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Meet: Musician in residence and pianist, Joe Kirby

Songs in the key of sea

Joe Kirby, 28, is a musician whose nostalgic sound has resonated everywhere from BBC1 to London’s legendary Abbey Road Studios.

He’ll be joining us for a unique musical residency at Watergate Bay from 16–19 November, when he’ll be recording the natural environment, and decamping to the hotel’s ocean view spaces to compose a new piano piece. One that’s not just inspired by the beach, but actually incorporates its sounds – and you’re all invited along to play a part in his process…

We caught up with Joe to discover more about his unique composition approach, creating music inspired by everything from waves to childhood memories.

Tell us about yourself and your upcoming collaboration with Watergate Bay.

I’m a pianist from Wandsworth, in London. Over three days in November, you’ll be able to find me in the hotel – on the deck at sunset, for example – composing a piece of music on a portable keyboard. The aim is to make a song inspired by my trip to Watergate, and created during my stay there.

It’s an exciting idea, and I’ll have to change my usual approach: instead of just repeating the same small sections as I figure the music out, I’ll start by hitting record and improvising. It will be one fluid motion. People will be able to watch as I play all the ideas that come into my head, in a flowing hour-long piece.

It will be one fluid motion. People will be able to watch as I play all the ideas that come into my head, in a flowing hour-long piece

Afterwards, I’ll listen back through that long piece and choose the best parts to make into a song. Hotel guests and visitors will be able to find me in different areas. They can come and have a chat and ask questions as I compose on my portable keyboard, and I can explain exactly what I'm doing.

I’ll then perform the song on the final night of my stay. It won’t yet be in its finished form, but people will be able to feel the essence of it. And if they play the completed track online later, they’ll know they were there for its creation, and remember their stay too.

What kind of music can we expect?

My music is relaxing and nostalgic. It’s inspired by physically being in places. Watergate is ideal: it’s one of the few hotels in England with views of proper waves and nice sunsets.

But rather than just being inspired by the idea of the nature around me, for example, I actually record the physical sound of that space and time, and put pieces of it into the songs. I like to see how the different elements in the environment – the nature, the architecture, the vibe – affect the feel.

Joe Kirby playing piano on stage

Your approach sounds very unique and interesting. How did it develop?

After graduating from Brighton University in 2017, I travelled around Australia for a couple of years. Every now and again, I’d stop and work on places like farms for a while. I had a recorder with me, and I’d use it to capture the sounds – of the outback, the ocean and the forests. And I started putting them into the songs I was writing.

This track, ‘Months at Sea’, incorporates the soothing ocean sounds I recorded during my stay at a farm hostel in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales. The hostel was just a minute's walk from the beach, where I worked on the farms, hand-picking blueberries.

In 2022, I released an album called The Great Ocean Road. All the music was inspired by my time in Australia, and most was written while I was there. I recorded it back in the UK during lockdown.

For my next EP, I spent three months living in Palma, Mallorca. I didn't have a piano with me, but the local piano shop let me use theirs to practise and compose on. So that music is very much rooted in that particular time and place too. I wanted to stay for longer, but because of Brexit rules, I had to return. I called the record Time to Come Home.

So how will the environment at Watergate Bay factor into your music this time?

I like to think my music invokes childhood memories in people. It certainly does for me. I used to go to Cornwall on holiday with my parents. It was like a foreign country, a different world to anything I was used to. I remember the train to St. Ives. It was the first time I’d seen interesting beaches. Instead of the tiny waves we’d get on the south coast, the ocean had life to it. I remember surf lessons at Watergate, where I loved being thrown around by the waves.

This song, ‘Fire in the Jungle’, features the ambient sounds of a forest in Croajingolong National Park, Victoria, Australia in 2018. Sadly, this area was heavily affected by the 2019-2020 bushfires, resulting in a significant loss of wildlife.

I’m booked in for more surf lessons during my stay this November, and I’ll bring my wetsuit to get a few swims in too. That sets me up for the day. My whole day is a lot better after I've been in the sea.

But I’ll also be recording sounds from the beach – the waves, the birds and the wind. I'll take some of the sounds I get on the first day and put them into a little device I have for playing them along with the piano. So people will be able to hear that as well. For me, the process of creating is about not narrowing anything down. It’s about staying open.

Joe Kirby

Joe will be in residency at Watergate Bay Hotel from 16-19 November, and will be performing the piano piece he creates there, inspired by his stay, on Sunday 19 November as the sun sets in The Living Space.

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