Ainslie takes a second shot at fame

EDINBURGH-BORN Ainslie Henderson may have become a household name overnight when he battled his way through to the last four of Fame Academy in 2002.

But the popular reality TV show and subsequent arena tour also robbed him of his desire to perform for the best part of three years.

Indeed, in an interview at the start of 2003 Henderson, then 24 years old, admitted that he wished he had found fame through another route, despite landing a 250,000 recording deal with Mercury Records and seeing his debut single Keep Me A Secret rise to No 5 in the charts.

Today, however, having laid the ghost of Fame Academy to rest, the 28-year-old, who recently released his first album Growing Flowers By Candlelight, is back and ready to introduce audiences to the real Ainslie Henderson.

"I can divide my life into Before Fame Academy and After Fame Academy because the experience turned my life on its head," he reflects candidly, ahead of two forthcoming Edinburgh gigs - the first at the Bongo Club, Holyrood Road on Wednes-day with a six-piece band; the second, a more intimate acoustic set at Beanscene Haymarket on April 4.

"Doing Fame Academy was really destructive actually, because I felt like I had cheated and that I was being given praise that I hadn't earned. I felt like I had taken a shortcut and that I was going to be found out for it. And I think I probably sabotaged myself because of that.

"I hid away and was embarrassed by recognition. I didn't want to play shows. For three years after Fame Academy I wouldn't sing onstage because I just couldn't reconcile myself with that 'Ainslie from Fame Academy'. "

The singer's story starts in Edinburgh on January 29, 1979. Although he was born in the city, Henderson was brought up first in Falkirk, where he lived until the age of three and then in Manchester, before his family settled in the Borders' village of Denholm when he was seven.

But it was back in the Capital at the age of 17 that he first made his mark on the music world in a band called Suburbia, a band with which he secured his first record deal, long before the birth of reality TV.

"The first time I lived in Edinburgh I was 17 and had just left home. Living in the Borders, a move to the big city was the natural thing to do. I was in a band at the time and we had decided it was time to try to get gigs outwith the Borders. I stayed in Haymarket and we gigged at places like the Cas Rock, the Attic and the Venue."

Indeed, it was while playing Edinburgh's rock venues that Henderson's band landed the biggest gig of their young career, appearing as the houseband on a new BBC show.

"Digital TV was just being launched," he recalls. "There was a magazine show on BBC Digital - now BBC3 - on Sundays, which was looking for a houseband. We went for it and got it and had to go to London every weekend for six months to play one of our own songs and a cover."

Just as Suburbia began to make a name for itself, however, internal friction caused it to implode.

"It was really exciting the way the band broke up," says Henderson, as he relates what happened.

"Capital Records got hold of one of our demos and they loved it. So they took us to LA for six weeks to record three tracks. By that point we had been together about three years. We were young and hungry and arrogant and had come to start hating each other.

"There was already a lot of awkward politics going on and as soon as there was that sort of record company interest in us, it just exposed all the things that we were finding difficult."

It was the first case of 'so near, yet so far' for Henderson, whose love of performing developed in his early teens.

"Like all families, people would get together at family gatherings, get drunk and sing," he recalls. "My grandad would sing old war songs and as soon as I started playing guitar at 14, he'd get me to play along.

"Then at High School I took part in school plays. I remember doing Tom Sawyer when I was about 15 and being excited by the sense of being on stage and performing for an audience - that was something that was a real revelation for me. It was like nothing else I'd experienced before."

It was around that time that Henderson also made his debut as a vocalist, fronting the school's guitar group.

"The guitar group had to play Wonderful Tonight and the teacher said, 'It's great having six guitarists playing together but if only we had some-one to sing the song too'. So I shyly ambled forward and said I would do it - that was probably the first time I sang in public," he muses.

In his own words, Henderson had been "caught by the performing bug" by the time he moved to Edinburgh and it was still with him on his return from LA, when he moved to London where he lived for two years before his girlfriend of the time submitted a tape of him to the producers of Fame Academy.

Even then, Henderson admits he was unsure about whether the show was the right vehicle for him. Suburbia had boasted an edgy sound - "I was obsessed listening to Manson and The Smiths. It had a lot of Radiohead about it, that whole Brit-pop thing," he says - whereas Fame Academy was about producing bubble-gum pop.

"I was conscious that Fame Academy was very different to what I had been doing and I remember going into the auditions with a real reluctance.

"I think they actually picked up on that and that was why I got in," he recalls. "I have different ideas about what is creditable now than I did then. Then I had this illusion that there were real artists and there were pop artists. I'm not so convinced by that any more.

"Initially Fame Academy was advertised as a show that was going to be about singers and songwriters. You were going to be given the chance to write your own songs, then perform them on television and there was going to be a studio in the Academy.

"I had this idea that I could just be in the house recording music, and that it would be a real genuine reflection of how an artist makes a record and writes a song, although I knew that it would have a pop angle as well.

"I can't pretend that I was fooled into doing it, but it was so totally different to everything I'd done before that I remember feeling out of place and quite liking that feeling."

The series was to have a lasting effect on Henderson, whose main concern post-Academy was how he would regain his credibility.

"All the time I was second -guessing people's reactions. Trying to imagine how things would be perceived and how I could get rid of the label 'Ainslie From Fame Academy'," he admits.

"That wasn't good. Now I realise that as a singer, songwriter and a performer, all I have to do is make the best music I can and perform it the best I can. I don't have to worry about other people's preconceptions of me."

Although he believes that label is still a weight around his neck he also understands that "equally it opens doors" for him.

"I suppose eventually I forgave myself for having done it," he says. "It has all started to fall into perspective now.

"When Fame Academy happened it felt like this huge, huge thing. Then, as I got a bit of distance I realised that it was no bigger than one of mates getting a new job would have been to them.

"Everybody has their own dramas and I now realise it was what it was and that it was a lot of fun - although I'd never do another reality TV show."

Returning to Edinburgh just over two years ago gave him that distance, and having "fought and struggled" to make it in London he suddenly realised that he had enough songs for an album.

Released on his own label Amphibian Husbandry, Growing Flowers By Candlelight has finally allowed him to leave his TV persona behind, something that is also reflected in his new image, which sees him bare-chested and vulnerable on his website www.ainslie

"Making the album was the turning point because now Growing Flowers By Candlelight is the last thing I did, not Fame Academy, and I'm proud of it."

As for the new look, he explains: "The show created this persona for me, the shiny Ainslie From Fame Academy - that guy who I felt so distanced from.

"I felt like I didn't know that guy, and that people had no idea who I really was, so I wanted to do something that was completely open and vulnerable. I didn't want to conceal myself.

"That's also why I like writing diary entries and blogs. I like speaking directly to people in an open and honest way. I want to carry on sharing myself, which for me is what making music and making art is all about."

• Ainslie Henderson, Bongo Club, Holyrood Road, doors 8pm, Wednesday, 3.50, 0131-558 7604

• Ainslie Henderson, Beanscene Haymarket, Grosvenor Street, 9pm, April 4, free, 0131-346 8043

• Growing Flowers By Candlelight is now available from any branch of Beanscene or

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