The youngest of four children born to a Maltese mother and a Scottish father Keith's love for the guitar was evident from the age of four. While his siblings found fascination with the old upright piano in the back room, the energetic youngster found a greater interest in the broken tennis racket discovered in his sister's bedroom. It would be seven years later on his 11th birthday that the first real instrument would settle in his hands. To this day a guitar of some sort has rarely left them.
Initially inspired by the family's eclectic record collection the passion for the instrument could be witnessed in the meticulous learning and repetition of anything and everything he heard. Such was the intense nature of the practice and the outrage at the most minor mistake his mother believed him to have developed a 'psychological disorder' - even seeking medical opinion from local doctors. Given the all-clear the practice continued and at 14 years of age he began teaching guitar to local musicians - some twice his age.
' I placed an ad in the shop window as a guitar teacher, £2 per hour. I would turn up for the lesson and they'd assume I was the paper boy collecting money. There was the attitude: " you can't teach me, you're just a kid." I had to play things on their doorsteps before they would let me in. Looking back it doesn't surprise me; it was an out-of-the-way remote village. Electricity still terrified people…'
Throughout the teens rock - and particularly Thin Lizzy - were the dominant musical force prompting the obligatory 'first band' scenario with school friends. An impressive lunchtime gig in front of 300 students and teachers whetted the appetite leading to a semi-professional career performing in clubs and recording studios.
'I had a simple plan: I wanted to be a rock star. I couldn't see anything wrong with that idea...'
However, despite the playing prowess and determination, success in the notoriously tough music business remained elusive. Numerous gigs, demos of songs and instrumentals failed to secure any major interest. To compound the situation playing rock guitar in a rock band no longer had the same emotional effect on the 19 year old virtuoso.
' Maybe I didn't want to be a rock star after all. I felt there was something missing - and I don't just mean helicopters, Ferraris and super-models. Rock wasn't moving me any more. I was still very young and couldn't really understand or explain how I felt but the love wasn't there. The fascination had gone. In a musical sense I felt there was something bigger to be getting on with although I had no idea what that might be. '
Unsure of the next step a bizarre moment of epiphany captured and set ablaze a fire in the young guitarist's heart.
' It's funny how seemingly insignificant things shape your future... I was asked to fix a sewing machine by a friend. I had no idea why I agreed to it but something just nagged me to say yes. I had the thing in pieces on the floor and I was thinking how nice it would be to have the manufacturer's manual and some diagrams - I mean there were pieces scattered all over the place. I was in her house alone thinking: 'I've really messed this up.' To de-stress the situation I picked a record at random from her collection and put it on. Well...'
That record was Narcisso Ypes playing the Luteworks of Johann Sebastian Bach.
' I sat on the floor, mouth open staring at the speakers. My stomach was spinning. I had goose bumps all over me. One guitar playing so many lines of music. One man making such a beautiful sound... It felt as if a door had opened and a bright light was pouring through. The prelude from Luite suite 2; those opening bars... I can still feel the emotion of that moment 20 years later…'
The Marshall amplifiers and Stratocaster guitars were sold. Music stands, a classical guitar, JS Bach's Complete Luteworks and the very necessary, 'How To Read Music' were purchased in their place.
'I put HTRM on one music stand and the Luteworks on the other. I started at page one and would sit for 10 hours a day flitting to and from each book trying to find the note on the fretboard. To make sure I was holding my hands correctly and sitting properly I would look at pictures of Julian Bream and take it from there. It was a slow process and probably would have benefitted from some outside tuition but I enjoyed it too much on my own. I learned a great deal about persistence through that.'
Three years later a large enough repertoire had developed to entertain an audience.
' I remember my first event: a wedding reception. There was me decked out in bow tie and dinner shirt - to think I once wanted to be a rock star. Nervous? It seemed such a good idea saying 'yes' to the gig - until I got there and saw all those people. My other live performances had always included four other band members; as a soloist there is no hiding place; the slightest error can feel as if an intruder alarm and flashing red light have gone off over your head: "Mistake - Mistake - Mistake". I wasn't shaking or throwing up but I had the sweatiest palms imaginable. The guitar itself felt like an ice cube; the strings felt like glue had been poured over them. Playing classical guitar in your bedroom and playing it in public are two, completely different ball games. I thought maybe I'd gone in over my head...'
But those 10-hour days of practice paid off.
'I got through it without a glitch and ended up enjoying it more than anything I'd done previously. The band situation always felt like role play - an act, I suppose. This operated at a different level, as though I was just a conduit for the music. No ego involved at all. A more authentic experience and I felt totally comfortable with my playing. When you spend that much time in isolation, listening and comparing yourself to the masters like Bream and Williams you can become immune to your positive qualities. To improve you always search for a weakness to work on but you can end up magnifying these things out of proportion. It's only when you perform in public and see the effect it has on the audience do you get some perspective back. I forget how many people booked me on the strength of that one performance but I didn't turn any of them down.'
And so the mould had been set. Since then, coupled to the unwavering passion for JS Bach, Keith has traveled the world eager to share that passion with anyone who cares to listen. He has performed at Leeds Castle, The Louis Vuitton Classic Car Show, BBC TV, St Thomas Church, Leipzig, Rochester Cathedral, the Alhambra Palace, played personally for Lord Montague of Beaulieu and corporate events in the USA. Twenty years on the passion still burns.
' I'll play anywhere: at a wedding, in a pub, restaurant, castle, stately home, or even at the side of the street. I have never been able to fully explain just why Bach has this effect on me. It's impossible to quantify. It's like a puzzle that can't be solved. It's timeless. It's even inspired me to write Latin/Jazz songs and modern compositions that bear no resemblance yet contain so much of his influence. It's like the DNA of music. It's shaped and directed my entire adult life, made me happy to be alive and many times reduced me to a sobbing wreck. It's as if it represents everything about being human. What more can I say? I'm glad I agreed to fix that sewing machine…'