i n t e r v i e w
The name eventually grows on you. It actually makes a bit more sense if you remember that famous Keith’s include Keith Richards and Keith Moon, it takes away that nagging image of bank managers and train spotters. You can’t apologise for finding the name baffling at first but, as you get to know the band through their live shows and scattered demo tracks making the rounds you realise that there could be nothing less important to them than something as trifling as a name.
Taking a tour through Keith’s past requires little more than five minutes reflection, the four members Oli Bayston (Keys/Vocals), Mark Nicholls (Guitar), John Waddington (Bass) and Johnny Winbolt-Lewis (Drums) gathered at Warrington University College where jam sessions between college mates eventually left the four of them out on their own having tried varying line-ups. “We had another guitarist but, it didn’t really work out,” reveals Oli. Personal differences? You may ask, but no. “He was a bit too tall, huge in fact, well over 6 foot” adds Waddington. How unlucky for your ceiling scraping attributes to omit you from one of Manchester’s most exciting bands? Life isn’t fair.
From Warrington where the band graduated in July 2004, the band could have made a decision to decamp to any city they wished. Liverpool was as close as Manchester, two of the band members hold accents placing them in Essex and West London so the capital could have made just as much sense. The organic, nurturing atmosphere of Manchester was the natural choice, especially for Mark Nicholls.
“In Warrington there isn’t that much to do in terms of nightlife” he explains “Whenever we went out we normally went out to Manchester, so we knew it quite well and we played gigs relatively infrequently at Uni. Manchester has some great venues.” It transpires than they couldn’t have timed the change any better. As soon as the band had made the move to Manchester, their demo landed them a spot at The Roadhouse during an In The City event.
“An A&R guy from Mercury, Johnny Simon, turned up when we were playing at The Roadhouse. He was buzzing about it and told another load of people about us down in London.” In the following few months after this chance meeting, their music has brought them into contact with most UK record labels, seen the acquisition of good management and a growing fanbase awaiting their debut EP in May.
With such a clamour from record companies, the interest can sometime seem daunting to bands on their way up. Trust can be a key issue with bands being toyed with to buoy rampant egos or somehow manipulate the development of the band for commercial means. Their initial contact with the aforementioned Mercury rep seemed to have calmed such fears. “Johnny Simon went back to London, not with the intention of doing anything for Mercury but just because he was into us, which was the soundest thing. He was just into our music,” explains Oli “We trusted his opinion, he was giving us advice for our own benefit.” With so many people now interested in the bands next move, they are in an enviable position.
When it comes to discussing the hype, Oli is typically laid-back. “At the beginning it’s quite exciting but you do get used to it and you think of it more as an opportunity to get a reflection from a professional in the music industry, to actually give you a good opinion on what you are doing.” With this affinity with the industry and a willingness to take on board what they are suggesting as positive career moves, has anything changed the band since that early attention? Oli answers, “From the first demo, we thought it was good and they thought it was good. They did point out that it wasn’t quite coherent between the genres and style. Since then, and on the new EP about to come out, it’s a much more coherent sound which they were looking for us to do.” Winbolt-Lewis takes over to suggest, “It’s plainly going to give you an urgency isn’t it?” Erm, yeah. Why? “You’re battling away as an unsigned band trying to get the attention of people and you’re not hearing any evidence of anyone being into it. You’re going to get pretty disillusioned. You need to hear the people from outside the band hearing you, you work out what they are getting from it and learn a bit more about your sound.”
Well, this is more like it. All of this talk of the good nature of the nation’s record companies nearly leads us to forget those who really matter, the fans who make up their audience. Keith’s sound on record is difficult to pin down. The listener is caught between the piano-led folk rock, the reggae tinged grooves and the nearly-baggy indie sound that the band make distinctly theirs. The live experience goes through the gamut of confusing fusions but it is the celebratory spectacle of their live shows that leaves critics bored with comparisons and admit that this might just be something refreshingly new, without category.
“If you play a gig and all of your mates say, yeah it was really good, you don’t really know. Whereas if someone who doesn’t know you comes up and gives you an educated opinion you are going to value that.” says Oli when pressed on the change from an invited audience to the random attendance that word of mouth brings about. “It’s a transitional period” Nicolls takes over, “there is a time when you get your mates down to see you but, we’re now starting to sit back a bit and not looking to force the issue. The last gig was a sell-out, from a lot of the people we know, but there are a lot of new faces too.”
Winbolt-Lewis is visibly enthusiastic about this development when he says; “One thing we always buzz off is when people say that they don’t know how to fit us in with any sound of the moment. That’s brilliant. The industry don’t agree, but the fact that people can’t categorise us is something in our favour.”
The question of originality is something that gets that band on their toes, their passion for their own music appears to outstrip anything that exists or has existed before. Not once in conversation do they discuss any single influence or personal affinity with a certain genre. With such an attitude, could they forfeit commercial success? Is the public receptive to new and interesting music? Is there a chance for musical pioneers in such a dumbed down cultural climate?
“Of course there is!” Oli states with startling conviction, “it’s a natural phase when you’ll get one set of people doing something original and then a load of other people copy it. They all rise up together, but they all drop together too. If there is someone that comes apart from that and they do their own thing consistently then they’ll have a good fanbase and actually impact on the history of music.” Any examples? “Beck and Bjork” offers Nicolls, “They’re always coming up with something new, that’s something to live up to.”
Having come out of nowhere and surely destined for a shorter stay in Manchester’s tiny venues than anticipated, lured by that lucrative deal somewhere in the pipeline, Keith are following Nine Black Alps and The Longcut out of the city’s party circuit and onto the pages of the national press. Are they under any pressure to carry the baton of next big thing? “We’re not,” states Oli bluntly. Waddington expands to reply “If people want to create this scene then that’s good for Manchester bands because more people want to see them. The good thing about it is that none of the bands sound anything like any of the others. You can’t make any comparison, they have to be judged on their merits.”
With no comparison to the sound of Keith, their merits are all we have to go on.
At the time of writing Zane Lowe (Radio 1) had just given Hold That Gun its first airing on national radio. The track is taken from the bands EP to be released soon on brand new label Lucky Number.
WORDS: Rob Allen
PICTURES: Keith Web plus Press Shots courtesy of Keith Management & PR (c)
(p) (c) mbm for musicdash 2005 - all rights reserved