Ask Joseph Mount, proud Devonian and founder of electronica group Metronomy.
Joseph Mount is discussing the title of his latest album, The English Riviera. ‘People abroad are a bit puzzled by England having a Riviera,’ he laughs. ‘They assume it’s a joke. Which, in a way, it is. Torbay doesn’t have quite the glamour of Cannes or Nice. But it’s the closest we’ve got. It’s also very English to take something a bit shabby and make the best of it.’
Mount is the singer, songwriter and driving force behind the synth-pop quartet Metronomy. After two albums of low-key electronica, The English Riviera has catapulted Metronomy into the big time: going gold in the UK, getting shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize and racking up sales from France to Australia. The video for the album’s lead single, ‘The Bay’ – shot in an impossibly glamorous-looking Torquay – has had more than 4 million YouTube views. Mount has made his most personal work to date – a hymn to the area of south Devon where he grew up.
‘I’ve spent the past ten years living in Brighton and London,’ he says, ‘and a lot of time in Paris with my French girlfriend. But, at a certain age, you get nostalgic for where you grew up and how it shapes you.’
With lines like ‘this town is the oldest friend of mine’, it’s an affectionate tribute. ‘I like the way American rock stars shout out about how great their home town is,’ he laughs, ‘so I tried to reimagine Devon in the same way. It would have been easy to write an angry record about Devon being boring. But I like how that boredom breeds self-sufficiency. Because there are few gigs or clubs, you’re forced to make your own entertainment. You end up spending your days on the River Dart, and your evenings climbing up Totnes Castle.’
Mount was born 29 years ago in the ancient market town of Totnes. His parents worked at the Dartington Estate – then a radical arts campus – and lived in one of the listed buildings.
‘My dad put together Dartington’s monthly journal, while my mum was a photographer who’d take photos of events there. Until the campus moved to Falmouth, Dartington was a pretty ground-breaking arts college. I think it’s because of this college that Totnes developed this bohemian reputation.’
Time magazine proclaimed Totnes ‘the capital of New Age chic’, while The Guardian has described it as a ‘subversive hub of alternative living’. ‘To be honest, it’s what I like least,’ sighs Mount. ‘All the ironmongers and camping stores have been taken over by shops selling crystals and organic cheese! And a bohemian lifestyle isn’t that cheap. Which is why you have people like Damon Albarn and Kate Bush with second homes here.’
So, where would Mount take us for a walk? ‘We’ll go to the River Dart. It’s the most idyllic place. The walk from Dartington to Totnes is very beautiful. But if you continue south, towards Ashprington, it gets even more interesting. It’s popular with birdwatchers – you’ll find cormorants and swans and wood-warblers. You’ll also see these beautiful old houses with their own moorings backing on to the Dart, houses that once belonged to the likes of Agatha Christie. On the east bank of the river, you have the steam train going from Paignton to Kingswear; on the other side you’ve got these beautiful meadows, where they filmed a Timotei commercial in the 1980s!’
Mount’s family rarely left the county at summer. ‘We’d camp every year,’ he says, ‘down the road in Prawle, or on Torcross beach. If you don’t spend your summers there, why bother moving to Devon?’
Having toured the world recently, Mount hankers for an English break. ‘The last thing I want is to get on a plane. I like the idea of just camping in Devon. In fact, I’m hoping to have a family holiday with my parents. On the English Riviera! If you squint a bit, it could almost be Nice…’