Unfortunately, Swedish folk act Taken By Trees had the same idea, and it was their downbeat take on the song that was picked by John Lewis to soundtrack their recent Christmas advert campaign, which presumably netted them a fair amount of money.
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Yet Cornish, right, who will play Oran Mor tomorrow night, isn’t too downcast. “To start with I wondered if they had taken the idea from me, as I’d been playing it for a while live, but it happened around the same time,” he muses.
“I suppose if you have a piano in a band it’s an obvious one to try. I’ve ended up having to stop playing it myself now, because it sounds like I’m copying them!
“I guess it would have been good if my version had been picked but it’s perhaps not the best thing to be known for a cover.”
Cornish comes across as a thoughtful, likeable individual, although the singer he’s supporting at Celtic Connections tomorrow, Sandi Thom, could probably advise him on how fickle the music industry can be. After her huge early success with I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker, Thom’s career has suffered one catastrophe after another.
But Cornish gives a robust defence of the songstress, who he previously supported at an Edinburgh show.
“She’s had such a bad press because of the way she became famous, and it’s only when you see her with her band live that you realise there’s much more to her than the Punk Rocker song,” he says. “I feel a bit sorry for her because while a huge hit can be good in that it gets exposure, sometimes it can backfire and their other work gets ignored. Sandi’s got a really good voice and really good songs, while her band are awesome.”
Cornish is a dab instrumentalist himself. After learning both the violin and the piano growing up, he then leaned the guitar as a teenager, before adding the bass, drums, banjo and harmonica at later dates. Such versatility has led Cornish to craft a lush sound rich in melody that may remind some of the likes of Elbow or Coldplay, but equally draws upon Astral Weeks era Van Morrison, or Rufus Wainwright for inspiration.
However, after an upbringing in Folkestone and then a move to London, it wasn’t until he upped sticks to Edinburgh six years ago that Cornish kick-started his career. He recorded his debut album Until The Traffic Stops on his own, in his bedroom and his songs won the backing of BBC6 Music’s Tom Robinson. Cornish wryly admits that situation came about by chance, thanks to Robinson’s producer choosing to listen to one of his songs at random, and being so impressed he asked him to appear on Robinson’s show. From there, airplay from the likes of Dermot O’Leary and Terry Wogan followed.
It also earned him the chance to support Alison Moyet last year, with the former Yazoo singer proving thankfully down to earth.
“It was a great chance to play some really big venues, like the Concert Hall in Glasgow, and the York Opera House, so that was absolutely amazing, and really good fun,” he recalls, enthusiastically.
“On the first or second day on the tour we went to eat in the canteen, and the only seats available were next to her, but she was really nice and that put us at ease -- she was always around and easy to chat to.”
Now he’s busying himself by working all out on his second album, which will be partly recorded in the Lochaber studio of Mary Ann Kennedy. He is currently recording guitars and vocals.
“Then I’ll do a few more overdubs and it’ll be done by the middle of February, so it’s really in the final stages now,” he says. “ The new
songs are much more direct,they’re shorter and in a way more poppy.
“I think the first album was quite poppy but because I play the violin too I layered on loads and loads of stuff -- this one, I’m staying well away from it, I’ve even put a little sign up in front of where I work saying ‘Do not layer on loads of violin, do not layer on more than an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar’, in capital letters.
“It’s easy to get carried away, so this album should have much more clarity, and I write better songs now too!”
Alex Cornish supports Sandi Thom at Oran Mor tomorrow.