing anywhere, me!" 

Soon the jazz bug bit her, along with a singer who has been a lifelong inspiration: "The jazz revival in 1956 got me into the blues and Bessie Smith. She's just completely different from anybody else. Nobody comes up to her."

From the 60's Delia was increasingly in demand. She and husband Bill ran the Plough Inn at Galgate for 10 years and she joined the Riverside Jazz Band who rehearsed there. She also worked with guitarist Mike Deighan, who later played with popular band the Temperance Seven. 

Along with local guitarist Greg Stephens she recorded a series of shows broadcast by the BBC Radio Two Folkweave programme in 1979. "I thought I'd made it - and then Folkweave went off the air." she observes, ruefully. She nearly got onto television - recording a musical setting of a poem by Adrian Mitchell for Granada. Sadly the piece hit the cutting room floor when producers decided it was too controversial for the religious slot it was destined for.

More recently, visits to Lancaster's twin town Rendsbourg saw riotous times, with Delia performing at an extravaganza which also featured the Rendsbourg-based Storeyville Jazz Band and a band from Aalborg, Lancaster's other twin town. "At the end of the night we all jammed together - they were three sheets to the wind, but the music was wonderful. Someone even plonked a potted chrysanthemum in the top of the sousaphone. It got a great write up in the paper!"

Delia now appears at festivals across the country, singing with the Quayside Hot Stompers, and the New Riverside Jazz Band, and also working as a duo with pianist Tom Culbert. 

One speciality of the New Riverside Jazz Band is church-based services of spirituals and gospel material. Which is how Delia and her colleagues come to have a lifetime engagement. She explains: "After we'd done the church service at Pickering a couple of times they asked if we'd be happy to carry on every year. So we are going to do Pickering jazz festival in perpetuity - until we pop our clogs!"

Delia continues to find new musical challenges, and explore new material: "I like to do stuff that other people don't do." she says. "And I try to change the songs, or they get flat."

"I'm a show-off really I suppose. I used to be very shy, and if I thought I was going to sing a wrong note my voice would go all quiet, but I don't care now. If I sing a wrong note, I sing a wrong note. I'd like to sing till I drop."

Anyone who sings as well as Delia has every right to show off, as her adoring fans will testify. If you want to catch her locally you should get down to the Wagon and Horses on St George's Quay and see her making her mark with the New Riverside Jazz Band every Thursday night.

Sue Parish   

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See also the tribute night for Delia Glaister & Malcolm Hall

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