A tragic event may have spurred singer songwriter Ryan Keen to make music but bright lights are now calling for the rising star.
Born in Totnes, South Devon, Ryan’s childhood was filled with an eclectic mix of music – the seminal folk axis of Nick Drake, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, alongside blues legends like BB King and Eric Clapton, as well as a Hip Hop phase and a passion for Spanish guitar, caught from a travelling Flamenco guitarist who turned up in town one day.
With the intention of pursuing a career in the music industry – either in law or management – he studied Commercial Music at Westminster University. But it was there that a life-changing event propelled Ryan from behind the scenes to centre stage.
“I lost a friend in my final year at University,” he explained. “He died suddenly from heart failure. “He was fit and health and it came totally out of the blue,” Ryan continued. “That really rattled me. But that’s what got me started as a singer-songwriter. I realised how fragile and short life is.
“I had been nervous and shy about performing but now I really wanted to do it. It struck a chord, the realisation that anyone can go at any time, so you might as well have a go.”
Getting started wasn’t easy however – Ryan’s first solo show in a pub in Stockwell played to a crowd of no more than 20.
“I was unbelievably terrified,” he admitted. “It was the most nervous I’ve ever been. I haven’t had stage fright like that since!”
It was a small step that lead to big things though – in 2010 Ryan released his first EP ‘Modestep’ which got enough attention to take him to the next level, winning a competition that saw him travel to annual industry new-artist showcase South by South West in Texas in 2011.
Shortly after he signed with Imagem, the world’s largest independent music publishers, gave up his day job and was invited to tour with acoustic sensation Ed Sheeran.
Moving onwards and upwards, in 2012 the music maker finished his ‘Focus’ EP which served as an invitation to appear at many of the major festivals that summer; before 2013 saw him support Plan B at the iTunes Festival – the only unsigned act to appear on the whole month long bill – record another live EP and duet with Newton Faulkner before headline his own tour as well as supporting Leona Lewis and performing in the Royal Albert Hall.
Building not only a fan base but also support from fellow stars and Radio 1 DJs over the years, Ryan also found time to complete his début album ‘Room For Light’ which explores the light and shade of life and love through a series of songs that are remarkable for their subtly rich arrangements and his intimate style of playing and singing.
“I’m always looking for the silver lining, even if the subject matter is dark,” he said. “My songs can be introspective. I came to this from a pretty dark place, with my mate dying. That hit me pretty hard. But I always try to write with optimism.”
Island music-lovers can check it out for themselves next weekend as Ryan Keen plays the Woodlands Centre in Stornoway on Friday, April 25th; with support from local talents Eleanor Nicolson and Ian Schouten. Tickets are available to buy now from An Lanntair box office.