The man behind the UAE's most ubiquitous music. You've probably never heard of Barry Kirsch, but you know his work. If you've ever found yourself running a mental loop of that impossibly chirpy du song ("du-du-du-du-du-du, du-du, du-du"), you have Kirsch to thank. And that's just the start. The Al Futtaim Motors "We care and it shows" ditty: that's Kirsch, too. Emaar's orchestral rhapsodies: Kirsch. The jingles of the Dubai Shopping Festival, Emirates Airline, Dubai Metro: Kirsch, Kirsch, Kirsch. As he put it recently: "You name it, we've done the music for it."
This is only a slight exaggeration. In the eight years since he founded Barry Kirsch Productions (known as BKP), Kirsch has been responsible for hundreds of the UAE's most insistent jingles. Take his entire 30-odd year career into account - in which he has written jingles for everything from Tennent's Lager to British beef - and he's done thousands. While Kirsch may not be one of the best-known musicians in the world, he's got to be one of the most hummed.
Born in Belgium in 1950, Kirsch's interest in music began early. His father was an executive for EMI Europe, and would often bring artists home - Kirsch recalled meeting Edith Piaf in the living room one night. "My dad was a pretty extraordinary bloke," he said. "He was a lover of music and musicians, and I grew up with that same love." As a boy, Kirsch studied piano at King's School, Canterbury, in the south of England. In his late teenage years, he moved to London, where his musical inclinations took a sharp turn. "We're talking about the late '60s. This was the heyday of the London rock scene - the Marquee Club, Pink Floyd, all this stuff," Kirsch said last week, sitting in his Dubai Media City office. "It was, ah, fun."
Kirsch's involvement in the London rock scene was peripheral. He enjoyed a moderately successful career writing pop songs - the Bay City Rollers and Leo Sayer recorded his music - and also performed in a few bands of his own. "I thought I was going to be a rock-and-roll star," he recalled."I never really cracked it." By the late 1970s, the rock-and-roll lifestyle had started to wear thin. Kirsch was approaching 30, and he was eager to find something more stable. He tried producing records for a while, and wrote a few film scores, but neither panned out as a career. One night, by chance, he met an agent who represented jingle writers. The agent asked Kirsch if he was interested in signing up. He was. "I could see that a jingle is the chorus of a pop song - the bit everyone sings along to - without having to sweat over verses," he said.
Also, "jingle writing was quite sexy in those days." One of his first jobs, he recalled, was a piece for the UK Milk Marketing Board. Shortly afterward, Kirsch decided to go it alone. In 1980, he founded his own jingle company, Candle Music. While Candle now stands as one of the foremost outfits of its kind in England (Kirsch no longer has an interest in the firm), its early days were rocky. "We struggled like hell for the first year," Kirsch said. "Jingle writing was very much about who you knew. We were knocking on doors and getting absolutely nowhere. It was impossible." Candle's breakthrough came when Kirsch and his business partner decided on an unusual method of pitching to advertising agencies: "We put on a play."
Kirsch laughs about this now, but at the time he was desperate. "It was an insane idea," he said. "It was this completely mad little sketch about two jingle writers being pursued by Sherlock Holmes. We managed to get someone to let us put it on in their boardroom. I was Dr Watson in this little bowler hat and my partner was Sherlock in his deerstalker. They didn't know what the hell was going on." Still, word of the mad jingle writers got around. "Suddenly, every agency in London wanted to see us put this play on - we must have done a hundred performances. Out of this we started to get business. That was the beginning."
Over the years, Kirsch continued to dabble in other kinds of music, but was always drawn back to the jingle. Candle thrived, and its founder made a name for himself as one of the top men in the industry. By the late 1990s, however, London was proving to be a difficult place for someone in Kirsch's line of work. "There was a recession on, advertising was struggling and no one was using jingles," he said. In 2000, he decided to tap into UAE contacts he'd made at Candle and set up shop in Dubai. Two years later, he and his wife, Polly, founded BKP. "It was a real struggle," he said. "But we had a fantastic time."
Today, BKP is the largest company of its kind in the Middle East, with interests in everything from sound design to music licensing. Kirsch recently opened an office in Abu Dhabi, and plans to enter the Saudi market soon. He finds he has little time these days to sit down and write jingles, which makes him a bit sad. "I'm not 25 anymore," he said. "I've got some great youngsters here who are fantastic with loops and rap and all that. Me, I don't understand it. I come from the old school of song writing, creating melodies. This is my background." When asked to name a jingle he has written recently, Kirsch didn't skip a beat. "du," he said. "That one's mine."
* Chris Wright