Every year the GoldenPlec community of writers and photographers (50+) come together to vote on their ones to watch for the upcoming year. After pulling the votes together, we select our 'Plec Picks' for 2018. We have classical artists alongside rap, jazz, funk, grunge and anything in between. Our list strives to encompass a broad spectrum of music in order to highlight the thriving music scene that exists in Ireland.
Singer-songwriter is a ubiquitous term, especially in Ireland; it conjures up imagery of tweed jackets, and the sullen gash bang wallop of acoustic guitars being mishandled to the point that the trees in closest proximity cry in fear that this might be their afterlife.
Thankfully, Rosborough isn’t one of those singer-songwriters. He’s a curious and thoughtful singer-songwriter who sees a sonic tapestry beyond the reach of his lesser brethren, a tapestry of sound which only the lucky few see.
Rosborough’s journey has taken him across Europe supporting the likes of Seafret and Mew, but he is very much a product of Derry.
“We're quite a small town, which is handy for a musician. You're never too far away from finding someone to jam with.”
Rosborough describes himself as being “curious and a bit mischievous” as a child. “I was an excitable child. I think maybe my teachers at school would frame that differently,” he says laughing. “I was a quite hyperactive child - it [music] was a great outlet for me.”
While Rosborough may not have been a popular student with his teachers, at home his real education was taking place at an accelerated rate. Unlike your average household he recalls music being “like real life in our house.”
“It was always surrounding you growing up in that sort of environment.” As well as his parents extensive vinyl collection “there was the old acoustic guitar, sitting in the corner and a book on the shelf with three chord songs in it.”
Sometime around his 10th birthday, he recalls: “I got the book and stumbled my way through Johnny B Good for about a month. It just took hold from there.” That book has kept Rosborough in good stead to this day, as evidenced by his cover of Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth for Paul McLoone’s Today FM show. “That's one of the ones when I was learning guitar that I used to play all the time. I think the message in it is quite applicable to the times we've got. There's seems to be a lot of bubbling unrest in people, but they've maybe not found an outlet to let that out just yet.”
“There was a real joy about the fables and the stories” he says, referring to the Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin records that straddled the shelves of his childhood home. “The all-encompassing rock ethos; it was kind of celebrated in our house, there's nothing more attractive than that especially when you're wee show off. That avenue of more experimental stuff - Bowie, Bush - I latched onto that. I love metal, I love punk, but there's something extra when someone creates this...different world. I think that speaks to you when you're an A-typical teenager. That kind of warms you; it's okay to be weird.”
Rosborough’s opportunity to show off his musical skills outside the home were limited initially because “a lot of my friends were into football, it took a while until I had people to play music with. Most of my teenage years were spent locked in my bedroom with headphones on trying to work out my favourite songs.” It wasn’t until his mid-teens that he finally had people to play with and he fondly remembers these tentative steps, trying to play Nirvana on gear held together with gaffer tape. “It’s probably the best time when you're a musician, there's nothing else there but the songs that you love.”
“My own personal tastes then were Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Bjork - it was always stuff that everyone older than me was listening to, and because I was young and playing guitar they would pass it on.
"Bands from Britain didn't seem experimental enough. I found what was happening with American music had more creativity and more giving the middle finger to everyone creating this special sound; that raw energy, huge guitars, massive drums, you can't deny it."
At 16, Rosborough left school to study music, attending a local Technical College rather than continuing down the traditional educational path. There’s no hint of regret as he fondly recounts gigs booked as fake birthday parties in boat clubs and beyond around Derry. “That gave us the space to try things out because there's a difference between playing in your garage and playing on stage, the main thing is it's absolutely terrifying.” However the freedom to perform was outweighed by the opportunity to explore.
“We were given all this equipment to play with and trained how to use it. It was the first time I was able to make my own demos. You could sit in a room and experiment. Study your own playing; more than you can with the immediacy of jamming. I think that was the best gift that I got from college, being able to do things on my own.
“I was always obsessed with songs more than anything. 'What makes this song work?' 'Why do they use that instrument?' 'Why does that certain chord change provoke this reaction in me?' So it gives you that time to study it see how your brain translates that.”
Rosborough believes that provoking a reaction in yourself is one of the main objectives for a songwriter and in order to do that you must keep things fresh. “I try to keep creative by throwing myself off. One day I'll write on guitar, next I'll sit at the piano and try and get a song out of it. It's one of the things as a musician, anytime you look at an instrument you think 'I bet there's a song in that somewhere'.”
He is grateful to live in a time when the search for new sounds is easier than ever. “All you needs a laptop, a wee keyboard and a guitar and suddenly you've got 60 instruments. I don't think anyone should ever be afraid of exploiting that.”
Rosborough cites James Vincent McMorrow as a good example for modern musicians to follow. “I find the way he approaches music mirrors my sentiment exactly. You've got a song; you've created it, go for it, make it and don't be afraid to just keep putting stuff out there.”
