The Wylde Interview: Romani Beau
IS IT A BIRD? IS IT A PLANE? IS IT FOLK, POP, OR COUNTRY? YES, IT'S ROMANI BEAU AND HE'S GOING TO RUFFLE A FEW FEATHERS. HE CHATS TO PIPPA BROOKS ABOUT BIG HAIR, JESUS AND DORIAN GRAY...
Portrait by Henry Gorse
Romani Beau hits you initially right in the eyes, looking like the long-lost love child of David Sylvian and Tammy Wynette and then in the ears with his surprisingly Joan Armatrading-esque, yearning vocals. A mass of contradictions made flesh, Romani defies the categorisation of his music by saying it is a blend of folk, country and pop. He has wanted to write songs since he discovered Dolly Parton, models himself on Dorian Gray's portrait in the attic and the bigger his hair gets, the happier he is. This is his first ever interview.
Pippa: Romani Beau is such a romantic sounding name, are you part gypsy?
Romani Beau: My Mum's side of the family has Romany ancestors, there's family photos of them in their Romany caravan. I'd love to live like that. The Beau part of my name is taken from the dandy, Beau Brummell.
What music did you listen to as a child?
Awful pop mostly. Britney Spears was my favourite. S Club 7, Christina Aguilera - all the Mickey Mouse people!
Did you always want to sing growing up?
When I was little I used to sing in the playground but then I had to stop because I was embarrassing my brothers! The headmistress came over where a crowd had gathered around me and was like "I thought someone had hurt themselves!" and I kind of sloped off. I just wanted to sing. I even remember writing songs at7 or 8 - I wrote one then about wanting to go to Disneyland! My brother always brings that up! But I never thought of it as a career really, just something I loved to do…
What kind of a childhood did you have?
I had such an amazing childhood because there were so many of us. I've got six brothers and sisters, two older and two younger with me and my twin Craig in the middle. I've also got six step brothers and sisters. We had a proper English upbringing with fishing, camping, beaches…I loved it so much. We didn't have a lot of money, it was all hand-me-downs and stuff. If I had a tracksuit and it was matching top and bottom - even if it was the cheapest tracksuit - I thought I was dressed up because it was matching!
Home is a recurring theme in your songs, almost a sadness that you can't go home…
Home is my nostalgia for the past. I have a nostalgia for the humbleness and simplicity of home. I love the country but it's too comfortable, I feel like I won't go back until I've done what I have to do. I'm naturally an introvert and I like to be on my own but I need to be closer to London, to the music scene.
When did you switch from enjoying singing to wanting to do it full time?
I heard Dolly Parton. I worship that woman! I heard this song of hers called The Grass is Blue - it's a really depressing song! That song really hit me. Then I found out she wrote I Will Always Love You and 9 to 5 and I just really wanted to write myself. Then from there I found Bluegrass, that's my favourite kind of music. I love Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss. I love country but not the more mainstream stuff. For the last six years I've been writing songs constantly.
Have you been playing live, can we come and hear you sing?
I play a lot in Guildford and I played at the last Softly Softlyfolk session in Crouch End last month, it was my first London gig, I want to play here more.
There's a real feeling that you're a Nature Boy at heart in your lyrics, and yet you sit before me in full-on make-up! I love that your image could be seen by some to be at odds with the music you make!
I started wearing a bit of make-up at college. Growing up my brothers were the good-looking ones. I was the cute one and no-one wants to be that. Then one day I saw this picture which turned out to be an illustration from Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Then I read the book and I thought it was amazing and the way he is described with the golden hair, the scarlet lips…I thought, if that's what pretty is then that's what I want to be! So that was my starting point. But then I do love nature. I'm always walking through the fields or up to the cathedral...
And your hair is incredible!
The longer it's got the bigger it's got! My face is so structured and I wanted to soften it. I wanted to look like a pretty boy rather than a rugged boy so I worked out that the bigger my hair went, it softened my face, and with the make up that softened it more. I didn't want to look manly. I'm a ponce really [laughing]!!!
And the way you are dressed is quite gentlemanly by way of a contrast…
I like cardigans, sweaters, very English country. I'm a bit of a grandad. I love brooches, if it's old-fashioned I'm like "Oooh, I like it!"
It's quite a statement, are you expressing your sexuality in the way you present yourself?
People ask me are you gay and I'm a bit like, yeah, clearly!!!
When I was researching your music, there were the lyrics to I Found Christ Today, are you very religious?
My great-grandad was a vicar and he married a gypsy! She was really spiritual and he was really religious and I love that contrast. I'd say I'm a Christian but of course I sometimes struggle with it a bit because it says you can't be gay. For me it's more about listening to God than what other people throw at you. I'm sure some people would look at me and think, "you can't be religious!" but I just put my own little twist on it. My Mum's always been really spiritual too. I've been praying every night since I was about ten and the last year and a half I've been going to Church and I love it.
There's a beautiful sadness in your songs…
I love songs of lament. When I get an album the first thing I do is play all the sad songs. I'm proper into the songs about death, I find it really peaceful. I listen to a lot of war songs as well. The love songs of the war are so hopeful. I love I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time and Lili Marlene. AndThe White Cliffs of Dover of course! I love Vera Lynn!
He's a folk dandy with a heart as big as Kent who doesn't fear the pop tag. He expresses the rawness of personal experience whilst loving a catchy hook. Folk music is steeped in tradition and yet he has been experimenting with sampling kitchen utensils in his music. Romani Beau's contradictions are his strength. I love the fact that his muse, Dolly Parton was also famous for her huge hair….he's got the hair down, may the hits follow!