Keith Ayling is a singer, songwriter and arts entrepreneur.
Described as tenacious, eclectic and ‘something of a polymath‘, (Fatea Magazine, 2015) Ayling has succeeded in a music career spanning over three decades whilst also working on projects in the arts, music education and media. He has released 14 albums, performed across Europe, India and Canada as well as gaining a Masters degree in songwriting. In the late nineteen nineties and early 21st century Keith Ayling was one of the most influential musicians in UK CCM. ‘Alongside Delirious and Fono, this is as good as UK CCM gets‘, confirmed music editor Tony Cummings, as Ayling became possibly Greenbelt Festival’s most booked artist, invited every year from 1991 to 2008.

Early years / K

After teenage years as a drummer, Keith Ayling was handed a thriftshop EKO acoustic by guitarists Bentham and Blackshaw, taught three chords and told to go away and write a song. He did and within a few months was gigging halls across Lancashire. Within a year he’d recorded his first album and sold a few hundred copies. By 19, whilst running an art gallery he was being picked up by festivals such as Liverpool’s Crossfire (where he later became a board member and designer) and in 1991, Greenbelt Festival. The band developed, albums were released and Ayling’s sound matured in to a northern Britrock (under the name ‘K’), hailing from coastal Blackpool, a breezy antidote to the rising Manchester scene.
Though pioneering the ‘cassingle’ and the ‘six track mini album’, it was after the arrival of CD’s that the band’s national following started to explode. Employing legendary producer Nigel ‘Chopper’ Palmer, they set to work on two fast selling mini albums; 1993’s ‘Know’ and 1995’s ‘Sense’, that garnered many more mainstage slots – headlining, as well as supporting Midnight Oil and Mike Peters (Alarm) – and a healthy rivalry with Cheltenham’s alt-folksters Eden Burning.

After winning the North West’s Bandstand competition as the band K, (1995) the outfit ventured to London for showcases to Warner Brothers, EMI and Europe’s largest label, Musidisc. Contracts were offered but the negotiations went one step too far and everyone walked away.

KATO

In 1996, after a few months of soul searching, Ayling formed four-piece KATO, a more purposeful, cleaner direction with the charm of pop embracing northern roots and very much in the the Britpop mould of the day. The 1996 release ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’ was a sparse release from the pain of the year before (launched with a two week residential at Spring Harvest) and it wasn’t until 1997’s ‘Seasider’ that everyone once again noticed he was back. Many gigs followed. Sold out venues like Brixton Academy and the London Forum together with European festivals like Freakstock and Christmas Rocknight. The song ‘Superhero’ reached the finals of the world UNISONG songwriting competition. In 1998, KATO were asked to return to Greenbelt’s mainstage to celebrate it’s twenty fifth birthday. The band were filmed for a Granada television documentary and the gig resulted in an invite to play a Swiss festival (a moment that changed Ayling’s life).
That year, Ayling also spent a few months working on a project to draw together young people in his coastal home that resulted in an arts festival at Blackpool Tower. KATO headlined gigs at the Tower Circus and Tower Ballroom, supported by Iain Archer, Ben Okafor and Four Corners. The album Seasider was then picked up by a US label and re-released stateside with the addition of some earlier tracks, landing strong airplay.
In 1999 Ayling decided to record an acoustic album with beat producer Tony Silcock titled Home Movie which received strong reviews in spite of an eclectic sound. It was the same year that serious talks began with Eastbourne label ICC / Elevation Records and a deal was signed to make KATO the flagship band of the label. It was also the same year that the band returned again to Switzerland to headline a festival, this time with support by EARTHSUIT from the US. (NB. Later, in 2003, Earthsuit appeared at Greenbelt Festival, UK on the same mainstage bill as Kato. Earthsuit later split with new project MUTEMATH being formed by singer Paul Meany.)

Immediately entering the studio for a month with Dave Lynch (Toploader, Duke Special, Luke Sital Singh) the band found their sound and released ‘Welcome to my world’, a triumph gaining five star reviews across the board and a groundbreaking, sold out, 28 day tour of the UK followed. There were GMA UK nominations for Best Band and Best Album, support slots with All Star United and Switchfoot. It became the fastest selling album in label ICC’s thirty year history as well as the biggest selling album at Greenbelt 2001 and Spring Harvest 2001. When the album reached the US, one morning Ayling woke up to find an email from a New York radio station saying that the song ‘Heaven Help’ had been placed on regular airplay and was being regularly requested shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The song remained on NY airplay for 9 months. Across UK independent radio three singles from the album went to #1 on airplay charts.