He believes that McMorrow’s choice to release two albums in a year is one more artists should be brave enough to take. “I think sometimes you can be a bit precious about what you are writing. Don't hold onto things, don't harbor things. It's about growth, it's not about making a product, that's someone else’s job, your job is to write songs. I would get extremely bored if I worked like that.”
“I didn't wake up one day and say, 'today I'm Rosborough'" he says in a upper class parody accent, commenting on his own growth from primary songwriter in a band to solo artist. “I'd started writing stuff that didn't really reflect the band…it felt like it was a time to make a change. I'd always been the main writer, but I never had the confidence to stand up by myself, but with this material it was, 'you know what, this really is me'.”
Rosborough’s debut single, Burn Blue, was released last year to critical acclaim. It reflects the turmoil of this transition to solo artist and ponders the celestial significance of life.
“You get wrapped up in endings...but there's something nice when you stand back and realise that life is just a series of transitions. You can celebrate the sadness of it without living the sadness of it. I think you have to appreciate that it is peaks and troughs.
"Around this time I was hanging out the back yard with a telescope looking at stars; how they have this transition over million and millions of years, this slow change until they burn lots of hydrogen and get really, really hot just before they die and then they disappear. There's something epic about that which when you apply it to your simple problems, it makes you lighten up a bit.”
Rosborough was expecting Burn Blue to burn slowly like the Blue Giants that inspired him - instead it was picked up by radio. “I was expecting just to have something on the internet just to make reference to. I never fathomed that it would get played on the radio.” When we draw comparisons to Suede he isn’t surprised. “It's been mentioned. I like Suede, but I've never actively listened to Suede. I'm kind of scared to listen to them in case I latch on to something. I have to say any time I see Suede the thing I love about them most is the swagger.”
“I don't really play that anymore.” He says when we suggest his song The Darkest Part of You is Me as a potential single. “My drummer mentioned that a few days ago. It's really strange, both of you saying that because I'd completely forgotten about it” he says slightly perplexed. “Because I'm writing all the time, it's a bit 'oh that was then what about now'. Maybe I should revisit it, but maybe one shit live video of it existing adds a bit of mystery to it.”
Surprisingly for someone who feels lucky to live in a time when a laptop can be turned into an orchestra Rosborough isn’t sold on the internet. “I work under the theory that if you don't have control, someone else will control you. You can feel pressurised to flood the internet with content, I don't know if I'm comfortable with that. Artists can be too fleeting with what they're putting out there - telling people what you've brushed your teeth with, I just don't think much of it’s interesting.”
When we tell him that we found information on him thin on the ground in preparation for this interview, he replies “I'm kind of quite proud of that...” Rosborough’s purposefully mysterious persona continues through his songs and he admits to leaving Easter Eggs throughout his lyrics. “There’re hidden messages in them, but I'm not prepared to tell anyone because the theories you get from people are brilliant.”
Rosborough is happy to tell us the weirdest answer he’s received yet. “Chem trails...The theory that airplanes are pumping chemicals…because the world's filled with lizard people, the chemicals they’re pumping out is to change the make-up of our atmosphere so that these lizards can live -now bear with me- on a planet that is right beside ours. The dude had a 15 minute conversation with me and I'm like, 'where did this come from?' I went searching and there's a couple of websites dedicated to it. I don't know if they fully believed it, but they entertained the fact that there are lizards…and they are a functioning member of society.”
Just as mysterious to Rosborough is the fact that Snow Patrol appear to be fans, with members having turned up to his show at The Great Escape festival this summer.
“Someone had mentioned about a month before that that one of the Snow Patrol guys had recommended me to someone else and I've no clue how on earth I could be on their radar, it's really strange how small the music world gets at times. It was a really nice thing to find out, it's nice to find out that anyone likes you for God's sake.”
Rosborough also got to experience Other Voices this winter. “Now that was crazy, because when you're a kid and you watch it on TV, it's one of those things you imagine yourself doing; and then I’m in a car driving to Kerry, and then you're on stage it was so surreal. Magic atmosphere…you’re so used to going to festivals and there being good sides and bad sides, but there's nothing bad about Other Voices.”
In typical mysterious fashion Rosborough tells us there’s a single in the pipeline for spring but can’t tell us the name of the song just yet. “It's a song that I absolutely love, for anyone that's ever seen us live; I suppose they deserve to know more than anyone else because they've come. The last song in the set is the next single. I'd say it's close to Burn Blue but it's a little bit more explosive at times. It's pretty trippy actually.” In the meantime Rosborough will be embarking on an Irish tour on January 24th before heading to the UK in February.
Update: Rosborough's aforementioned secret second single Another Lesson is out now. Check out the video below.
Other Northern Irish acts Rosborough would recommend include Waldorf and Cannon (“I actually have the number one of their vinyl, that's my claim to fame”), Roe, Touts and Ryan Veil. And he has recently fallen for Dublin’s Bitch Falcon. “The guitar tone is just...it's like Jimi Hendrix joined a modern grunge band. It's just unbelievable.”