THE SOUNDS OF DOWNS
Sussex Life|September 2020
THE SOUNDS OF DOWNS
Rose Elinor Dougall was a founding member of girl band The Pipettes before going solo and working with superproducer Mark Ronson. So how did lockdown in Lewes inspire her creativity?
Jeremy Blackmore

Singer-songwriter Rose Elinor Dougall finds herself inescapably drawn to the county where she grew up and took her formative steps into music. She cannot help but be inspired by the dramatic landscapes of Sussex, choosing the beauty and grandeur of Cuckmere Haven and Seven Sisters as locations for the photoshoot for her recent album A New Illusion.

Rose has spent the past 15 years touring the world, first with Brighton girl group The Pipettes and latterly as a solo artist and with superstar producer Mark Ronson. Although she is now based in London, she retreats to the Sussex countryside every few weeks. Lockdown was spent at her mother’s house in the countryside outside Lewes. It was a real antidote at a troubling time, but it is a journey she makes on a regular basis.

“Every few weeks I need to get out of London, come down and be among those different landscapes. I feel that’s where I belong. I feel very, very attached to the landscapes of Sussex. I’ve been going to the Ashdown Forest all my life. That’s a really important place for me. It’s a very different kind of landscape to the South Downs which I also spend a lot of time walking around.”

Rose moved to Brighton with her parents and brother Tom – guitarist in the band Toy – when she was 13. It was a period of musical discovery. She devoured her musician father Alastair’s large record collection, which included plenty of Sixties folk albums, while her mother was also a huge music fan. “I was never going to get away from it!” she laughs.

By her mid-teens music became important to her on her own terms. She found herself drawn to strong female voices from the pop/rock of Debbie Harry (Blondie) and Justine Frischmann (Elastica) to the folk/blues of Joni Mitchell and Karen Dalton and the jazz stylings of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. “Strong female voices are something that I’ve always been really drawn to. I need to hear those voices. They’re very important to me,” she says.

Rose started to find the confidence to play her own music, learning piano at Squeeze Box in Brighton run by Jem Hannam.

“I was playing piano and singing. Then we’d do little shows, doing covers. It was a really amazing learning experience as a young teenager. That was my first taste of all that. I was very shy and introverted when I was at school, so I didn’t actually expect to find myself on stage, but it was something that came surprisingly naturally.”

Brighton’s music scene was particularly vibrant in the early 2000s, spawning Electric Soft Parade, British Sea Power, Bat for Lashes, the Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, Tenderfoot and Electrelane. Living between the Metway and Mark Beatty’s Mockin’ Bird studios in Kemp Town, Rose recalls watching a steady stream of young boys walking past with guitars on their backs. “Just walking down The Lanes, there was such a strong sense of music being a really strong focus for the town. It was only a matter of time before I was going to join. I do feel a bit sad that there are a number of really amazing venues that don’t exist anymore. Brighton’s always had a really strong music focus.

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September 2020