Anyone who has heard Rosalie Deighton’s potent voice and compelling songs will know that music is her life. In fact, there was music in her world even before she was born. ‘’My mother always told me that she played Emmylou Harris records to me when I was still in the womb,’’ Rosalie says. ‘’Something must have got through because she’s one of my favourite artists to this day.’‘
Born in Holland to an Indonesian mother and a British father, the family moved to Barnsley, Yorkshire when Rosalie was eight. By then she was already a seasoned performer. Her parents were musicians and a popular attraction at folk festivals playing an eclectic repertoire of bluegrass, country and folk as the Deighton Family. By her fourth birthday, Rosalie was playing spoons with the family band (which also included four other siblings) and soon graduated to mandolin.
The Deighton Family toured all over the world and made five albums for the Green Linnet and Rounder labels. In time, they were performing some of the songs Rosalie had begun to write. But it was her parents band and she determined early that in order to forge her own musical identity, she would go solo. ‘’At the age of 13 I knew I had to do it on my own. It was just a matter of time,” she says. By her mid-teens, she was blossoming so rapidly as a songwriter and a performer that it was obvious the family band would not be able to hold her much longer.
The early ’90s were exciting times in British folk music with a whole generation of new performers emerging and one of her first musical excursions away from the family band came when Rosalie and sister Kathleen teamed up with a youthful Kate Rusby, Kathryn Roberts and others to make the album “Intuition”, released on the Fat Cat label in 1993.
Shortly after at the age of 20, she left Yorkshire for London, where she continues to live, and the Deighton Family gracefully retired from the scene. These days, her father is a guitar-maker. Needless to say, Rosalie plays one of his instruments. In London, success appeared to come swiftly. She signed a publishing deal with Chrysalis and a recording deal with EMI soon after. But in a typical record industry scenario, those who had signed her left the label before she had completed an album. A new regime brought with it a new set of musical priorities - and that was that.
After the EMI debacle, Independiente quickly signed Rosalie, releasing the album Truth Drug in 2001. It was a collection of fine songs of both intimacy and power, packed full of winning melodies and sung in a voice that could charm the birds out of the trees. Yet although the reviews were favourable, Rosalie - who is her own sternest critic -didn’t feel it was the album she had really wanted to make.
Everybody involved had their own view on how she should sound and the result was less focussed than she wished. ‘’I was being pushed in different directions and it ended up too middle-of-the-road,’’ she says today. ‘’We recorded and re-recorded and seemed to get further and further away from the spirit of the songs.’’ The experience made Rosalie determined that next time she was going to do it on her own terms. Instead of chasing another deal, she’s been gigging endlessly (‘’that’s my bread and butter, I’ve never had a proper job’‘) and writing songs.
And then writing more songs. ‘’I write every day. I’m scared I’d lose my marbles if I didn’t. It’s a discipline. You can do so much with a song and a guitar. The possibilities are endless,’’ she says. Sometimes she will just go and sit in a coffee shop and listen to the conversations going on around her and jot down ideas and phrases over her cappuccino. Other times, the songs come from deep within her own experience. Like most of the great songwriters, much of her work is rich in delicious melancholy. ‘’I’m not a miserable person at all. But most of the songs I love are pretty dark and my own songs tend to dwell on the downside of romance,’’ she admits. ‘’It’s very rare I write an upbeat song.’‘
Her songwriting heroes comprise all the classic names from Tom Waits to Bob Dylan. Among her fellow female artists, unsurprisingly she’s a huge fan of Emmylou Harris. But she also cites Maria McKee, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Bonnie Raitt and Dolly Parton as inspirations. ‘’It’s the pure, classic singer-songwriter sensibility that really moves me,’‘’ she says. ‘’But I’m also a complete sucker for bluegrass music ever since I heard it at all those folk festivals as a child.’‘
Rosalie’s new album is out in April and the songs are far more raw and stripped down and represent the mature honing of her craft and the culmination of all her experience.