Music interview: Rosie Doonan

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Rosie Doonan is an accomplished musician, singer and songwriter, but her life nearly went in a different direction. Julie Marshall reports.

Music has been part of Rosie Doonan’s life for as long as she can remember.

Her grandfather John was a world champion piccolo player, her father is Mick Doonan, one of the founding members of 70s electric-folk outfit Hedgehog Pie and latterly a member of The Solicitors soul band and The Mighty Doonans family folk band – of which Rosie and her younger sister Frances are members.

The Doonan family home was always filled with music and musicians and Rosie learned to play a variety of instruments at an early age. She is proficient in piano, guitar, bass, saxophone and tenor saxophone, writes and records music and travels all over the world.

Her CV includes tours with Peter Gabriel and Birdy, two solo albums, Moving On (2007) and Pot of Gold (2010) and an EP she recorded last year under the name of her alter-ego, the boogie-woogie singer Cissie Redgwick.

Her latest project is a Leeds-based three-handed band Crybabycry which she formed in 2014 with a couple of friends and which is already receiving rave reviews.

A booker from Glastonbury saw their video on YouTube and invited them to pitch for a slot at this summer’s festival. They are down to a shortlist of 140 from the thousands who applied and are waiting to hear if they have made the final eight.

But if it were not for an eagle-eyed music tutor at Pontefract NEW College, Rosie, who hails from Wakefield, may never have realised her potential as a singer.

She had enrolled on a performing arts course and was all set to take up acting when the tutor recognised her name and wanted to know if she was related to the Tyneside Doonans of long-standing musical fame.

When she revealed that was indeed the case, the tutor assumed she could sing and matched her with three other girls and told them to go away and write a song.

As the Sweet Nothings, they came up with an acapello four-part harmony that was good enough to make it to the finals of the National Festival of Music and Youth at the Albert Hall.

Rosie said: “It was an amazing experience and made me realise all I wanted to do was sing and play music.”

Rosie and one other member of the Sweet Nothings went off to London and spent three-and-a-half years working the clubs.

She said: “It was really awful and such hard work. We started right at the bottom and went to all the open mike nights. We were little fish in a big pond but we learned a lot.”

After collaborations with Richard Evans and Ben Murray, with whom she won a Radio 2 folk award for their album Mill Lane, she launched her solo career in 2006.

The next six years were spent giging with her band until she was approached by fledging record company Cuckoo Records of Leeds who were looking for new talent.

“They’d heard my solo albums and wanted to work with me. Originally they wanted to create something that was a bit Kate Bush-like because they said they heard a bit of her in my voice. We were all set to do that when I got a phone call to say they’d decided we could do an electro-swing EP instead.

“I was really pleased, I’d always wanted to sing this type of music, I’m a huge fan of the Andrews Sisters, but as it’s such a departure from my folk music I needed a new identity. I found out that my gran, who died when I was a child, loved the Andrews Sisters too, so I decided to borrow her name, I’m sure she’d have been thrilled.

“When we were doing the photo shoot for the CD cover I got to wear some amazing Cath Kidston clothes and I fell in love with 1940s style.”

The EP Gimme That Swing was released on Youtube and it has already had 600,000 hits.

It was another chance encounter that resulted in CryBabyCry being formed in 2014. Rosie met up with musician and singer Jonny Firth who she known since she was 14-years old. She sang in his band and he played guitar in hers. One night a band that had been booked to play at xxx cancelled at the last minute so Rosie and Jonny drafted in drummer Nicci Todd who played in both their solo bands and they put together an impromptu set to save the day. Rosie says: “We had such a good reaction that we decided to do something with it and we played a few gigs and the response was brilliant. We’ve been described as Black Keys meets Nancy Sinatra with dirty riffs and nice sweet vocals. I sing and play bass, Jonny sings and plays electric guitar and Nici plays drums. It’s unusual to have two girls and one guy in a band, especially when the girls play bass and drums but it seems to work.

CrybabyCry are releasing their latest single at Brudenell Social Club Leeds on April 10. A limited-edition six-track CD will be available on the door for those that get in early. If you miss out a four-track version will be released online.

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