ForgottenBee talks to Mister Keith about Toploader, secrets, being related to a well known hymn writer and Victorian Pop.
Welcome to ForgottenBeeBlog Mister Keith….
FB 1/ As the self- professed originator of ‘Victorian Pop’ you have adopted a strong unique image, have you always been interested in fashion and style or is this something that has evolved through your song writing?
I think as a songwriter and performer you have to be interested in style. You have to know what your listeners are buying, how the culture is changing, and what the current fashions are in all areas. It’s like having an ‘ear to the ground’. Then, you can make conscious decisions as to whether you follow fashions or create them.
I’ve been writing and performing through four decades now, so I’ve seen fashions change in many ways, in music and style. The Mister Keith project was always about a classic style; reinventing a traditional Englishness both in the music and the visual image.
FB 2/ What drives you to be a musician? What is your favourite aspect, and worst?
I started writing songs when I was 15 after a youth leader gave me a guitar. I was already a good drummer, but the youth leader who was already a songwriter saw something in me, taught me three chords and set me going. I had something inside me that couldn’t get out from being just a drummer – sat at the back. I needed to write, sing and present at the front!
Ever since I’ve had a drive to sing and write. I think it’s a spiritual thing. It’s what I was born to do. From that point of view, it’s my favourite place to be: onstage. The worst aspect of it is when you’re not given a chance. As an artist you create something (which you think is beautiful) and then not as many people hear it as you want to. That can be hard.
FB 3/ Tell me about your childhood, have you always been destined to be a musician or did you want to follow another career path?
My father was a military bandmaster and latterly a school bandmaster. It was in my genes. Not just to sing but to lead. I grew up watching him conduct and then played drums in his bands. He was/is my hero. He had a gift.
Strangely I don’t think he wanted me to follow him into music, but if something is in your blood you can’t deny it. It was all I ever wanted.
FB 4/ What makes you laugh?
Great comedy and timing. Great comedians know how to bring people to a place where the joke becomes so much more than just a joke. It’s a reflection of their own humanity and their own situation. Timing is so important. My friends Graham Hepburn and Tony Vino are naturally funny comedians.
FB 5/ How often do you jam in a week. Do you have another form of work?
I try and get my guitar out several times a week, but it doesn’t always happen. When you have a schedule of gigs, rehearsals or some co-writing it’s easier to play more often. But life has a habit of bringing other things in to the diary. I have a number of strings to my bow. I edit a music magazine, run song writing workshops and visit schools to talk about music education as well as write and perform songs. I run a small festival as well.
FB 6/ What are some of the most difficult aspects today in becoming a successful musician?
In 1987 when I recorded my first album everything seemed a lot easier. You’d save some money, record, get it duplicated, design a cover and then post it to Warner Brothers or EMI and wait for a call. Sometimes the phone rang. Sometimes it didn’t. Now, with the advent of the Mac, everybody can do that in a few days. Suddenly everyone is a songwriter and everyone can grow a beard, wear a check shirt and be the new ‘Mumford’. The marketplace is too crowded. So, the only solution is to find a smaller niche.
FB 7/ If you could play any venue in any part of the world where would it be and why?
I think I’ve already played some favourites! I’ve played Brixton Academy twice, The Forum, Borderline, Half Moon. I’ve played to 5000 Germans in a field who went crazy when we headlined a festival, 12,000 fans at Greenbelt Festival back in 1998, the NEC, Lambeth Palace, Blackpool Tower Circus, MTV studios – now you’ve asked me that question, they’re all flooding back… I think the next place has to be Wilton’s Music Hall in London. That is definitely on the list.
FB 8/ What does it feel like to be related to the well known hymn-writer WG Collins (1854-1931)? Would you ever consider writing a modern hymn?
