The Kev - "The audience should be treated like the tiger in Life of Pi. It is your friend, but it could also maul you to death at any moment." - Stereo Stickman

The Kev “The audience should be treated like the tiger in Life of Pi. It is your friend, but it could also maul you to death at any moment.”


Longtime songwriter and live acoustic performer The Kev brings an interesting twist of storytelling and humour to the modern music scene. We were blessed with the chance to interview Kev, to dig into his process and journey a little. Here’s how it went.

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Hi Kev – thanks for the interview! To introduce things, how long have you been playing guitar, and who first inspired you to write songs?

I got my first guitar in 1997 when I was thirteen, and I have been writing songs on-and-off since then. I have only had three substantial periods of songwriting, one in my mid-teens, another in my late twenties, and the latest one in my mid-thirties. 

So many factors must come together for a creative patch to work.

You describe yourself as a ‘mild mannered Mandarin tutor by day’, which contrasts quite distinctly with the artist we see in the live music clips. How do you balance the two disciplines, the serious and the comical, and where do the two approaches intertwine?

There is much more intertwining than there is contradiction. Both require keeping on top of developments and advances in the field, and staying attuned to the needs and desires of the client, or audience.

To keep moving forward, every day I set aside a few hours for things that are not urgent, but important. These include reading, exercise, and language study. Sometimes it is hard to squeeze it all in.

You’ve written two albums in Chinese and have only just now ventured into British humour music. Was there also humour in the Chinese language projects, or is this a complete change of direction for you?

Very much so. When I started writing Chinese songs, I mostly imitated the Mandopop I heard and the 90s indie I had grown up with, but eventually accepted that I would never be seen as a serious artist (Chinese-speaking Caucasians are still a novelty), so I decided to turn silliness into a strength.

What first inspired or prompted you to hit the stage and ‘beat the bland out of the British and Irish music scene’?

The expression ‘beat the bland’ makes it seem like there is a combative or competitive element to my work. There isn’t. It is more about carving out a unique niche, and bringing others along with me.

As a Mancunian, your reference to Manchester’s open mic scene naturally stood out. What are the best and worst traits of open mic life in general, and what makes for a great and memorable Open Mic night?

There are plenty of pros and cons. One of the cons it is often hard to find an engaged audience, since a huge proportion of the crowd is simply other performers waiting their turn. Still, I have connected with countless people, and built a small but devoted fanbase in less than five years, which included a long interruption during COVID. 

“To get the best out of an open mic, I find I need to prepare twice as much material as I will use, and read the room to figure out what is the best fit. It is always the highlight of my week when an open mic goes well, and it usually does.”

With acoustic comedy music, it’s often the live performances that allow them to connect. On that note, where do you imagine people listening to the music via streaming, and how do you capture attention from the masses online?

Building an audience online is tough. If I’d started fifteen years earlier, viewing figures would have snowballed a lot quicker. Now what is required is a perfect camera and mic setup (which I don’t have), regular uploads at specific times of the week (which I am good at), and acute awareness of what is currently popular (which I am temperamentally indifferent to).   

To really blow-up online I would need a game-changing miracle to work in my favour. It could happen. But obviously I can’t count on it.

“To have a good online fanbase I think a decent rule of thumb is: “Ask not what the Internet can do for you, ask what you can do for the Internet.””

Your live audiences seem to respond brilliantly – what are your top tips for putting on a captivating and memorable live acoustic performance?

As I said before, the audience should be treated like the tiger in Life of Pi. It is your friend, but it could also maul you to death at any moment. Anyone who thinks that public hangings could never happen in a modern first-world country should see the way comedy crowds treat inexperienced comedians who bomb.

My open mic performances amount to teaser trailers, while my headline gigs take many weeks to script and rehearse down to the last detail. There are no tricks of the trade, you just have to have strong material, and not let the audience get bored for a second.

What was your experience of ‘going viral’ – is it worth the hype as an aspiration, or did it come with difficulties?

I went viral in China, and it was only brief. In 2018, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt predicted that within ten years, the Chinese internet and the non-Chinese internet would completely split. In fact, it happened within well under half a decade.

It did not make a lick of difference to the size of my audience on Western platforms like Instagram or YouTube. I was lucky that Belfast Live picked it up and did a report on it, if it weren’t for breaks like that, I would have no documentary proof that I am who I claim to be.

What’s next for you?

I wanted to play more comedy nights this year. I recently attended a gong show as an audience member, and I thought the whole thing was barbaric as well as anti-creative. So I am going to have to find another way of introducing myself to comedy audiences.

There are no easy answers. But I’ll find something.

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Find The Kev on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok & his Website.

Rebecca Cullen

Founder & Editor

Founder, Editor, Musician & MA Songwriter

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