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Home gig is part of Highland singer songwriter Keir's first headlining tour

By Margaret Chrystall

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It was a sunny afternoon at Belladrum when Fort William singer songwriter Keir Gibson got a minute to stop and talk about a career in music that is offering him bigger and bigger challenges since he began at 16 – one of the biggest this coming week.

Keir Gibson at Belladrum. Picture: James Mackenzie
Keir Gibson at Belladrum. Picture: James Mackenzie

Meeting Keir before, he had seemed reserved, but talking about his recent support slot with Clean Bandit and Ella Henderson at the Northern Meeting Park, he seemed to be feeding off the buzz of backstage Belladrum and was smiling, joking and relaxed.

At the Clean Bandit gig, Keir's support slot on June 30 had been impressive. His new single As Lost As Me had launched the midnight before. It's a song he co-wrote with his friend James October and Keir has been working with other songwriters out in Los Angeles for a while now.

At the time of releasing the song, Keir had said the song was about the feeling you have after a relationship has ended. The places and things that used to bring you comfort and a sense of stability no longer do that, now the person you shared them with is gone.

It's a potent feeling that many people could relate to – and it came across powerfully live in Keir's set in June.

"I wanted to liken it to the feeling you get when you first come home after being away for a long time. Something's not right – your house doesn't quite feel like home anymore," he had explained – a feeling his trips and returns from LA might have given him experience of recently.

At the June set, a QR code making a pre-order ticket link available was on show at the front of the stage for his September gig at Tooth & Claw, Keir announcing the exclusive news of his headlining tour that night.

Big moment for Keir Gibson supporting Clean Bandit.
Big moment for Keir Gibson supporting Clean Bandit.

How was the set for him?

"I absolutely loved it," he grinned.

"It's by far the biggest show I've ever played. Just the biggest set-up and my favourite support slot I have ever got to do – I've loved Clean Bandit. ..They are definitely the same line genre of music as me and in terms of style, so it was very cool."

Curious about how such a big opportunity came his way, you ask and Keir laughed: "To be totally honest, neither do I. My manager told me about it, I think they were looking for a local act and my name popped up."

It had seemed a good fit on the night – did he make many new fans from Clean Bandit and Ella Henderson's crowds?

"That was something I was really excited about, as I felt it was a similar demographic.

"And that is the closest to the demographic I am trying to build, I guess I've come to, in terms of being a support act. So that was really exciting for me and I'd hoped that for the people who were into that music, that they would latch on to my stuff as well. And my socials numbers have gone up since then which is nice."

But it's possibly on the songwriting front that Keir might feel he has made the biggest breakthrough.

In his Clean Bandit set he explained to the crowd how he had been spending time in Los Angeles with some other songwriters out there and he talked about how it had come about.

"I've done two or three trips when I have stayed out there for a month or two at a time," he explained.

"The first time I was over I was on Tik Tok and a video popped up and I absolutely loved the song and it didn't have many views and stuff from there.

"But I needed to find out who made the song and looked up everyone who was involved in it and messaged them directly. They were all based in Los Angeles and they all got back to me and said they would like to work with me! To cut a long story short, we are still working together. They are my best friends out there and collaborators and it is very exciting because it really inspiring to be friends with people who you admire what they do.

"They are all just very talented."

Keir makes it sound as if it is a step up for him.

"It feels like that to me.

"I've been pursuing music since I was 16 and I feel as if I've never quite found my 'tribe' in terms of writing and making my music. But I feel as if I have finally found that now and it is really exciting."

But is it difficult in a team of songwriters keeping your own identity and your own creative choices?

"I guess it can be challenging."

But it sounds like a challenge Keir has embraced and which is also developing his songwriting techniques too,

"The way I've been writing is that – I'm always aware that there is only so much life experience anyone can have before you run out of things to write about – so the way I have been writing recently is picking up words or phrases that I've heard or seen or come across and developing a story around that.

Keir Gibson during his Northern Meeting Park set supporting Clean Bandit and Ella Henderson. Picture: James Mackenzie
Keir Gibson during his Northern Meeting Park set supporting Clean Bandit and Ella Henderson. Picture: James Mackenzie

"I've found that quite exciting because it's not me having to delve into my deep, dark feelings. It's getting to make up the story and I know the end point when I know the phrase, I know what the song is going to be about and it's like doing a jigsaw almost.

"I'm working back to get to the final result and I've found that very refreshing to write like that recently.

"I end up relating to the final result anyway.You are writing more specifically because you are writing about a situation, yet it ends up being about a more universal topic."

Watch and hear Keir sing and he never seems less than fully emotionally engaged – songs strike home as lived experience?

"A friend of mine said when I showed him a new song recently that he thought that I was conveying a truth of my own.

"And I suppose that is probably songwriting in a nutshell, being able to do that. I would guess that most songs you hear are probably not word for word the exact experience lived by that person who has written the song!

"But I think the fun part is when you get to emphasise things and lean into things for more emotional and dramatic effect."

Keir talks about what it feels like to have the courage to share difficult emotions or emotions people might want to keep to themselves and becoming the 'character' in the song, almost.

"It's an interesting thing, all I think about is how if someone hears that song and they relate to it in their own way, that is all I could ever ask for. I don't set out with the intention that they have to receive the song in the exact way that I intended or wrote it. Music is a funny thing!"

Keir Gibson on stage during his set supporting Clean Bandit and Ella Henderson in June at the Northern Meeting Park. Picture: James Mackenzie
Keir Gibson on stage during his set supporting Clean Bandit and Ella Henderson in June at the Northern Meeting Park. Picture: James Mackenzie

And keeping up the momentum is definitely on Keir's mind this year with singles – and keeping them coming.

"There are a lot of releases happening for me at the minute. It's taken me a while to build up so that I can be consistent with them.

"I think that is something that I have had to learn, to get to a point where I can release music that I am really proud of and that I have worked really hard on and I think a lot of it is to do with feeling I have the consistent songs that people can latch on to and keep them wanting to come back for more."

The headlining tour with his band brings him into the intimate surroundings of the Tooth & Claw in Inverness, where a lot of his home crowd are likely to be there.

"Weirdly it's more nerve-wracking playing to an intimate crowd as if it's in your living room and you can see the crowd – every face!" he laughed.

"I'm really excited for it. I've never done a headline tour before . I've never played my own show in London before which I will be doing for the first time. And I'm really excited to play all these new songs with my band. We have been spending a long time working on the show and making it progress and ensure there are no moments were the energy dies and we keep things moving along."

And when it comes to any rider, Keir is being practical ...

He laughs: "I'm pretty easily pleased, I don't tend to ask for much. It's mostly stuff for my vocals, throat comfort tea, some honey, a towel because I get very sweaty onstage and it's a must. And then just some water.

"I try to be good about my vocal health now. For my first headline that I did in Glasgow back on October I felt like I've never been able to sing that well before and that comfortably before. And I think a lot of it might have been to do with me not having dairy in the three or four days leading up to the show. I'll be taking lots of precautions to be sure I can sing at my best!"

Back when he spoke at Belladrum, thinking about the tour, his first concern made him smile.

"Selling tickets!"

But there were the responsibilities of the tour too...

"I think when you are headlining, it is knowing that people are paying money to come and see you, it's the added pressure. So it's 'How can we put on the best show possible?' For the tour we have someone doing sound and someone doing lighting, so there are a few more added components."

Curious about something, there is one more question for Keir – how does he feel when he is out in LA, is it freeing to be in a place where you are a stranger?

"Yes! It's a funny thing, being out in LA doing music is a common thing, so people say when you say you are doing music 'Oh great!' where when you are here and say you are doing music as a career, it's a bit more of an eyebrow-raiser.

"But it's funny, being out in LA I feel as if I can be who I really am, as cheesy as that might sound.

"I'm writing every day when I'm there, sometimes twice a day and I really feel I am in the creative flow state. Which is amazing for me."

Keir Gibson and his band play the Tooth & Claw, Inverness, on Thursday, September 14.

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