EVEN the most knowledgeable of music fans would be hard pressed to tell you much about Faye Treadwell.

Some might know that she was associated with one of the most successful vocal groups of all time, The Drifters, but the real story of one of the great trailblazers in popular music has largely gone unnoticed - until now.

The Drifters Girl, the hit musical which played to sold out audiences in London’s West End, is heading to Manchester next week on its first UK tour.

Lancashire Telegraph: Carly Mercedes Dyer as Faye Treadwell 
in The Drifters Girl

Carly Mercedes Dyer plays Faye Treadwell having taken over from Beverley Knight who portrayed her on the London stage.

“Until I went to see the show in London I didn’t know who Faye Treadwell was,” said Carly. “I also didn’t realise how many of the Drifters’ songs I knew - what a back catalogue.”

The Drifters Girl is part juke box musical showcasing the many hits of the Drifters including Saturday Night at the Movies, Under the Boardwalk and Save the Last Dance for Me, and part biography of the woman who managed the group with a steely determination fighting prejudice every step of the way.

“When I first saw the show I just thought as a black woman, how did I not know about Faye Treadwell?” said Carly. “It’s an honour and a privilege to play this part and to get to tell her story among all these amazing songs.

“I went to watch it as I had lots of friends in it and I remember thinking ‘this is amazing’ and being so overwhelmed by the excellence of what I was seeing and seeing all these black artists at the top of their game doing something so exceptional.

“I went back to see it again as it was so good. I knew Faye was a great role but at that point I wasn’t thinking ‘oh I want to do that’. Then when I was approached about doing it I had to think ‘can I put my money where my mouth is’ and accept the challenge. I’m so glad I did.”

Lancashire Telegraph: The Drifters Girl                             (Picture: Johan Persson)

First alongside her husband George and then following his death in 1967 on her own, Faye Treadwell managed the Drifters. The group has a remarkable history - effectively becoming a franchise with more than 60 different vocalists having performed as part of the group over the years including Ben E King, Johnny Moore and Clyde McPhatter. Amid all the line-up changes, Faye Treadwell remained the constant stabilising presence fighting legal battles and racial prejudice seemingly every step of the way.

“For me there is a responsibility to do justice to a woman who has gone unnoticed for far too long,” said Carly. “Once I got the role I really started to do my research. You have to do your homework, you can’t just go on stage and say the words. You have to understand the character.

“You have to appreciate that Faye Treadwell was very much a woman in a man’s world. The Sixties were a time when it was unheard of for a woman to do what she was doing. Now we like to think that women can do anything but back then it certainly wasn’t like that. She was the first of her kind.”

Carly comes to The Drifters Girl after an award-winning performance in the musical Anything Goes - she picked up the The WhatsOnStage Award for Best Supporting Performer in 2022. She has also appeared in Six, Hadestown and was part of the original London cast of Dreamgirls.

“I have been lucky to be part of some great shows,” she said, “but this role is a real step up for me. I certainly couldn’t have done it even five years ago.

“I remember asking for the script to be sent when I got the part so I could get ahead of learning the lines. I got my highlighter out and realised that I was on every page. I knew then I’d definitely need another highlighter!

Lancashire Telegraph: Carly Mercedes Dyer as Faye Treadwell in The Drifters Girl

“When you are faced with a role like this it can be a bit daunting at first. It’s only natural to wonder ‘how am I going to remember all those lines?’. But I like to do things that scare me.

“You just have to throw yourself into it although I do sometimes wonder why don’t I try to have an easy life,” she laughed.

After spending next week at the Opera House The Drifters Girl will remain on the road until May next year but Carly is looking forward to the challenges of such an extensive tour.

“I’ve only toured with two shows until now - Dance Til Dawn and then a mini-tour with Anything Goes before it went to the Barbican so this will be a new experience for me,” she said.

“But I’m really enjoying it at the moment as you do get to see these beautiful places. But our schedule at the moment is so tight, that you don’t really get much time to explore.”

On stage the show’s own version of The Drifters belt out the band’s many hits but what makes The Drifters Girl so different is that Carly’s vocals tell the story.

“It’s the best of both worlds for the audience,” she said. “They get all the hits but they also discover this amazing journey that Faye went on.You get all this great music, and you get some insight into the person who drove them to achieving all this success.”

The Drifters Girl, Opera House, Manchester, Tuesday, October 10 to Saturday, October 14. Details from www.atgtickets.com