Rosabella Gregory caught my attention on Twitter a couple of weeks ago when Peter Cox (he of Go West fame and my all-time favourite singer) tweeted that he had released a single with her. Having never heard of Rosabella before, I started to dig a little deeper and found her music. A fantastic mix of classical songwriting, or as she describes it “classical songwriting with a filmic twist, infused with improvisational elements” where ultimately “the music, the lyrics, the instrumentation, all serve the story”. Too true!
We started a Twitter chat where I compared her to one of my favourite albums – Tori Amos’ ‘Little Earthquakes’. She was rather chuffed with that, we started a chat and eventually it came down to me asking to interview her.
Rosabella is a British singer-songwriter and Royal Academy of Music graduate. She has performed her music internationally, including supporting the legendary Jools Holland, been interviewed by ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris and also writes the music to many an advert. She has recently released an album called ‘City Stories’ which is music that accompanies a number of short plays that currently have a year long residency at St James Theatre, London.
I understand that you have wanted to compose music since you were 6 years old. Tell me about that.
It sounds a bit cliche but I have only ever wanted to do music. I humoured my parents at school and said that I wanted to be a vet because they made good money! My parents bought a battered old piano at auction for £10 when I was about 5 and the moment I started to discover that you press a button and sound comes back it was an instant connection. We were also a household full of music and I was influenced by my parents who listened to things like Chopin, Beethoven, Rolling Stones and Joni Mitchell – all really enriching music. It was a no-brainer for me.
When did you compose your first piece and what was it?
My Mum thinks it was when I was 7. I remember that I wrote a piece of music and she wrote some lyrics to it. I was always writing silly things on the piano. I learned to play and I wanted to put things together. I grew up in Devon and I think all my friends tried to play at least one musical instrument.
Where does your love of music come from?
I know my parents loved music but I am really interested in the whole ‘where does it come from’. I think of music as another form of communication so I think I was lucky that in my family, and in my parent’s families, access to music has been so open. My father’s mum was a concert pianist and she was also very creative. She did sewing, crochet and painting. I have her old music books and some of the pieces I look at and think ‘these are totally unplayable’ but others have markings and things pencilled in which are specifically to accommodate her and her way of playing. You can see that they were taylored to suit her hands – which were smaller than mine. All of my family – me and my sisters – are musical and we have responded to music and art.
Tell me about your time at the Royal Academy of Music
It was a very scary time. I originally went to Kings College, London when I first left school where I did a straightforward musical academic course but pretty much the moment I got there I knew it was the wrong place. Soon after I started, my father passed away and this really shook me in many ways and made me rethink. I heard about an amazing concert at the Royal Academy and one of the composers was Michael Kamen, the person behind scores for films such as ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’. I had to see it. When I did, I thought ‘ I have to study here’. There was a course for people to write music for films and adverts and the music I was hearing just spoke to me. I met the chap who was head of the course and gave him a cassette of my songs. He liked them and wrote to me to say that he would get me in through the back door! The moment I got there it felt like Christmas.
What did you move on to do after the Royal Academy of Music?
I got a 2:1 in my degree but at the time it really didn’t matter. I got a publishing deal straight away. It kind of overlapped. A company called BMI gave me scholarships whilst at the Academy and then they decided to take me under their wing by sponsoring me and introducing me to different people whilst I was still a student. I sound like I had a really privileged experience but to be honest I found it really intimidating! Eventually a company called Bucks Music gave me a really nice exclusive publishing deal as a songwriter. I had the luxury of going from one musical experience to another. I have always done session music. I learned that I had to do many different things and it was a competitive thing but going to the Academy meant I had plenty of contacts and we all backed each other up and let each other know about opportunities. The networking was great.
Are there any adverts that we would know that you wrote?
There is a laxative advert for Dulcolax that I wrote that has done really well! We have got some really big cheques in the post from it for the last year which has made my tax return very happy. I did a lot of singing for adverts too. I have also done things like British Gas, DFS. Back around 10 years ago, they used to buy you out. I remember doing one for Kodak in a plush studio, something really simple for about 10 seconds then, the next thing you hear is that they have bought it for £5,000. then a week later they call you to say that they want to buy it for another 6 months. The money was ridiculous! Cut to now and do the same job and you wouldn’t even get 10% of that. Things have massively changed and unfortunately it is just not like that anymore.
