Cream of Devon puts rural rock on music map
By Louise Jury, Arts Correspondent
Published: 23 July 2005
Manchester had the Smiths, the Stone Roses and Oasis. Glasgow produced Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand and Snow Patrol, while Liverpool gave us the Beatles.
Now Devon, often derided for giving us the Wurzels, is being hailed as the latest region to spawn musical talent. Chris Martin, the frontman of Coldplay, the rock band Muse and the soul singer Joss Stone all come from the county, while Seth Lakeman, a folk violinist and singer from Dartmoor, achieved recognition this week after securing a Nationwide Mercury Prize nomination.
While it would be hard to label the divergent talents a Devon music scene they have all proved it is possible to emerge from a rural backwater to success.
Genarro Castaldo, of HMV, said it was always much harder for musicians outside major cities to win attention. "Music is very much an urban thing. The whole idea of an underground buzz needs a large number of people and, in rural areas, you don't get that kind of a network."
HMV sold none of Lakeman's albums last week but that is now 50 a day. He will also be noticed by more people in the industry. "Being nominated gives you credibility," Mr Castaldo said.
For Lakeman, Devon is what he writes about as well as where he lives. His album, Kitty Jay, is inspired by the haunting folk stories and legends of the wild moors.
"I've always been aware of the folklore. There's such a wealth of stories in this area - they inspired [Conan Doyle's] Hound of the Baskervilles and things like that," he said. And the lack of gigs to go to had only encouraged him to make his own music, he said.
Martin comes from Whitstone, near Exeter, but he only met his fellow band members when he reached University College London.
Matthew Bellamy of Muse sounded like any other aspiring muso in a small town when he described what growing up in Teignmouth was like. "The only time the town came to life was during the summer when it turned into a vacation spot for visiting Londoners. When the summer ended they left and took all the life with them," he said.
"I felt so trapped there. My friends were either getting into drugs or music, but I gravitated towards the latter and learned how to play. That became my escape. If it weren't for the band, I would probably have turned to drugs myself."
When challenged as to how a white girl got soul, Joss Stone, too, hinted at a county less idyllic than what visitors remember. Asked if she had seen the seedy underbelly of the music industry, she said: "I've seen more dodgy stuff in Devon. People think it's all flowers and sheep - well, it ain't."
Castaldo said one theme of the artists was that they were largely white, middle-class and educated - unlike what was expected of rock stars in the past. Perhaps anyone is allowed to be a star now, he said. "You don't have to be some distressed punk who has lived in some squat to feel that you have real-life experience that you can sing about."
* MUSE Matthew Bellamy, above, Chris Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard met in Teignmouth. "All we used to do was hang around, smoke and listen to music. There wasn't anything else to do", Bellamy said. Signed to Moadonna's Maverick label in 1998, they have three albums: Showbiz, Origin of Symmetry and Absolution.
* JOSS STONE Soul singer Stone, now 18, grew up in Ashill near Tiverton and got her first record deal in 2002. Her debut album, The Soul Sessions, a collection of covers, stormed America even before its British release and her second, Mind, Body and Soul - all original songs - topped the album charts. She has won two Brits.
* SETH LAKEMAN The youngest of three musical brothers from Yelverton on Dartmoor, Lakeman released two solo albums on his own label, I-Scream, after working with other musicians such as Kate Rusby. He received two Radio 2 Folk Award nominations this year. His album Kitty Jay attempts to evoke the spirit of Dartmoor
* CHRIS MARTIN AND COLDPLAY Martin was born near Exeter in 1977 and began playing the piano at an early age. But he met his future bandmembers only at university in London. Coldplay, like Lakeman, was nominated for the 2005 Nationwide Mercury Prize and are now superstars. And, of course, Martin is married to the actress Gwyneth Paltrow