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Lost City

What Happened to Whycliffe?

12 January 05 words: Jared LeftLion
photos: David Bowen

"There was so much happening to me at such a young age that I couldn't quite cope with it all. It's one of dem ting innit!"

Whycliffe - Photograph by David Bowen

Donovan Whycliffe Bromwell has been a regular face on the streets of Nottingham for the past few years. Nowadays he's the guy who sings for a quid in the city centre and lives in a sheltered housing complex. Back in the nineties, however, in what must now seem like a previous life to him, he was an upcoming soul singer, signed to MCA, selling out the Hammersmith Odeon, supporting the Godfather of Soul James Brown and dating Aussie babe Dannii Minogue. Everyone has a past, every person a story to tell. Not many, however get as close to the big time as Whycliffe did, only to see it all crumble in front of him. I met up with him one weekday afternoon in his local pub to hear his story...

Are you originally from Nottingham?
I'm born and bred in Notts. I was born in the city hospital and I was brought up in Broxtowe. I left school and had a few different little jobs. I went to college for a bit to try and better myself, but my attendance was poor so they kicked me out.

When did you first start singing?
I always liked music. When I was a little baby I remember being in the living room with my mum and she put a tape on and we were dancing. My dad used to play the guitar in the church and he taught me how to play keyboards. Whenever I saw popstars on the TV I wanted to be them.

Whycliffe disappears into the Forest Recreation Ground - Photo by David Bowen

What venues have you played in around the city?
I played at the YMCA, the Narrowboat, I headlined the Wollaton Park festival one year. I was signed to MCA records in New York when I was nineteen or twenty. I did a recording for a guy called Tim Andrews and he sent it off to loads of record companies for me. Eventually they picked up on it and signed me.

It must have been exciting for you at such a young age...
It was an amazing time! I went all over the world and did music videos and stuff. We recorded videos in Los Angeles. One was called Heaven and one was called One More Time. I had longer hair then, but the locks were implanted. The second video I did was even more surreal.

Did you ever get in the UK charts
I didn't get to the top forty in this country. The best I got was number 52 or something. I went on tour around Europe with London Beat tho and that was exciting.

They were the guys who did that `I've been thinking about you' song, right? What were they like?
They were sound. I got on well with them. There were nuff jokes and lots of taking the mickey out of each other. We just used to playfight with each other all the time. We used to have this games called `face grab city' and used to run around the tourbus attacking each other.

I understand you also toured with James Brown...
Yeaman! I played Wembley Arena and Birmingham NEC with him. It must have been about 1993. I made sure I got my picture taken with him after the show. We had a bit of a chat. He is definitely the Godfather of soul!

I also heard these rumours about you and Dannii Minogue.
She was on the same record label as me and she liked my music. I was going out with her for a while. She was a really nice girl. She talked to me and made me feel really nice. When I was touring my Rough Side album (1994), I played at the Hammersmith Odeon and she came to meet me after. That was when I first started seeing her. Sometimes you see somebody and think they're really nice and you don't want to spoil them. In my heart she sort of overpowered me. I was so excited that I didn't know what to do. I felt like if I stayed around I might dry things up for her.

Did you ever meet her sister?
Yep. I met Kylie as well. We both played on the Saturday Morning TV Show Live and Kicking. I was on that and there was Zoe Ball and that other guy [Jamie Theakston] presenting. We did the gig and then afterwards we all stood up in a line to meet Kylie. She shook hands with us all one by one. It was like how the queen comes to say hello.

So what happened with the second album Journeys of the Mind?
With Journeys of the Mind I think I thought of a name that would capture the imagination and had everything about what I was doing in it. It was like a trip about loads of things. I wrote most of the songs on that album too and it was produced by Chris Porter, who at the time was also George Micheal's producer. I was excited about the prospect of working with him. After doing all of the first album myself, I wasn't sure whether to put my nose in and to try and have a big part in it or whether I should just let him at it. Sometimes I think about it and think that it was good that Chris Porter did it, but at other times I think I should have put more into it.

So where did it go wrong from there?
After Journeys of the Mind I went into my own mind and deep into myself. I got ill. It's hard to remember much of what happened, but it was a downward spiral that I couldn't get out of. I blame it on myself still. I was weak. I'm trying to be strong when I say it, but it ain't easy! There's a lot of things I don't remember...

Was it the fame? Was it drugs?
It was both. It was a bit of everything really! There was so much happening to me at such a young age that I couldn't quite cope with it all. It's one of dem `ting innit! These days I just like singing in town for people.

Whycliffe Video

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