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Keith Alexander

Keith Alexander

Kirkwall, Orkney

5th Year (incorporated masters)

Theoretical Physics

As I enter Keith’s 2-man lair I can’t help but comment on the lovely clean smell.  Turns out the boys hang their laundry right by the entrance–an ingenious way to get that cottony fresh scent!  Keith and his housemate keep their flat clean and inviting, the way all our parents wish we did.  The small kitchen is homey with a red and white checkered cloth on the table, and a blue bowl hand made by the land-lady’s husband.  Keith ‘introduces’ me to his impressive Chai collection, and we spend a few minutes chatting about various sweets.  In case you’re curious, he likes fruit pastilles and dislikes dark chocolate.  In fact, he’s not really a chocolate guy, the milkier the better!  And probably only on a bad day.  Cakes on the other hand?  This kid loves cakes– butterfly cakes with butter icing especially.  He also doesn’t like whiskey, but that’s slowly changing.  “I would love to like whiskey!” he says, emphatically with a hint of despair, “I like Drambuie though.  I know it doesn’t really count, but I’m easing my way in…I also don’t like coffee–so many scenes I’m missing out on…” Shaking his head in resignation, we leave the kitchen.

I cuddle my mango-chai as he leads me into his room.  It serves as a living room cum study space, with his bed on one side, a desk and sofa on the other, not to mention a pretty sweet music set up.  Music is a huge part of Keith’s life– it comes in just after physics and a bit before video games.  Listening back to the interview as I transcribe it, I’m flustered and impressed by the never ending stream of band names, artists, genres and obscure vignettes about artists lives and tribulations.

He sits at his computer as I oh-so-gracefully plop down on the sofa and asks me what type of music I like.  For the first time in my life, I am not met with abject horror when I reply country and folk.  So far so good, this cutie is a keeper.  He puts on a great Alison Krauss song and immediately begins making fun of my mustachioed macbook, “It says, ‘I’m so individual, but I buy into corporate marketing as well…’ Touché Mr. Alexander, you got me there.  Keith tells me about his summer before uni, working four jobs at one point before the cafe owner, ‘made the wise decision to hire more experienced staff.  That was a crazy week…’  The rest of the summer was more relaxing, with a mere three jobs to juggle.

Keith always knew he would be staying in Scotland–can’t beat free tuition!  Edinburgh fell by the wayside when Keith couldn’t remember anything about it after the visiting day.  “Nothing against Edinburgh, I guess it just wasn’t a good fit!”  Glasgow soon followed suit, and four years later Keith seems very happy with his choice.  “They [St Andrews and Glasgow] are both great institutions, so it was more about where I wanted to live for the next few years.  Going from a small island to a city like Glasgow would have been a huge jump… I liked the intimacy of St Andrews; the lack of anonymity.” 

And thankfully, he hasn’t tired of the intimacy yet.  When I asked what his favorite part of St Andrews is, he said, “I would hate to walk down the street and never see anyone I knew.  It’s a really friendly place, and the people tend to be quite social.”  The limited options for going out don’t bother Keith who cites his lack of confidence as a dancer as main reason for preferring pubs.  “Clubbing just isn’t my scene…unless you go there completely smashed…I much prefer talking to people, and not having the music too loud…oh dear, I sound so sedate and non-exciting!”  Keith doesn’t always channel his inner grandpa though, he likes to get a little wild too, “Everything the students put on themselves is great: concerts, gigs, house parties.  We have to make our own entertainment….”  Back home on the island, things are much the same.  Despite Orkney having pubs (and a club with two floors- take that Lizard!) Keith spends most of his nights with friends watching bad films and making each other laugh.  “I’m sorry, what was the question?” he asks “I do this all the time! I just start rambling about things…I volunteered to be interviewed for the 600th film.  They’d ask a question and I would just ramble on for ages until I forgot what they asked.  I’m just very chatty!” 