There were tours to Holland, Germany, France, Switzerland, Canada, N. Ireland and the Shetland Isles. The album was distributed to Europe, Australasia and South Africa. Ayling and KATO were asked to play at Lambeth Palace by the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as the NEC, Birmingham by Bill Hybels.

It was a whirlwind. And very quickly Elevation requested a second album. Retreating for just four weeks, Ayling wrote Songs to help you Survive and went in to the studio immediately again with Dave Lynch. The sound was more considered and more mature, displaying a more complex side to Ayling’s writing. (Few people knew that at the time his father had been terminally diagnosed with cancer.) The album was released (at Greenbelt 2002) to five star reviews and critical acclaim, but despite this, Ayling placed a hold on extensive touring, preferring to stay local with his family. His hugely influential father died in December 2003.

Charity work, Presenting & Design

Over the next five years, alongside a slightly slower touring pace, Ayling found new outlets for his creative vision. He founded charity Bigskytrust, which raised money through graphic design to fund music education. Over five years it worked in over 100 schools in Slovakia, reaching 20,000 young people. It trained young people and inspired Ayling’s first songwriting residential in the Lake District, attended by a young Laura Mvula.

Again with Greenbelt Festival, Ayling launched a ‘live’ radio show, which ran for five years and became Greenbelt FM’s highest rated – where he personally interviewed festival guests including friend Martyn Joseph. Alongside this, he was coined ‘last band of the festival‘, playing to capacity crowds in the Performance Cafe’s final slot for five years running.

In 2006 he launched CORE magazine, a national culture publication, again with a myriad of personal interviews including Switchfoot, Mutemath, Duke Special and Rob Bell. Over two issues it quickly became the second largest UK distributed faith-based magazine of that year. He also continued with graphic design for many national charities. In 2009 he became national media manager for the MMA and regional media manager for the EA.

Return of the songwriter

In 2010, although continuing to gig but not releasing a new album, Ayling studied for a Masters degree in songwriting at Bath Spa university tutored by Davey Ray Moor (Cousteau). It signaled a return to a once prolific career with a new project ‘Mister Keith’, announcing the invention of Victorian Pop. The resulting album, ‘Record of Wrongs’ (2014), released to critical acclaim, brought a new intimacy to his writing and more complexity to the arrangements enrolling a much larger ensemble that included Ben Castle, Phil Wilkinson, Eastbourne Salvation Army Band, Warwick University Brass and members of KATO. The release has earned him respected festival slots alongside BBC Introducing Artist of the Month and Video of the Month.

Similarly in tandem with these years, Ayling’s profile in music education in the UK has risen as he has promoted the value of songwriting in school. Invited to speak at the national association of music teachers MMA conference (2014) and Music Education Expo (2014) alerted charity CLIC Sargent to approach him to be the lead songwriting tutor for their own residential programme. In a team including Simon Rix (Kaiser Chiefs), Sam Brookes, Will Lang and Natalie Holmes, Ayling currently works with diagnosed students developing creative processes in songwriting.

In 2017 he will speak for the Prince’s Teaching Institute at Cambridge University and will run a songwriting residential for Benslow Music. His music education magazine (for the MMA) has been nominated for magazine of the year by the Association Awards – a publication that has seen him interview Nicola Benedetti, Karl Jenkins, Alison Balsam and long time friend, Duke Special.

Keith Ayling K Greenbelt
RECENT TIMELINE

May 2017
Speaker on Songwriting at the MMA national music teaching conference

March 2017
Shortlisted as Editor/Designer of Magazine of the Year

November 2016
Host of the Ensemble 100 event for music education, London

August 2016
CLIC Sargent songwriting residential

June/July 2016
Mister Keith summer tour

March 2016
Support for Boo Hewerdine

December 2015
BBC Introducing Video of the Month

November 2015
BBC Introducing Artist of the Month

October 2015
CLIC Sargent songwriting residential Scotland

September 2015
BBC Ten Pieces – commissioned to write for the prestigious BBC Education initiative

August 2015
CLIC Sargent – invited to run Songwriting residentials for the national cancer charity

June/July 2015
Mister Keith summer tour

March 2015
Speaker on Songwriting, Barbican, London, National Music Education Expo

May 2014
Speaker on Songwriting at the MMA national music teaching conference