Friends Forever

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Rozi Plain helps us understand why Bristol has one of the most vibrant music scenes in the UK.

Rozi Plain recorded her much-heralded 2015 album Friend in her new hometown of London, but like previous albums Insider Over Here (2008) and Joined Sometimes Unjoined (2012) it is inescapably influenced by her life in Bristol. “I lived there for seven or eight years and that was my life; it had a profound effect on the music I’ve made and the way I make it,” says Rozi when we catch up after her whirlwind tour of the UK and Europe earlier this year.

Not that you can necessarily hear Bristol – a mix of inner-city hubbub and riverside calm – in Friend’s dreamy, uncluttered folk-pop. But the album does feature contributions from members of long-time Bristol acts François And The Atlas Mountains and Kate Stable’s much-loved This Is The Kit. And when they’re not lending Rozi a hand, she can be found returning the favour and touring with the latter band. This almost communal skills-swap sums up Bristol’s music scene to a tee.

After moving to Bristol to study art, Rozi formed the Cleaner Records music collective with fellow Winchester émigré Rachael Dadd and threw herself into a music scene that’s both fiercely DIY and a little like a ’60s hippy community. Much of this thriving scene was – and still is – based around arts space The Cube, where the fizzy drinks are wild-crafted and the spirit of independence is alive and well.

“It’s so collaborative in bristol because it’s a diy scene, and that’s what happens”

“It’s like a hub so it made sense that people gravitated towards it,” says Rozi about a place run by an anarchic, artist-led collective. “In these sorts of spaces you end up meeting other people and projects start from it. I wasn’t actually in The Cube Orchestra but through The Cube itself, because it does so much stuff, I met François.”

The Cube Orchestra is a long-running jam that’s open to all and the list of Bristol acts who’ve either played in it or volunteered at The Cube includes Zun Zun Egui, Bassclef, and Rachael Dadd, as well as François And The Atlas Mountains and This Is The Kit. The cross-pollination continues elsewhere, too: Rise Records is staffed by members of the city’s indie-rock bands and Invada Records – run by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow – supports local music. Bristol is, as the recent BBC 6 Music Festival celebrated, very good at collaboration.

“It’s so collaborative in Bristol because it’s a diy scene, and that’s what happens: being in each other’s projects and taking responsibility for what you’re doing and making stuff happen and doing stuff with integrity. Bristol has a reputation for being an open-minded place, so a lot of people turn up with a lot of open-minded ideas.”

“There’s a network of people a 10-minute walk away. It’s a tempting place to be because it’s not London,” adds Rozi. Bristol’s creative reputation is tangible too, she thinks. Its unique cultural make-up, tight-knit communities, and openness to new (and sometimes radical) ideas have fuelled everything from ‘70s sound systems and the Wild Bunch to the trip-hop and drum and bass scenes of the ‘90s to today’s rising stars.

With the continued support of her Bristol comrades and after three magical albums, Rozi is getting where she deserves to be. BBC 6 Music are playing tracks from her new collection of rarities, oddities, and remixes, Friend Of A Friend (out now on Lost Map Records) and Guy Garvey invited her to play his recent Meltdown Festival in London. But which Bristol acts are set to follow Rozi into the limelight? “Just a few? Yama Warashi, the Howling Owl guys, The Evil Usses. There’s tons of stuff in Bristol at the moment. Oh, and always –always – Rachael Dadd.”