It was an interesting discovery! I knew there was some Salvation Army heritage in my family, but it was an amazing thing to discover, particularly at the time I was researching and writing the Mister Keith album. Hymn writers back then were translating what they saw and heard in pubs and making new versions. Singing was much more common everywhere a hundred years ago. It’s a tradition we’ve lost – unless you count Gareth Malone’s quest as a resurgence. Pub singarounds, church singing and even home singing by the piano was a daily occurrence. I’m proud that I’m related to someone who’s music is still sung and published today.
FB 9/ What New Music are you listening to at the moment?
Mutemath are the best band in the world right now. They’ve just toured the UK and I got to three of the shows and met them in London. They’re old friends who actually supported me and my band back in 2002.
FB 10/ If over night you became a very rich success, what would be the first thing you would do, and who would be the person to keep you grounded?
Pay off the mortgage and then spend a week visiting the people who helped me get there to say thank you. My wife keeps me grounded and she’d remind me that there’s plenty of other important things besides fortune.
FB 11/ On ForgottenBeeblog I like to set a poetry challenge, in no more than 20 words please write a poem to include the words ‘Record of Wrongs’?
“There’s a hole in my hand where the nail was strong
My heart has no room for a record of wrongs”
Yes I wrote that on the spot!
FB 12/ How important do you think art plays in the song writing process for musicians as an inspiration?
That’s a really interesting question. I think art has a place in the consciousness of every creative. I believe we are all creative to a greater or lesser extent and part of humanity is to explore that. I’ve always been very creative in a number of ways – I’ve always been inspired by great design. Song writing is primarily about communication, but without art it becomes pretty inane.
FB 13/ Can you tell me a secret?
I’m about to announce some great gigs for the summer! And I’m about to release a new video and single. And I have a birth mark that goes all the way up my left arm.
FB 14/ How would you encourage a budding musician to follow their dreams?
Find a niche. Explore it. Check that you’re happy in that niche. Then keep repeating it. It’s the future of music.
FB 15/ You have a wealth of television appearances under your belt including radio. Do you still get nervous when you perform or do you have a technique to combat them?
I don’t have a technique as such. I have a nervous energy which I describe as adrenalin and it kicks in just before I perform. It keeps me on my toes. I’ve always been happy in front of a mic. Some years ago I was taught ‘sirening’ which is a vocal warmup technique and I’ve found it useful.
FB 16/ Have you ever forgotten your lyrics on stage?
Yes – all the time. There’ve been moments when I’ve had to make up lines to compensate. It’s getting harder to remember lines, especially when you’ve written so many songs
FB 17/ Do you get star struck? What musician is your true inspiration and is there anyone you would really like to perform with?
I don’t get star struck with anyone in particular. I have more of a reaction that I have to pinch myself. I remember when I was recording an album some years ago with Dave Lynch (who also produced Toploader). We finished recording for the day and he said ‘Let’s go to the local for a drink’ – round the corner from the studio. We were in there and Toploader walked in and stood with us. I must have said ‘It’s bl***y Toploader!’ because I remember Dave saying ‘Be cool…’. It reminds of the moment in Only Fools & Horses when Del Boy is at the bar with Trigger about to fall over trying to be smooth.
FB 18/ Do you collect anything …hats maybe 😉 ?
I’m a hoarder. I love vinyl and I’m collecting albums by Stan Getz, Artie Shaw and George Shearing. In the past I’ve collected the pottery and paintings of Stephen Grew, all of which I still have. Now, I’m collecting memories.
FB 19/ What exciting plans do you have for 2016?
I’m about to play a show with Boo Hewerdine (ex The Bible) in Coventry on Thursday 10th March, followed by a show in Quatt, Shropshire. Then in the summer I’ve been confirmed for Ymuno Festival and Eroica Festival. I also have my own summer festival which is in it’s 7th year. It’s in a country house in Derbyshire. It’s a boutique Gatsby experience where everyone knows your name.
FB 20/ Forgottenbeeblog would like to thank you Mister Keith for taking part in this interview…… in no more than 6 words what could be your mantra for the day?
Love, dream, write, read, sing, give.
Photography courtesy of Balz Kubli – http://balzkubli.com/