Singer Ross Arthur has become king of the publicity stunt since debuting in Evening News talent search Edinburgh's Got Talent
Performing to a packed Playhouse, he might have just missed out on the top slot, but eight years on, his dream is slowly coming true.
Now 23, Ross continues to make a name for himself, although not always for the most obvious reasons as there’s nothing he likes better than a good old-fashioned publicity stunt.
Recalling how that 2011 Playhouse appearance, started it all, he says, “That was the first time I’d seen myself in the paper and it gave me my first taste at stardom - it was weird and exciting.”
Unlike the majority of acts, Ross sang one of his own compositions, Pretty Girl. “People told me it was more risky to sing one of my own songs as nobody would know it, and it could put me at a disadvantage, but I was adamant writing a song was showcasing my talents, so I did. I sang it in front of close to 3,000 people, probably still the biggest audience I’ve played to, but I couldn’t see past the first 10 rows because of the lights,” he recalls.
Ross, who was schooled at the WHEC and Royal High, reckons he was “bitten by the show business bug” long before that Playhouse appearance. It was at the age of five during a school nativity play (he ‘starred’ as one of the shepherds, delivering the line, “Look, let’s follow that star,” with a tea-towel over his head), that he realised he wanted to be an entertainer. “And in Second Year at WHEC, I got the lead role as Jock in the pantomime Jock and The Beanpole. I had the best times in my life,” he adds.
In those days it might have been an actor he dreamed of becoming, but that changed when, aged 13, he discovered Michael Jackson’s Beat It. “I can pin-point the exact moment I wanted to play guitar - the Beat It guitar solo. When I heard that guitar solo, I shouted, ‘I want to do that’.”
In January the following year, Ross borrowed his dad’s acoustic guitar and started to teach himself to play. He recalls, “I played for four hours a night. I got lessons at school, which progressed to writing songs, then that turned into performing at open mics and getting my first gig.”
It’s unsurprising music won out, the singer’s dad, John, runs JA Guitar Repairs and growing up, Ross was surrounded by instruments. “My older brother, Iain, plays bagpipes and used to play piano and trombone and my mum Angie, is a nurse, although she’ll try and convince you that she’s a killer recorder player,” he laughs. “And my dad used to sing in a Wester Hailes’ punk band in the 80s called Constant State.”
It was also in 2010 that Ross discovered his all time favourite band Biffy Clyro, and just over a decade later, their influences along with those of The Bear Naked Ladies can be heard in his new single. Bitter Lemons, Sweet Lemonade, was recorded at Castlesound Studios, Pencaitland, the very studio where songs for Disney/Pixar’s block-buster Brave were recorded and is due for release on 27 March.
“I do my best to keep my songs interesting and not repeat myself,” he reflects. “Inevitably, a few have been about either finding or losing love, but Bitter Lemons, Sweet Lemonade, is about struggling to have your voice to be heard in the music industry. It came from a frustrated and angry place, but has a positive ‘I’m going to keep pushing’ attitude.”
The song has been described as ‘a punchy, upbeat pop/rock track’ and finds Ross with another stunt up his sleeve. The singer, who supported he View’s Kyle Falconer, explains, “Anyone who pre-orders the song and sends me a screenshot before 7pm on 26 March will be entered into a prize draw for a £100 Amazon Gift Card, with four runners-up receiving £25 ones.”
He continues, “The title is a play on the famous saying, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’, although I’m not sure Radio 1 were happy with me. I tried to get their attention by sending a truckload of lemons to Broadcasting House - 1000 lemons to be exact. I hope they didn’t go to waste. It cost me an awful lot of money.”
The stunt cost him £450 to be exact, with the lemon delivery causing a confused BBC receptionist to ring him, asking if they were ‘Definitely meant for them?’ Ross laughs, “Perhaps the DJs were wondering why lemon meringue pie was on the menu every day for two weeks in the staff canteen.”
Right now, of course, with so many performers struggling as Covid-19 forces the cancellation of gigs and shows, the launch of the single will be a virtual event, and Ross reflects that now more than ever it’s no laughing matter struggling to be heard, a concept that has become scarily real for performers everywhere.
He says, “Obviously, with people dying and family members at risk, you don’t want to focus too much on things like money, but as it stands, self-employed people in the entertainment and hospitality industries are in deep trouble. I have had the majority of my work cancelled, and as it stands it seems inevitable that, like many other people, I will be left without an income. These are quite scary times. All I can do is push on with the new song.”
Online, Ross has already scored some success. Whether due to his ever more bonkers stunts - he also dressed as a lemon for the new single - or despite them, he has managed half a million streams, views and downloads - his 2019 single Soar alone receiving 100,000 streams as well as BBC radio play. Ross, who has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Audio Engineering, followed Soar with his debut EP, These Transitions, and earlier this year featured on BBC Scotland’s reality TV show Love Song, which saw him trying to win a girlfriend in a sing-off with other bachelors - he was rejected on national television.
“It was all a bit of fun,” he grins, “I got to sing on TV, we had fun and it was definitely better than Tinder.” He adds, “All’s well and ends well and by the game show was aired, my partner Jenna and I had met... we tuned in to watch me embarrass myself together.”
That wasn’t his first TV appearance, however, recently he achieved his other childhood dream of becoming an actor.
“I managed to get a part as a builder who laughed at Jack and Victor in the final series of Still Game,” he beams. “The guys, Gregg Hemphill and Ford Kennan were lovely and stood chatting about old episodes and making jokes, and yes, I got a picture.”
Before we finish, there’s that infamous Tinder stunt to promote Soar, still to mention. He was banned from the dating site after changing his account images and settings to pretend he was female. In the ‘About’ section he simply put, ‘Ask me my favourite song’. Within two hours, hundreds of men had asked that very question - he answered with details of his song.
He doesn’t regret it. “At the time, I was still single and could no longer get dates using that platform, so that was a bit of a bummer, but it was still a pretty successful publicity stunt,” he grins.
Ross Arthur’s new single Bitter Lemons, Sweet Lemonade is released on 27 March