S ANDI Thom, KT Tunstall and Amy Macdonald are all Scottish singer-songwriters who have taken the music scene by storm in recent years. Alex Cornish is tipped to be the next name to add to that prestigious list.
Having played piano and violin as a child, and discovered the electric guitar as a teenager, Alex has always written his own music and lyrics. He recorded his first album, Until The Traffic Stops, in a boxroom in his Edinburgh flat – it sold 4,000 copies but also had 50,000 illegal downloads. However, it was this impassioned online response to his music that helped land him national airplay on Radio 2, a manager and a publishing deal.
During November and December he toured the UK with Alison Moyet, and he supported Sandi Thom at Celtic Connections in Glasgow last month. His second album is due for release this summer, with a UK tour planned as well.
"Things have really kicked off in a big way music-wise for me over the past year or so," smiles Alex. "I recorded the first album in our boxroom – I had a computer, guitars and a microphone crammed in there. I recorded everything myself, put together a promo single and sent it out. It got picked up at 6 Music and then by Radio 2's Dermot O'Leary, who invited me in for a session. Then Terry Wogan played it, and Radio 1. I now have management and a publishing deal, which means I have got some money behind the project."
He adds: "I did a single called I'm On The Right Side, which was played at the end credits to the Hollywood film Solstice. There were about 50,000 illegal downloads of the single and album from that. It has been hard work and there is an element of luck involved but, as people like Sandi Thom have shown, if you work hard enough you can get there in music."
Having said that, Alex's second album won't be recorded in his boxroom. Since the birth of his 14-month-old daughter Martha, he has been renting a recording studio in Edinburgh.
"When we knew that we were having Martha we realised that we would not have room in the flat for a nursery and a studio, so I had to rent a studio," he says. "I have done a lot of work there and the rest at the Watercolour Music studio in Ardgour.
"I had to put him out of the boxroom two weeks before Martha was born," laughs his wife Kate.
Now needing extra space, the couple have decided to sell their beloved second-floor flat in Edinburgh's Bellevue Road in favour of trying to buy a family home in East Lothian. After moving up from London in 2005 and renting in Stockbridge for a few months, the flat ticked all of their boxes.
"We wanted a traditional tenement flat because of the proportions of the high ceilings and the period features," says Kate, who does web design and online marketing. "We also wanted to be near the centre of Edinburgh and have a big kitchen so that we could have dinner parties. This place needed a lot of work but we fell in love with it."
The flat had barely any kitchen and still had the original 1906 high-level cistern and bath, but the couple were not dismayed.
"There was a freestanding cooker and two shelves in the kitchen and that was it," recalls Kate. "This was the first priority – we had a camping stove and lived on pasta for the first three months. The sink and washing machine were in a little utility off the kitchen and we did think about bringing that space back into the kitchen, but I decided to leave them in there as it means when we have people round the dirty dishes are all hidden away."
Alex and Kate went to Ikea and chose solid wooden worktops and white gloss units for the 19ft-long kitchen, as well as white brick tiles and white chairs to sit around the big dining table that belonged to Alex's family when he was a child. A large canvas of Audrey Hepburn hangs over the original fireplace, while the recess has been painted a warm Moroccan red.
In the bathroom, they removed the old suite and installed a sleek white three-piece with a BetteBambino bath. They painted the wood panelling Farrow & Ball's Light Blue and put in large grey wall tiles to match.
When decorating the living-room the couple found themselves reminiscing about their weekends in London. "We used to spend our weekends reading the newspapers in a pub which had a feature wall similar to this wallpaper and dark grey walls," says Kate. "It was so cosy that we tried to replicate it here. We love it as it is such a bright room – the flat faces east-west so we have lots of light all day."
The beige sofa with removable table came from their old flat, while they bought the red sofa to contrast with the black and white feature wallpaper. Kate bought the glass-topped coffee table in a North Berwick charity shop for 8 and Alex's mum gave them the antique sewing table. Record boxes, crammed with Alex's vinyl collection, act as a TV stand, while a designer friend refurbished the glass cabinet for them. The cow-print phone and animal print rug add a sense of fun.
Kate gave Martha's nursery a colourful makeover, using a John Lewis animal-print fabric to make a blind for the high window and framing images from an old Miffy calendar. A striking black and white canvas of Martha hangs in the olive green painted hallway. In the master bedroom, the couple again opted for grey walls and painted the fireplace black to match the wrought-iron bed. The carpet was ripped up and the floor painted white, toning with the white mannequin in the window, which has been draped with a garland of flowers from Alex and Kate's wedding.
The couple have had many new beginnings over recent years, but they are hoping that this year proves to be the one that brings Alex's music to the masses. "This has been a fantastic place to live," says Alex. "My neighbours have told me that they occasionally hear me singing, but as my music is quite gentle they have said it was relaxing, which is good. It is still a relative cottage industry, but it is really rewarding when I get a text from a friend to say that I am being played on Chris Evans' breakfast show." k
101/6 Bellevue Road, Edinburgh is for sale at offers over 195,000 through Russell & Aitken (0131-202 0600, www.russellaitken.com).
For Alex Cornish's gig and tour dates, visit www.alexcornish.com
My favourite things
Who do you most admire in the music industry?
Musically, it has to be Van Morrison (right).
Where is your favourite holiday destination?
I have to say Scotland. We go up to the Trossachs quite a lot. It is just an hour and a half away, so we try to get over there as often as possible.
Which is your favourite film?
What is your favourite drink?
Gin and tonic.
What has been your favourite comment from a fan so far?
I have had lots of weird comments, but probably the most common comment I get is that my music makes people burst into tears. I guess that could be seen as good or bad, but I think it is probably because my music is emotional.
This article was originally published in Scotland on Sunday on 21 February 2010