Devon musician Ryan Keen starts road to top in Plymouth
GET ready for the next big thing: Devon singer-songwriter-guitarist Ryan Keen starts his journey to the top in the city this weekend.
He begins a national tour at Plymouth University tonight and will release his debut album, Room For Light, next week.
Following hot on the heels of fellow muso Ben Howard, Ryan, who also hails from Totnes, has spent the past couple of years in very good company.
He has toured and shared stages, not only with Ben, but a host of other acoustic heavyweights, including Ed Sheeran and Newton Faulkner, making his debut at Plymouth Pavilions a few months ago supporting Leona Lewis.
Tuesday 9th & Wednesday 10th. Carol (with over 16yrs experience) has 10% off - facials. Pedicures. Manicures. Body wraps. Spray tans. Waxing. Tinting. Perming
Terms: For 2 days only. With therapist Carol. Please quote "2 day special offer".
Contact: 01271 440617
Valid until: Thursday, December 12 2013
"The first show I ever saw was Reef at Plymouth Pavilions," says Ryan, "so it was amazing to be back playing on that same stage."
However Ryan might never have become a performer if it hadn't been for a life-changing incident.
An accomplished guitarist whose percussive finger style was inspired by flamenco as well as virtuosos such as Eric Roach and Andy McKee, he had performed in bands for years, but never had the confidence to go solo.
"I didn't think I had it in me to be a front man," he says.
"I was so nervous, happy to write and do session work for others and keen to be involved in music, so I was doing a degree in commercial music at Westminster University hoping to do music law or management.
"Then I lost a friend, Oli, while I was at uni. He was a primary school teacher in Devon, he was fit and healthy, warming up for a rugby match, felt dizzy, fell down and never recovered.
"It really rattled me, I always thought death happened to old people.
"I suddenly thought, 'life's too short' – it was a 'seize the day' moment.
"I'm not good at expressing myself verbally, but I can do it in song. I wrote Aiming For The Sun about Oli."
He did the rounds of open mic sessions and pub gigs, but his break came after winning a competition to take part in new-artist showcase South By South West in Texas back in March 2011.
That led to signing a deal with Imagem, the world's largest independent music publishers, and he was at last able to give up the day job and focus on music full time.
Another big break came in October the same year, when Ryan was invited by Ed Sheeran to accompany him on tour.
But, three weeks before the start, Ryan was opening wine when the bottle shattered and the glass severed tendons in his wrist.
"Everyone told me it was a ten-week minimum recovery period and there was no guarantee I'd even play again.
"But thanks to my amazing physiotherapist and relentless rehearsal I managed to play even with the rigidity of the cast."
Against the odds he was able to accompany Ed and his fanbase grew rapidly as a result.
His 2012 Focus EP served as an invitation to appear at the major festivals that summer.
He travelled in his pimped-up VW van, which suited the Devon surfer very nicely.
The following year he supported Plan B at the iTunes festival, as the only unsigned act on the whole month-long bill and recorded another live EP, Back To The Ocean, featuring a duet with Newton Faulkner, which lead to a support tour with Newton.
The same year he embarked upon his own headline tour and was invited to warm up arenas for Leona Lewis – which resulted in him playing the Royal Albert Hall.
The debut album was recorded in the Barnes garden shed of his producer, Patrick Wood.
"Nothing glamorous," he says, "just a couple of good mics.
"We're on the same wavelength so would start with a solid live performance to capture the essence the start to build the production."
Lead single Old Scars has been chosen as the theme for a TV ad campaign for a holiday home company which has already won Ryan thousands of new fans.
At the start of his biggest headlining tour to date, complete with three-piece band, things are looking very rosy indeed.
Catch him while you can!