Are there any albums we can hear you on at the moment?
You can hear me on “From The Roots Up” playing piano for Delilah, and “Dangerous Games” my album which is on iTunes.
I understand that you are moving onto musical scores. Is this something you have done before?
I started there actually. To be honest I find the whole idea of musical theatre a tricky one. I think launching into song can risk feeling forced, like an unnatural step, which requires a big leap of faith from an audience. I like to apply the film music idea of underscoring and hinting at a character’s private universe so that when they do eventually sing, it feels like a natural and logical progression. When it is right, it is so right. I love Les Miserables. It is very emotional and so affecting. There really is something about this particular musical – I cried from the beginning to the end. As well as feeling really upset, it also made me feel euphoric and for a musical to be able to do that is amazing.
When I was younger, my twin sister and I always wrote together. She would write lyrics, come downstairs and put them on the piano and run away and then I would write music to them. We had a lovely dynamic and, crucially, this was my access to words and lyrics. She has an incredible ability as a writer. I had the connection to music and she had a connection to poetry and words and I hear music when I read her lyrics. I never really thought about her words until we were in our teens and I think she was more tentative as this is more exposing than a piece of music. With words you are opening your soul and people can identify with you quicker. We entered a competition in London when we were younger and it was something about writing your own opera. We were just two school kids from Devon having a go and bizarrely we won! People like Tim Rice and Don Black were the people sitting on stage at the Princes Theatre in London giving their feedback and critiquing the pieces and we didn’t realise how seriously people took it! We then went on to win the Vivian Ellis prize. What people didn’t know at the time, was that we didn’t have a finished musical when we entered so when they wanted to do a showcase of our musical, we actually had to write it!
Is your latest album ‘City Stories’ linked to a musical?
City Stories is a really nice recent development. I met a successful playwrite, James Phillips, in London through a mutual friend and, bizarrely his girlfriend was friends with my twin – a serendipitous meeting. I gave his girlfriend a copy of two of my CDs and he really fell for them so he started writing a series of stories and he asked me to score them and turn them into plays with music. This then became a show where I am on stage the whole time. We started last year and, since then, we have done about 15 shows and it has really taken off. It is full of really beautiful stories of is a series of tales about love and magic. I sit on stage and underscore whilst the actors are performing. I believe it helps people to hear the story. The CD is full of the songs that occur in these stories.
Your latest single ‘Better Love Next Time’ is a collaboration with Peter Cox from Go West. How did that come about?
‘Better Love Next Time’ is a song that I had written for my first album and it won the New York Songwriters Circle competition in 2007, so I knew people had given the thumbs up. Peter Cox has a ridiculous voice and my boyfriend has been hired by Go West quite a lot as their drummer. Initially I freaked out because I grew up listening to Go West and, eventually, we started to socialise and I got to meet Peter. He is such a lovely man and it became a nice friendship. I never had the intention of asking him but one day it dawned on me that he would do such a beautiful job and I that I would love to hear him perform one of my songs. I felt like I could access that from him as he was so open and interested in what I did. When I asked him, he couldn’t have been more delighted to accept and I felt so humbled by that. Originally it was never intended as a release, I just wanted to record him singing the song. We had it on YouTube for over a year and Peter’s fans are so loyal and kept asking where they could get hold of it, so we had to make it available.
Where would you like to be in about 10 years time?
There has never been one thing but I am sure that I want to be looking at a body of work that has achieved something – and I don’t mean money! I love the idea of accidentally writing something that is an absolute smash. I think I probably want what most people do when you do something with purpose and that is the recognition of people I respect as much as those people who are going to be affected by it. I want the musical I am working on to go places for me to be seen as a highly regarded composer.
Rosabella Gregory’s single ‘Better Love Next Time‘ featuring Peter Cox is out now to purchase on iTunes, as is her album ‘City Stories‘. She is performing live on May 12th at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean St in London. You can book tickets over on their website.
You can find more information about Rosabella on her website and she is also on Twitter.