After a brief lesson on Orkney’s history and geography, which is definitely deserving of a google, I ask Keith if he sees himself back on the island as a full-fledged adult.  The answer, sadly was no.  “There are limited opportunities there for a physicist, but the renewable resource scene is HUGE… it’s definitely a world center for that sort of thing.  I’m not biased.  I’m totally biased.”  Orkney is known for its beautiful landscapes and serene setting, naturally attracting many artsy types to its shores.  With such an emphasis on creativity and nature, I was surprised that Keith found his way towards theoretical physics.  But he explained to me the changing nature of their schools, and how our generation has more opportunities by far than their predecessors, both in education and resources.   “My parents grew up on small islands off of mainland Orkney.  My mother’s…had a few hundred people on it at the time, and my father’s …. had maybe a hundred people on it if that.  Now it’s more like 20.  It was a very rural existence.  There was no mains electricity, you had to pour diesel in the generator outside.  And maybe when the generator was on you could turn the on the TV!  Obviously it was harder to keep an eye out on the little schools, so sometimes they got left behind.”  For many of our grandparent’s generation, “the extent of their opportunities was to be a farmer or work in a local garage… you definitely had to leave the island for academic opportunities.”  That much is still true of Orkney and the isles, with many students commuting in to the main island by boat each day, or staying over at the main school’s hostel for the school week.  There’s even a tv series you can watch about it called ‘Over the Sea to School’ and you’ll see some of Keith’s friends! 

Keith puffs up a little with pride as he tells me of his home, the one his parents built by hand 25 years ago.  As a young man, Keith’s father worked as a builder, laborer and joiner.  Though he hated all of the jobs, he soon found himself with the skills, tools and contacts to build a home.  “Both of my parents kept their full time jobs.  They would come back at night and build the house, with my Mom laboring for my Dad.  Sometimes my grandparents would help out as well.  Growing up in the isles, they all had experience in this kind of thing.”  It took them two years to build it, and on the night of their wedding they moved in.  “They paid for everything as they went, so they’ve been able to live debt and mortgage free their whole lives.  It’s definitely the reason I’m able to live as comfortably as I do.” 

I ask if Keith has any of that hardy constitution and he laughs and replies with a long, “nooo, certainly not!”  He seems to be forgetting his summer of three jobs… Though he may not be able to build a house, he is a pretty competent ‘fiddler’.  He picks up one of his guitars and explains that it has a double locking tremlo system, meaning the strings are clamped down on the bridge and on the neck, but there is movement under the bridge, allowing the instrument to stay in tune as you do “ridiculous dive bombs and pull ups and things!”  But Keith wasn’t using the instrument for dive bombs, so he decided to take it apart to see how the whole thing worked.  He fit a wooden block into the bridge, stabilizing the part of the bridge that allowed for those crazy sound effects.  While he now can’t to do swooshey things, his guitar stays in tune like a champ and he has pretty high bragging rights. 

As mentioned, Keith loves music.  He loves playing it, listening to it, talking about it and reading about it.  “Music has been a big part of my family since, well forever!  My Granddad is an accordion player-” he stops and laughs, “everyone in Orkney is an accordion player!”  His father dabbled in guitar, and there were always instruments in the house, though Keith didn’t take too much note of them until high school.  His first instrument was a cornet (a fancy looking trumpet), a result of being seduced by a primary school demonstration.  “The brass teacher came in and did these crazy things with a trumpet, like putting a funnel and a length of pipe on the end and spinning it around to make these really funky noises… I thought it was so cool!”  Keith smiles as he remembers playing film and marching songs in the local brass band, but admits that he was never really ‘inspired’ by brass.  It wasn’t until his second year of high school when he learned a few guitar chords that he found something he truly liked.  “I started playing around with my Dad’s guitars, and then I got a book from a factory outlet store, something like ‘How to Play Guitar’–I think it was four quid–and just carried on from there.”  Keith is modest about this achievement, which as far as I’m concerned is on par with climbing Everest.  “It’s not like Hendrix who just had friends to show him little things, and had to learn the rest by ear… the internet helps a lot…”

Keith’s earliest memory of music was rocking out to Slade’s ‘Greatest Hits’ album over and over again to the chagrin of his parents.  From there he found The Beatles, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin… and his love of rock bloomed like a beautiful metal flower.  Keith spent a lot of time explaining the history of Progressive Rock to me, “it’s rock with extra technical faculty…more complex compositions…died with punk…” it kept going, but I will never do the history justice, so if you’re interested find Keith and start chatting!  He’s a walking wikipedia, and a rare breed of metal fans in our little town. 

