British pop unknown wins Hong Kong fame with free-speech hit

HONG KONG - A British singer-songwriter whose ballads failed to make a mark at home has become an unlikely hero in Hong Kong, where his anthem to overcoming adversity has galvanised free-speech protesters.

Kashy Keegan has found fame in the southern Chinese city with "This Is My Dream", which has became the unofficial soundtrack to protests against the government's refusal to grant a licence to an upstart television network.

"As a singer-songwriter it's what you aspire towards," he said as he returned to the city Tuesday ahead of his largest-ever solo concert which will be staged on Friday.

After years of trying to break into the music industry by performing in small venues and recording song demos at his own expense, Keegan said had almost "given up" on a pop career until he received a call asking him to perform at the rallies.

When new network HKTV had its licence application blocked, footage of the protests with "This Is My Dream" playing in the background emerged on YouTube, spawning an instant hit that topped Hong Kong's iTunes singles chart.

Last October Keegan electrified thousands of protesters with two performances of the song.

"It's quite a dramatic song and quite defiant. It captured the emotion and the spirit of the time," he told AFP.

Keegan spoke of his admiration for HKTV chairman Ricky Wong, who he said was trying to push the boundaries of television in Hong Kong.

"(Viewers) are very limited," he said. "They have hardly any choice and the programmes are very generic and inane.

Wong "wants to create this network where you can be more creative," he said.

There have been mounting concerns that China is seeking to tighten control over the semi-autonomous region and rein in its free-wheeling media. Thousands joined a demonstration for press freedom organised by journalists on Sunday.

Keegan, originally from the town of Worthing, Sussex, has been working on better connecting with his Hong Kong fans through Facebook and YouTube.

"I've had some attempts at learning Cantonese. I've done a few video messages, like for Chinese New Year," he said.

Keegan's day job is as a celebrity journalist in London, but he previously worked in a succession of low-paying roles including as a cleaner, data entry clerk and in telesales - singing in small venues for family and friends in the evening.

Performing on top of the bill at a 600-seat venue on Friday was "something I've wanted for many years," he said, adding he hopes to return in July to perform at HKTV's official launch, following its acquisition of an internet-based mobile television service.