Alex Kirkup comes from the Black Country and spent 10 years on the south coast before finally fetching up in Bristol. The name of his band, Rachel’s Last Dance, was inspired by a surfeit of girlfriends. Oh, and he might be looking for a bass player. If this turns into a recruitment ad, contact details will appear at the end.
Kirkup. Is that remotely Scottish? And are you from Brighton?
“No, I believe the name’s Northumbrian, which is close, I suppose. And though I spent 10 years in Brighton – that’s why there’s a reference to ‘fellow Brightonians’ in a revue on the myspace website – I’m originally from the Wolverhampton area.”
What got you into music?
“My dad encouraged me and my brother to take music lessons and I opted to do classical guitar, while my brother opted for the cornet. He gave up the cornet after about three months, but I persevered with the guitar.
“I didn’t really want to do classical; it was listening to Dire Straits that got me into wanting to play guitar. I got to Grade 5 by school-leaving age, but by that time I’d progressed from Dire Straits (or maybe regressed). I was a massive fan of Bon Jovi and I started getting into Britpop stuff, Blur and Oasis and American band Smashing Pumpkins.”
What sort of stuff were you playing?
“My guitar teacher, although he was a classical teacher he also liked Nirvana. He could sense that I wanted to do other stuff as well so he encouraged me to play like them.”
I try to imagine Teen Spirit played on a classical guitar. And fail. Cool music teacher though.
“My first band did a lot of Nirvana and Green Day and Radiohead covers – so that’s where I started. This was when I was still living in a little place called Kingswinford before I went to uni. It’s between Wolverhampton and Dudley. But I’m a Wolves fans so I always tell people I’m from Wolverhampton.”
What was the local music scene like?
“It was mainly pub gigs, our biggest gig was the Flapper and Firkin in Birmingham, but we did a lot of pub gigs in surrounding places like Stourbridge – and Dudley of course. It was a mix of my original stuff and the aforementioned covers. I still pepper my set with some covers.”
“Of to university in Brighton – Sussex University – and I then ended up staying in Brighton for 10 years playing my songs but more indie rock versions and in loads of different line-ups.”
Were you usually the songwriter in the band?
“Yeah, except for one band, in which I played drums. They were called Drookit Dogs, kind of folk rock, and quite big in Brighton for a while. That was a really good little band, we did a few of my songs. But the others were by the singer who was Mike Oldfield’s nephew – he was very folk influenced. He comes from Stroud.”
Is there a good music scene in Brighton?
“Yeah! Considering it’s half the size of Bristol it’s amazing the amount of stuff that goes on.”
Clearly, like the rest of us, Alex has to work for a living. So after a degree in International Relations and Film Studies, and a teaching qualification (more of which later) he now works at Filton College as a support worker, in classes with students with special educational needs.
“My dad’s a teacher, my mum’s a teacher, I enjoy working in education and I enjoy working with students who have educational needs. A lot of the adult day care centres are closing in Bristol so Filton… although a lot of the pupils have low literacy and numeracy… Filton does give them something to do. It increases their independence. City of Bristol does the same kind of thing.”
Back to the music, are we still in Brighton?
“Yeah. After I’d been there about seven years I got bored with playing in bands and started listening to more acoustic-based music. Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams, alt-country… and I started listening to Dave Matthews as well, all more acoustic-based stuff.
“I always write my songs on the guitar, they always start as acoustic songs. And logistically… I wanted to gig every week and with a band it’s sometimes hard to organise that, getting everyone to rehearse…
“By the end of my time at Brighton I was playing with my friend Eddie Hayden-Smith, on bass, and Daniella Franks on vocals, and ‘Jammer’ on the Djembe (African drum) player. And that was far easier. We could play more gigs: small acoustic gigs in pubs and we could play bigger venues as well.”
What were you called?
“That was Rachel’s Last Dance. I started using that name about five years ago.”
Deep breath, it’s the biggy. Where does the name come from?
“I was dating three girls called Rachel at the same time. No, it’s OK. They were all non-exclusive relationships – there was nothing scurrilous about it. One of them I was really enamoured of but that kind of fizzled out. But I just thought it was a cool name.”
Are any of the Rachel’s going to read this?
“Actually one of them moved to Bristol, so she might…”
Had you recorded anything by this stage?
“Yeah, mostly stuff I put up on the internet: Myspace, Sound Cloud, Pure Volume. I put it on line really.”
So how come the move to Bristol?
“I was actually in Cardiff last year, I went there to do a teaching qualification and I met some really good people, but before that I met some people in Brighton who said how good Bristol was. I liked Cardiff but I wanted to go somewhere more dynamic.”
Did you play much in Cardiff?
“I did a little bit. At that point Rachel’s Last Dance was me and a Scottish guy whose real name is Paul Johnstone, but he calls himself Rambling Simpleton. We played a few pubs a few times and a bigger venue called Buffalo.”
I can see that wherever you go music is an essential part of your life.
“Oh yes, I’d like it to be even more important. But I’m still looking for the right line-up.”
Could you go solo?
“I’ve tried but my songs need accompaniment to bring them alive. Some songs do work, but I feel you get a bit more power with a bass and another guitar…”
And other musicians in Bristol you rate who I might not have heard of – we’ll take the usual suspects as read.
“Lonely Tourist definitely stands out. Cat Bargwanna, who does vocals with me, she’s an accomplished singer songwriter. She’s Australian and when she went back there she sold a lot of stuff, but as soon as she gets a piano – they cost about a grand for a decent one.”
Good gigs? The Stars of course but tell me about some others…
“In Bristol, The Louisiana, the sound there is good and it’s got a lovely little stage. If someone’s going to Brighton the Prince Albert, by the station is good.”
Any bad gigs you’re willing to confess to?
“My worst gig was at a venue in Swansea. Rambling Simpleton had organised it in a sketchy sort of way. It was seedy rock pub that normally had rock covers bands. And we were an acoustic duo, so we played about four songs – we were supposed to do an hour and a half – and they asked us to stop. Not because we weren’t playing our stuff well, but they’d been getting complaints from the rockers.
“But hey, we got paid not to play – not many can say that!”
What’s the line-up at the moment?
“It’s me, Cat Bargwanna on vocals, backing and lead, and Steve Carroll on lead guitar. No bassist as yet. At the moment we’re playing a bit, we did the Louisiana and we’re back at the Seven Stars and Marlow’s Cellar Bar soon.”
So what of the future?
“I want to settle on a line-up, then gig as much as possible around Bristol and, although I’ve been putting stuff up on line a lot, when I’m happy with the line-up I want to take 10 of my best songs and do a CD.”
So what would be the ideal line-up for you in terms of the musical instruments?
“I’m not so worried about percussion, so… Piano, digital piano that is, Cat does play classical piano but she doesn’t have a digital piano at the moment. Then me on guitar, Steve on lead guitar – and a bass player.”
Anyone interested? (You do not necessarily need to be called Rachel.)
Contacts for Alex are:
Facebook: “Rachel’s Last Dance”
And for Cat: