We’re sitting on a two-person sofa in Keir’s backstage area at the Leopallooza Festival. I can feel the bass from the main stage through my feet. We’re talking about the genesis of his song, ‘Probably’.
“One day, I was on the way to the studio in London, writing in my notepad on the bus. I was just writing simple observations from what was around me.” And then, in a voice no louder than a polite ‘excuse me’ or a request to pass the peas, he sings the line, “overheard a family, talking ’bout the heavens” and it gives me chills. Straightaway, I get what the fuss is about with Keir. People singing at that volume usually sound flawed and reedy. Keir sounds pristine, a tantalising foretaste of the set to come that afternoon. I totally forget my next question and try to remain focused.
Fortunately, I just about hold it together and ask him whether he’s always been so colourful, before realising that he’s dressed from head to toe in black. “Dress how you feel. This is how I feel today.” Far from being a miserable sod, he says it with a chuckle and recounts the tale of the previous day at Y Not in Derby: “I lost my shoes. I was walking around with mud between my toes. It was gross.”
I equate colourfulness to showmanship and ask if he’s always been gregarious: “I always used to enter talent competitions and do ridiculous things. Luckily, I don’t think there’s any surviving footage. I used to pretend to be Enrique Iglesias. I even learned the Spanish version of ‘Hero’. It’s probably still in there – a bit of muscle memory.” Excited at the prospect of hearing this, I ask whether he might wangle it into his set. “You know, I’ve never thought of doing covers,” he replies, politely indulging my excitement, “but I do love ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’. You can’t argue with Cyndi Lauper.”
He released his self-titled EP in 2016 on Crosstown Records. He describes them as highly supportive of individuality, which is probably a good job as when he talks about his days at BIMM in Bristol. “I struggled with authority. I wasn’t very good at turning up either; I knew what I wanted to do and I wanted to write music, so I was making sure that I was doing that. But I did meet some incredible people and it broadened my music listening so much.”
He looks momentarily sheepish about his dubious undergrad attendance record until, on further discussion, we agree that he’s definitely not in a minority nationwide on that score.
2017 has definitely been a breakthrough year. “I’ve really enjoyed playing many more shows than I’ve done before. It’s been my first experience of properly playing lots of festivals.”
With ‘No shit, Sherlock’ intuition, I surmise that it can’t get much better than playing Glastonbury. Fortunately, he concurs, “It was mad. I was just so shocked to go out on stage. I wasn’t expecting anyone, so to go out and see a tent full of people meant so much. I’ve got this thing where I ensure that any gig, wherever it is, has to be the best gig I’ve ever played. Never get sentimental about anything in order to move forward. Play like you’re going to die afterwards. But when the Glastonbury call came through, that was amazing. I’d never been and none of the band had either.”
There’s a mix of the philosophically focused and the exuberant music fan that comes across from a short time in Keir’s company. “We were lucky enough to go to Maida Vale to record a session, through Sam Bonham and Richard Pitt at BBC Introducing in the West. The reaction’s been great to it, especially to ‘Squeeze Me’. I thought that I’d be totally unaffected by the place, but there was history in the air. Someone pointed at a corner and said, ‘David Bowie’s had a sandwich there.’ I swear there were still crumbs.”
As a possessor of a four-letter, perennially mis-spelled name myself, I have to ask how often people get ‘Keir’ wrong: “All the time. Every day. I’m trying to tell everyone that it’s ‘i’ before ‘e’, except after ‘k’, but we’re not there yet.” Excited about his future, I offer some possible album titles and ask for marks out of ten: Loud and Keir – “That’s dreadful, zero”, Keir Sportage 4×4 Turbo – “No, terrible, we’re into minus numbers. Minus five” and I, Keir – “You know what, I’ll give you 1/10 for that.” His set later that afternoon was a straight 10/10. If I can be 10% as good as Keir, I can die happy.
Keir plays The Downs festival on 2nd September. Check out his Maida Vale session below.