Keith plays jazz on Tuesday nights at One Golf Place, with a really great group of musicians and it makes for a nice evening out.  He had a bit of a rough start with the group, but is glad he stuck it out.  “I was waiting for Matt [St Andrean jazz guru/ Big Band creator] to arrive.  I had listened to a few songs, I knew one and the other was pretty simple, so I thought ‘okay, I can do this!’  They sat me down in front of this piece I had never seen, and asked if I knew what rhythm changes were.  I said ‘yes’, but I really meant ‘no’.  So that was a trial by fire… the next song went a lot better!”  Since playing with the jazz band Keith has developed not only as a musician, able to play out of his blues-rock/blues scale comfort zone, but also as a listener.  “I listen to so many more artists now, and have a deeper appreciation for what is going on, technically.”  When he’s not at Golf Place, he’s jamming with friends, and playing with band Heliovore, started by fellow physicist Jamie.  The two met at the Burn two years ago in a transferable skills course, and started talking about Jamie’s band t-shirt.  The band itself is hard to pin down, “It’s drone metal/rock/post-rock/doom metal–so many sub genres!” But check out their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Heliovore where you can listen to the LP Jamie recorded (I’m listening to it as I write and it’s great ambient music!)  “It’s definitely worth a listen, and I can say that because I’m not on it!” Keith says with a laugh, before launching into the story of how Heliovore found their bassist, Will.  “It was the first session I was jamming with them, and I just said, ‘I know a guy who would love to play this-just stop, I’m going to find him.’ I found him, brought him over and that’s how it happened!’  Clearly the recipe for good music: two physicists and a kidnapping… but joking aside, give the guys a listen!

His other passion is video gaming, though he has been ‘clean’ for three months.  In the past he used it to keep in touch with friends while back in Orkney, like a more entertaining and slightly violent Skype session, but he found it was just taking up too much time (and aiding his procrastination habit!)  But he’ll always love his DOTA, and Super Nintendo!  He even combined his loves of music and gaming at a friend’s birthday concert last week with a Zelda medley he co-wrote!

Keith is currently single (huzzah! A single guy in St Andrews!), and describes himself as a “soppy long term relationship guy”.  What a freak… He likes women with a “wacky” sense of humor, and preferably an appreciation for word play, puns and innuendo “probably the only laddish part of my personality!” he jokes.  Keith admits that he’s been “pretty bad with getting the ball rolling on relationships” but it’s something he’s working on.  If you’re looking for a warm hearted guy, who can serenade you on the guitar, give you a run for your money on mine-craft, and cook you a romantic dinner- Keith is your man!  Also, he has a large collection of slippers in which to adorn your feet with!  He gets a new pair each Christmas, and I find this adorable.

Keith is kind, intelligent and considerate.  He is an open friendly guy who showed a real concern for other people’s feelings and overall he is a massive babe.  If you see him out and about, be sure to say hello!  Especially if you’re a music lover! 

Thank you so much Keith and best of luck with your final year!




Favorite place to get a drink:  Either the Whey Pat or Aikmans. Think I might give the edge to the Whey Pat though.


Favorite place to grab a meal:  Probably Nando’s at the minute, ‘cos I’m a corporate drone [laughs]


Describe a great night: The most memorable nights often seem to be the impromptu ones, so probably something that starts of quiet with some good friends and then escalates into something bigger.


Most embarrassing moment this year: I never embarrass myself!  What are you saying?! No, the first one that jumps to mind– although there are probably worse that I’ve repressed–was at the start of this semester when I thought I saw a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. I tend to make silly faces when I see people, so I pulled some ridiculous expression and was met with this really confused, perhaps slightly disgusted look. My mistake quickly became obvious but there was no exit strategy. You can’t coolly recover from that so I just had to look elsewhere and walk on… [smooth]


Any hidden talents?: I don’t know if I’ve got much talent in it, but I really enjoy creative writing. Short stories, parodies, that kinda thing. Not really done much for a while though.


Little known fact:  I used to be really into classic tractors.  My Dad has an impressive collection of old Fords so I guess I was following him. I had all the toys, and a miniature sit on one as well. For some reason he even let me drive the real ones when I was about nine?  Something like that. I grew out of that manly stuff though!  [laugh]


Biggest fear? Being lonely, especially as I got older.  I think that would be terrible.


Sample playlist (Artist, Album, Song):

Alison Krauss & Union Station, ‘New Favourite’, Momma Cried

The Aristocrats, ‘Culture Clash’, And Finally

Baroness, ‘Yellow & Green’, Eula

Frank Ocean, ‘channel ORANGE’, Pyramids

Ratatat, ‘Classics’, Loud Pipes

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