In a series called Sounds Northern, Paul Davies shines a spotlight on Northern musicians and bands to watch out for. This week it’s Caoilfhionn Rose. 

Artists often travel to distant places to find inspiration, hoping that a change of scene brings a new perspective. For Didsbury singer-songwriter Caoilfhionn Rose, that inspiration is right on her doorstep in Fletcher Moss Park, which is where I found her on a bright, crisp December morning. 

“It’s somewhere I just love coming to,” she says. “I don’t necessarily come here to write, it’s just my go-to place of solace and I enjoy it.”

As we walk through the rockery she stops suddenly (“ooh – a heron”), displaying the sort of child-like wonder she must have felt on her first visit here at the age of four. Stopping and appreciating what is around us is very much a key theme in several songs on her debut album, Awaken. Rose describes the title track as “about that meeting with nature and escapism, just feeling that peace somewhere”.

As in Free From all the Chaos, her collaboration with Durutti Column, it’s easy to see nature’s influence within the songs on the album. There are references to ‘flowers in the park’, the wind in the trees, and seasonal allusions from ‘the hum of spring’ (Wild Anemones) to the falling leaves (A New Day).

With this emphasis on nature it might be tempting to label Rose as a folk artist, but her voice flits between the fragile indie beauty of Harriet Wheeler, the warm contemporary vibe of Lily Allen, and the smooth easy listening pop-tones of Katie Melua. Caoilfhionn (pronounced Keelin) is keen not to be boxed in, describing herself as “a mixture of folk and psychedelia”.

“Someone described it as folk-edelia and I love that. It’s exciting as you can do lots of different things, not be confined and explore new songs.”

Caoilfhionn 2 credit Rich WilliamsThe album is released in her name but Rose is keen to point out that it’s a collective with friends and band members. Most songs stem from guitar parts and develop organically through production and collaboration. “I used to use it [songwriting] as a therapy. It wouldn’t necessarily be to share or perform but it was a process. With Awaken I was really encouraged to work with friends in the band in different ways.”

Latest single Unravelled came from a choral sample sent from a friend which she jammed lyrics over and it “just came together”.

Initially writing songs with the piano, she found she “was writing the same songs over and over again”. It was while studying music at Newcastle University that Rose discovered the guitar. “I’m more of a piano player than a guitarist so it is weird that the album is mostly guitar songs. With piano it’s learned from a theory perspective but because I don’t have the background in guitar theory I enjoyed making it up.” 

Several songs have that full band sound but some of the album highlights (Being Human and Long Way Round) are sparse and more intimate. I wonder if she would be tempted to release a song with just her voice and a piano.

“Now I have finished the album I am working on new songs and I’ve been drawn back to the piano and trying to improve my playing by learning some classical pieces. It’s been inspiring to go back. I’d like to do maybe a piano and vocals song and make it stem from that.” 

Another theme on the album is nostalgia, most notably in the songs written about an old friend (Amy) and her Gran (Wild Anemones). The latter even features a sample of her Gran.

“It was written when I went to uni,” Rose explains. “It was a project in a folk module where they asked us to interview somebody and write a song based on their perspective and I chose my Gran. We just had the most lovely chat and I think she spoke to me for about two hours. It was lovely to take the time to learn about her and just have a real conversation about her life.”

Caoilfhionn 3 credit Dan WiebeCaoilfhionn’s family has shaped her musical interests. Her mother, a folk fan, was in a choir and her jazz-loving father DJs at a local world music night. “I’ve always been introduced to lots of different sounds. It’s always been there around the house, music in every room.”

Although Rose still lives at home, she’s often on the road. In 2019 there will be more travelling with plans underway for gigs in Denmark as well as more local shows including the Manchester Jazz Festival.

“I really can’t wait to introduce some new songs to the set. I’m really keen to start jamming again with the band. There’s just endless ways of writing music and I think that’s what I enjoy.”

By Paul Davies

Main image Caoilfhionn Rose by Rich Williams


Awaken is out now