When you hear Betsy for the first time, you may wonder ‘where did that voice come from?’
Few would predict the answer actually lies on a goose farm in rural Wales where she was born and raised.
Jamie Bowman speaks to the singer before her gig in Wrexham...
Welsh singer Betsy’s route to pop stardom is certainly one of the more unorthodox I’ve heard.
The 26-year-old was born on a goose farm in rural Pembrokeshire, finding her voice from campfire singalongs and the local eisteddfod to the powerhouse vocalists within her parents’ vintage record collection.
Keen to pursue a career in music – but knowing nobody in the industry – she was encouraged by her hard-working family to find a fall-back, and moved to London to study fashion design at Central St Martins.
One distraction led to another when she was invited to design catwalk couture for the esteemed Balenciaga label in Paris, before returning to Wales, swapping what many of her friends deemed the job of a lifetime for a grotty caravan in her brother’s garden where she recorded the songs which scored her a major record deal.
“We lived in a village called Nevern which is not far from Newport in Pembrokeshire,” she says.
“There’s a pub and a church but not much else and it was five or six hours from London and the middle of nowhere really.
“I knew no-one in the music industry and my parents were keen for me to have something to pay my way. I’d always loved fashion and been very artsy so it seemed a logical route but, for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a musician.”
Like many Welsh children, she was exposed to singing at an early age and credits her parents for her love of soul music.
“I started off as most young Welsh singers do by doing a bit of eisteddfod and going to church and doing school choirs,” she remembers.
“My dad and uncle were in a local band together and I was always very inspired by them.
“One of my earliest memories is sitting watching these two bearded men sat by a campfire singing. The way I write is autobiographical so it’s all woven in.
“My parent’s record collection was pretty varied so I’ve been inspired by lots of different things from classical to jazz, soul, rock and pop.
“I love Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Annie Lennox – big soul voices who sing like they mean it. My writing is personal and it’s important there’s a depth and a melancholic feel to it.
“I love those big Nineties dance tracks like Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy where the vocal is uplifting but the song itself is sad. Most of my songs are not particularly positive even if they sound it!”
Midway through her London course, Betsy secured an internship with Paris fashion house Balenciaga and so impressed her employers they offered her a job.
“Paris was very big step but it’s really helped me with my music especially the aesthetic side of things.
“I’ve got files and files of research which I use as inspiration to design my artwork, knock ideas around for the videos and picking out what I’m going to look like.
“The fashion industry is perhaps what the music industry was like in the 1980s: it’s still incredibly glamorous with a lot of money and a lot of drugs and alcohol. It was a real stark contrast to a farm in Wales.
“It was a very high pressure job and I was very young at the time an it was quite daunting but exciting too. It’s also given me the backbone to do what I do now because you’ve got to be pretty strong to survive.”
On her return to Wales, Betsy furiously set about making music again, teaching herself the art of GarageBand on the computer and essentially challenging herself to write her way out of the caravan.
“After leaving my job I was penniless and my brother had this caravan in his backyard,” she explains.
“A man had been living there and he’d been frying food and smoking the whole time and the whole place was covered in grease. It took three days for me to bleach the whole thing – and it was still incredibly grotty.
“But I lived there and I use it on a lot of my press shots. It was the caravan of doom but working and writing in there is what got me my record deal.”
Betsy signed with Warners and acclaimed early singles Fair, Lost & Found and Wanted More saw her playlisted on BBC Radio Two with many industry insiders predicting 2017 could be her year.
“My all-time heroine is Shirley Bassey,” she adds, ahead of her performance at Wrexham’s Focus Wales Festival on May 13.
“She’s a massive inspiration because of her voice and performance style. You watch her performing This is My Life in the 60s and it’s so raw and passionate. It’s like she’s about to break down while she’s singing. And then of course there’s her very opulent look which I like to go for!
“My icons were all wonderful live performers. I always think of Tina Turner performing Proud Mary before I go on stage. It was always going to be a live thing and I’ve got an all-girl band now so it’s a nice set up.
“It should be a party atmosphere with some good energy and even better outfits!”
Betsy plays Wrexham’s Central Station on May 13 as part of the Focus Wales Festival. Tickets are available from www.musicglue. com/focuswales/ or call 01978 340331.
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