They say all it takes is a tiny spark to start a fire, and that’s got to be the hope for Lancashire singer-songwriter Stephanie Kirkham.
Stephanie grew up in Chipping and Hurst Green, attended Longridge High School and Blackpool School of Art, before travelling the world working as a model. But her musical break didn’t come until she’d returned to Lancashire, working in her mum’s florist shop Secret Garden in Preston city centre.
After sending off some of her songs, she was signed to Virgin-owned Hut Recordings with a five-album deal in 2002, putting her on the brink of a major career. Unfortunately they folded a short time, and just one album – That Girl – release, later leaving Stephanie’s musical career in the lurch.
Stephanie Kirkham – back in 2003
Not to be deterred, album two Sunlight On My Soul came in 2006, released on her own label named SLK. It may have been quite some time since Stephanie’s been in the musical spotlight, but it’s clear she’s excited to release her third album Tiny Spark through Easy Action Records and distributed by Cargo. And she’s not let her somewhat turbulent musical past effect her new output – track titles such as Best Time Ever, Beautiful Day, and Future Come On give an indication of just where she’s at now.
“I would describe Tiny Spark as pretty and happy,” she says. “People say it’s ‘folk pop’, if you’re putting it in a box. “But each song is a little story which I had a lovely time writing and recording.”
While it’s not been a smooth path, Stephanie can still draw industry attention, with Tiny Spark produced by Grammy Award winner Phil Thornalley, who has the likes of Natalie Imbruglia, Pixie Lott, Bryan Adams and Thompson Twins on his CV. “It was a joy working with Phil,” she said. “When you’re at ease with someone, everything works better, and a lot of that also comes from confidence and age and that the more and more you do something the easier it is. “Making the first album I was nervous and out of my depth. During the second I was upset after the record company had folded. With this one, all that has gone.
A piece of Stephanie’s Tiny Spark art
“I’ve always said follow your nose and keep doing what you’re doing, and eventually there were enough songs for an album, so I said let’s do something!” In fact, Stephanie’s so confident these days that she’s already looking to a second release of her material from recent years – it’s already there, written and ready to go.
Song Easy As 1 2 3 has already been used for TV adverts, for Peugeot and EDF in France, and more recently for Miracle Gro in America. “Those kind of deals do give you good feedback,” she said. “And whatever job you do, that’s welcome; it’s not a music thing, it’s a human thing. “The Miracle Gro one is probably my favourite, it’s a really pretty advert.
It’s no surprise that Stephanie’s got such a good outlook on her music, she’s ‘in her 40s’ – no specifics, and was ‘in her 30s’ when she signed that ill-fated record deal. That said, you’d never guess her age from her promotional photos; and it’s easy to see why she was picked out to be a model during her art college days in Blackpool.
And her experience in the ‘cut throat’ industry has clearly had its impact over the years. “Blackpool College Of Art was one of the best in the country, when I went,” she said. “I did graphic design for two years and had a choice of completing an HND or joining a model agency. “But I wouldn’t have even done modelling without going to college; I used to do shoots for the photography students, and ended up having all these portfolio photos. “I was a model for five years, travelling a lot to Japan and living there for three months at a time. It was a great opportunity.
“It’s difficult to make friends in that job; it’s cut throat and I was quite shy then, but I was writing songs even then. “Japan was a completely different culture. I’d always been interested in their art, and I’d expected it to be a really beautiful place – Tokyo was a big city with a lot of cars and not so many temples, although every now and then you would come across somewhere down an alley and think you were in another time and world.”
Stephanie drew an end to her modelling days in something of a cliched fashion; the pressures of maintaining a model’s physique became too much. “I wasn’t taking the best care of myself and my health was suffering,” she admits. “I was missing being creative, and if you’re not able to express yourself, the opposite of that is depression. “My spirit and my body were getting smaller and smaller.”
Returning to Preston and the safety of her mum’s florist’s allowed Stephanie her creativity once more, whether song writing or painting – and her mum started selling her art in the shop. And she’s combined her love of art and music at each stage of her career, creating a series of abstract pictures to accompany each album she’s released.
Growing up in the beauty of the Ribble Valley, Stephanie’s now made her home in the equally beautiful and artistic far western reaches of Cornwall – although she makes regular trips home to help in the florist’s even now.
She describes the Tiny Spark’s artworks as ‘like when you look at the bright light of the sun ’ – and some of her work’s been picked up by her new record label as cover art for fellow musician’s releases. Admitting she was ‘clueless’ about her future at school, ending up studying graphic design because her fine art student brother suggested it would be a more lucrative pursuit, Stephanie reveals her ‘dream job’ back then would have been designing album cover art.
So one way or another, it seems life’s worked out pretty well.
As the lead single from Tiny Spark perhaps predicted: Best Time Ever.
* Listen out for Stephanie when she makes a trip back north tomorrow, to appear on John Gilmore’s Radio Lancashire show, singing live, from 2pm.