HE left Edinburgh for London believing the streets were paved with gold records – and according to HMV he could be correct.
Alex Gardner, an unknown musician who lived off baked beans and got mugged at knifepoint, has been tipped as one of the top ten musical acts for 2010.
The record chain announced yesterday that among the names to watch for next year was the former Edinburgh Academy pupil whose debut album is released in March and who has already been compared to George Michael and a male Duffy.
Last night he said: "I'm really pleased and flattered that HMV have put me on their list of tips for 2010, it's great to get that kind of endorsement. I can't wait to get my songs out there and get on the road and hopefully this will help to spread the word. What a great way to start the new year."
He is also one of the few men in a list dominated by female singers such as the singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding, and Sumner, who fronts ska-punk band I Blame Coco. However, the feminine influence of Alice in Wonderland may have been woven into his work, which was recorded at the country house in Kent where the inspiration for the famous literary character once lived.
For the past year Alex, who is 19, has been travelling up from London to the mansion which was the former home of Alice Liddell Hargreaves, but is now owned by Brian Higgins, the successful pop producer. Together Gardner and Higgins have co-written an album of tracks which have excited the music press and delighted HMV.
The son of Richard, a solicitor with Drummond Miller and Janet Gardner, a commercial promoter, Alex left school at 16 to pursue a creative career. "I left Edinburgh Academy at 16," says Alex. "I saved up enough money for five months' rent in London and went for it. I had no idea what I was going to do but I was looking for something creative. My parents were a bit sceptical to say the least."
His parents' fears were quickly realised in only his first week when, returning to his Paddington flat with two friends, the group were mugged by six armed men.
"They surrounded us and told us they were armed with knives so we gave them everything. They took all my jewellery and a small amount of cash. One of the other guys was marched to a cash machine and told to enter his pin and they cleared him out."
The teenager recently toured in support of Paolo Nutini and signed a worldwide record deal with Universal/A&M Records.
Yesterday HMV's music manager, Melanie Armstrong, said: "2010 looks like being another vintage year for new and breakthrough artists. The interest in who will be the next big thing just keeps growing with each year, and many of us already have great expectations."
From indie, to folk, to hip-hop – others to listen out for in 2010
• C.O.D.E.S. Formed in 2007, the Dublin indie electronic quartet have been branded an Irish Coldplay.
• Delphic Already labelled "the new Friendly Fires", this indie Manchester trio laid the ground with two singles and show-stealing festival appearances.
• The Drums New York "surf rockers" are generating the kind of excitement for a new band HMV says it has not seen since the arrival of the Arctic Monkeys.
• Ellie Goulding The Hereford-based singer-songwriter has already picked up a Brit Award as the Critics' Choice for 2010.
• I Blame Coco The ska-punk band have been recording their debut album in Jamaica. Lead singer Coco Sumner, right, is perhaps better known – so far – as the daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler.
• Jesca Hoop Born in southern California to Mormon parents, Hoop grew up singing traditional folk tunes and has amassed some solid touring experience.
• Marina and the Diamonds With Greek-Cypriot roots but born in Wales, Marina Diamandis has been described as Florence and the Machine meets Kate Bush.
• The Soft Pack From San Diego but now based in LA, the indie rock band have supported Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand in recent years. Their album is out in February.
• Tinie Tempah Flying the flag for hip-hop and grime, South Londoner Tempah is tipped to follow in the footsteps of Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder.