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The Retro Modernist

Happy hour in a pub below the Luminaire club in Kilburn, west London, where Devon Sproule’s playing tonight. It’s a wet Friday in March. The music’s loud, and the conversation louder. People are propping up the bar. I’m waiting for someone to take me upstairs to meet her, as a couple next to me shout:

“So have you heard Devon Sprawl?”

“Yeah, you’ll love it… but it’s ‘Sprole’, by the way.”

Ah, that’s lucky, it’s a mistake I would have made.

“Actually it’s Sproule, rhymes with ‘roll’,” Devon tells me some minutes later as we make our way back down to the bar while her band begin their soundcheck. Her voice has a calming, reassuring ‘I’m in control’ quality of the sort most noticeable in British Airways pilots, although they lack her soft Southern drawl.

She is petite, wearing a forties style tea dress, socks and flat shoes. Her straight hair is in a short bob held off her face with simple slides, and her face is fresh and clear. A modern take on a retro look. This is entirely in keeping with her music, which is also modern and retro, as the title of her latest album suggests: Keep Your Silver Shined. “Make your old stuff as good as new! Work on it!” she says.

Work is something Devon applies herself to. From an unconventional start, born in Canada and brought up in a commune in Virginia (though we’re not talking Waco here), she’s embraced convention in her music and her life and broken through the boundaries of those conventions by working on them in, well, an unconventional way.

fRom fRoots 289, July 2007


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