5 Questions With UK Music Producer Chris Birkett
Chris Birkett is a multi-talented, award-winning producer, singer/songwriter, composer, and sound engineer. His music collaborations with A-list artists like Sinead O’Connor, Alison Moyet, Dexys Midnight Runners, Talking Heads, The Pogues, Bob Geldof, Quincy Jones, Mel Brooks, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Steve Earle have sold over 100 million records and earned a Grammy, 4 Canadian Junos, the Polaris Music Prize and two international AMPEX Golden Reel Awards for excellence in the music business. Chris is now a proud Canadian citizen living in Toronto.
1. What passion project are you working on these days?
Top of my bucket list is my musical ‘The Age Of Awakening’. Followed by my band project – The Free Spirits debut album 11:11
2. What first inspired you to become a musician? What was your training?
When I was 17 years old I was doing an Aircraft Electronics degree at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, the town where I grew up in the U.K. My College would book some awesome bands to entertain us. Bands like – Pink Floyd, Free, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple. One night I was standing in front of Richie Blackmoore, Deep Purple’s guitarist, and I had my first Epiphany. “I don’t want to be an electronic engineer, I want to be that guy”. Everything changed from that moment.
I taught myself how to play guitar, building my first musical instrument at the age of 8 years old, using scraps I’d collected from garbage cans. I went on to play guitar for some of the greats including Rufus Thomas, Ann Peebles, Love Affair and Buffy Sainte-Marie. I even got to jam with Led Zeppelin for 3 months.
3. What are some challenges that you have faced while building a career in the arts and how did you overcome them?
At 19 years old, I ran away from a mean step-mother and ended up homeless on the streets of London for some time. I played in Irish pubs and took whatever job I could to survive. On a fortuitous night while working the night shift at a gas station a guy came in looking for me. He had heard that I was a good guitar player and invited me to join him and his band on an 18-month tour of Germany, leaving that morning. At 7 am, my boss arrived, I quit my job and started my career as a professional musician. After this event, my philosophy has been to always say “yes” to opportunities, no matter what the risk. This has served me well.
4. What lessons have you learned that has proven the most valuable?
Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, there is always an opportunity to marry your experience with the present situation to create future opportunities. For example, while my band and I were recording with Tony Visconti in the studio, I asked questions about the recording and engineering process (remembering my early electronic training.) This boded well for my future life as a producer and engineer when Tony’s company Good Earth Records folded and our recording contract came to a sudden halt.
5. What is your WHY? (why do you do what you do?)
“Why am I here” has been my driving question. I can’t imagine doing anything else. Music is a gift that comes through me. I believe it is the universal language and its therapeutic value is enormous. I feel truly blessed to have been given the gift of music so that I can work in this medium. This is why I’m here.