One of the first instances in which I met young banker turned musician Stephen Ridley, was when he had agreed to play the piano on the bank of the Thames for 24hours. The night was unforgettable with toilet breaks accounted for with an Iphone piano app that allowed him to play at least one note continuously. He did all this to raise money for Cancer and the people walking past all stopped to commend him on his efforts and make a donation and he reached a total of £3,400.
Recently, Stephen has written a blog piece entitled “Confessions of a Young Banker – The Day I Snapped” and it is a fascinating, uplifting read. We met with Stephen to ask him more about his journey from finance to music.
First of all, I love what you do, your music is great. How long have you been playing for?
For about 18-19 years. I think for about 15 of those years it has been about 4hours a day minimum. It’s like, the only thing I do.
How would you describe your style of music?
Sincere. Passionate and … Stick with sincere and passionate. I like the rule of three but I have no third that lives up to it.
Who are your musical inspirations?
Ray Charles, definitely. The Rolling Stones, definitely. Jay Z, definitely. Portishead, Zero 7, Bon Iver.
So I’m gathering you just love every single kind of genre.
Everything. Just Pianist wise I love Oscar Peterson, he is fantastic. I did the radio show at University and we couldn’t think of a genre to go with because every time we’d pick one we’d like a different one and so ended up calling it ‘Afternoon Delight’ and it was just music to make love to. It was just music that was sincere and passionate.
What is it about playing in public areas that you love?
There are two reasons for that. First is, there’s no Bull Shit. There’s no lighting, there’s no sound works, there’s no gap between the stage and the tables. The people that listen to me aren’t there to have a drink,. They weren’t even planning on stopping and they’ve stopped and when they look at me it’s 100% attention. Part two is, I’m still like an economist at heart and I think to myself, “Okay, I’m going to play for two hours. Am I going to play for fifteen people or am I going to play on one of the busiest streets in London to two thousand people?” I always go for the second, right?
For those who haven’t read “Confessions of a Young Banker” can you tell us a bit about your transition stage from finance?
Yeh. I went to a Top University, I got a first class honours in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. I then went to a top European Investment Bank, I worked in the top team, I was their top analyst and I left that because I was miserable. To do something without willingness is the act of a slave. So, I didn’t really leave banking to do music. I went to a shopping centre and got a job as pianist by a complete fluke. And it just seemed natural. Now it seems obvious, of course I should have been a musician but at the time I had no clarity on anything.
You describe your music career in your blog as almost an accident. Do you think it was chance or fate?
That’s really interesting.
I don’t think it was either. I really believe in the power of responsibility, I think that happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, whatever you want to call it, lies in responsibility. And everything suddenly becomes not confusing, it’s not messy, it’s like, this is how it’s going to be, this is how it’s going to get done and that’s it. Nothing matters as soon as you’ve made that decision. If you haven’t…then every time someone says to you, “Oh I don’t think you should do this”, it’s going to really affect you because you’ve not decided. I felt very alone in banking. My friends all started to disappear, I wasn’t in contact with my family, and nobody in banking cared about me. Which is a really sad feeling. As soon as I started taking responsibility for things, stuff started happening. And I don’t think that’s fate and I don’t think its chance, I think you just make it happen. You know, the job that sort of, just landed on my lap as a pianist, wasn’t as straightforward as it might sound. Is there an element of chance that he met me in the first place? Maybe, but if he didn’t meet me I would have been out and met someone else.
There are a lot of young people in the world who might find themselves in an undesirable career purely for lack of a better idea. What advice might you have for them?
Since writing that article, I’ve had maybe 2,000-2,500 emails, and the emails are all the same, it’s people that want to get out and don’t know what they want to do. And my advice is always the same. Of course you don’t know what you want to do because you’re frazzled out, bent out at a desk everyday and it’s only when you get the clarity of mind of stepping away from that and becoming happy again that you think ‘Okay I’m happy now, what do I want to do?’
Now that you are well on your way to achieving your goals, what can we expect to see from you in the future?
I have just signed to management and just started working with producers to make a more marketable sound. Rather than going directly to labels and labels giving me a sound, I’m going a slightly tougher route of, well, taking responsibility, (He laughs) for my sound and I’m spending a while working with as many people as I can to get the sound that I want. And when that sound is ready, then I will take on a label and then I will take on the world.
Stephen Ridley will be playing gigs all over Europe and the UK so sign up to his Facebook and keep updated because in the life of Stephen Ridley, “Everyday’s a Music Day”.
Interview and Photography by Emily Kay