While her 13-year-old school friends were listening to Alanis Morissette, Katie Foulkes was discovering music from an altogether different era. On holiday with her family in Ireland, she discovered country blues artist Rory Block's Best Blues and Originals and the album never came off the stereo. "She kick-started it for me. I remember getting a feeling that I would love to be able to do this for a living," says Foulkes, brightly. "That was the first time I felt that. It was the first time I heard the real Delta blues stuff and I went on that journey and discovered all the old blues players and my love for blues country itself." She started dabbling in song-writing and would later name herself Delta Maid.
After hearing her sweet homespun country-blues album and its finger-picked guitar, and on seeing her today, dressed in a red plaid shirt, black jeans and chunky boots, her long blonde hair tied back, I am expecting Foulkes to sound like she's just stepped off a plane from Mississippi. But the fact that she's just stepped off the train from her home in Liverpool is instantly given away by her broad Scouse accent.
This weekend, the 26-year-old will play at Wychwood Festival, hot on the heels of her very first headline shows over the past few weeks. She's already been making a mark, touring solo with Seth Lakeman, Martha Wainwright and Ellie Goulding and is signed to Gary Barlow's management company. Furthermore, after a one-off show supporting Ray LaMontagne, she can now count the folk blues star as a fan. Foulkes winces at the mention. "He commented on how lovely my guitar was and then said I can really play which was a big – oh, l don't really like talking about people giving me compliments," she says, lowering her big brown eyes. "But, you know, I was really happy when he said that. I didn't class myself as an amazing player, so for someone to say that it was, you know, really nice."
If we're only hearing about Delta Maid now, that's because the songwriting came much later than her country-blues epiphany, aged 13. She was already accustomed to the stage – all the way through school she took the lead role in plays. Not that she would call herself a confident child. "It's the same thing with music, I'm not really a massive extrovert at all, but for whatever reason I get a thrill out of performing. Just not necessarily a massive personality." Instead, she calls herself an "introvert". The title of her debut album, Outside Looking In, refers to this tendency for reflection. Even the cover of her single "Of My Own" shows her looking out pensively over a lake, perhaps during one of her long walks in Wales. "I suppose it's just in my nature to feel up and down. I can't really say I've lived a blues downtrodden life at all, but I tend to write when I feel quite down about things. Writing songs is almost like an outlet for emotions."
Initially, she was put off pursuing music by her natural pessimism. "I thought everyone was trying to do it, there's no point, so I just did my own thing, really – got an education and got a normal job." With some experience working at a nursing home for pocket money (which provided the inspiration for her favourite song on the album, "Footprints"), she read biology, then vascular science at Lancaster University, and somewhere along the way was coerced by her mother to help out at a charity concert. At the age of 20, it was Foulkes's first proper gig. She played "loads" of blues covers, and from then on in the name Delta Maid stuck. Able to strum only a few chords, she was singing accompanied by one of her three brothers, who now plays in her live band. Any apprehension soon evaporated with the warm reception she received, and she was hooked. "I got the bug," she smiles. "At the back of my mind I've always thought music would be ideal as it was my number one passion."
When her brother suffered a hand injury and could no longer accompany her, she was forced to hone her guitar skills, and the song-writing developed with them. What were her first songs like? "Folk-based," she says, adding with a laugh: "The blues came a bit later when I learned a few more sevenths."
In the time following that gig, she posted a few songs on MySpace and was surprised by the interest she had from publishing companies in her fledgling song-writing. "I was gobsmacked," she says, wide-eyed. "Literally gobsmacked. Although I'd never had any firm offers on the table it helped me make the decision to quit the job and say 'right, I'm going to pursue this'. Luckily for me it didn't take long before I signed a publishing deal after I was out of work."
She is the first in her family to become a professional musician. Her parents own a business in stainless-steel production. It was their love for country music that influenced the young Foulkes, brought up in a home filled with everyone from Hank Williams to Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Taj Mahal. "It was just a big love for music," recalls Foulkes. "My mum was really instrumental in guiding me through all the country stuff."
But Foulkes is quick to stress that her music taste is eclectic ("I never just sat in my bedroom listening to country blues"). She also admired Alanis Morissette and Jewel's pop songwriting, and listened to Madonna and Michael Jackson. "Sometimes I worry if [the name] Delta Maid conjures up a different idea of who I am as an artist. It comes from the first gig when I was doing blues covers. Well, it's stuck now. But I worry that people think, 'oh she's a purist blues player'. I'm just influenced by country and blues. I'm not a complete and utter purist blues player."
With plaudits coming from musicians and critics alike, tipping her as one to watch, how does she feel? "I don't know about that because I try not to read any reviews" she says. "I try not to get swept away by the hype because there's a lot of negativity as well. I don't want to be influenced by it because it's easy to be influenced by other people's opinions."
One query she's faced is over the disparity between her natural Liverpudlian accent and her almost-American singing voice. "I get a lot of questions asking me "why?" I don't know why. I never ever thought about that until people were mentioning it to me. It's just the way I sing and I never once thought I'd have to defend that."
She refuses to think in terms of whether she will become a star. "I'd just open myself up for disappointment. Also I'd be put back right down if I got home and started thinking very highly of myself. I don't come from a family that would take too kindly to that." She still lives with her family – it's there that she feels most comfortable. "I'm a big home bird really. When I'm not doing music I really like to spend time at home, that's where I feel really comfortable. I'm quite normal really. I don't do anything too mad."
Delta Maid plays at Wychwood Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse this weekend (www. wychwoodfestival.com). The single "Spend A Little Time" is out 10 July. 'Outside Looking In' is out now on Geffen/Future RecordsReuse content