Like many Highland artists, singer, songwriter and author Kai Henderson left the north in serach of new opportunities in the south.
Back this weekend with Buddy Holly tribute show Buddy Holly and The Cricketers and their annual Holly at Christmas show, Kai brings our own Margaret Chrystall up to date with what has been happening since he swapped the Highland Capital for the UK one.
MC: What took you down to London, did it pan out the way you expcted - and if not, how have things progressed to the point just before where you are now?
KH:London never had the same appeal to me as it does for lots of other people – it was one of the last places I could imagine living! I was applying for various roles in theatres all across the UK to get more experience in the industry, and a dream job in the programming department at the Royal Albert Hall just happened to turn up at the right time. Six Caledonian Sleeper train journeys later, there I was in South Kensington speaking to some of the world's top promoters, agents and artists – it's no secret that I found it quite overwhelming at first!
Did things go the way I expected? I'm not really sure what I was expecting to be honest! The Royal Albert Hall is an incredible place to work, and the people who work there are second to none. Yet there was always a nagging sensation that it wasn't quite right for me and that I still had the drive to go for it as an actor and musician. I left the office job in March this year, managed to get a couple of small roles in some TV sitcoms and then the opportunity to join Buddy Holly and the Cricketers came up. Since then it's been a bit of a rock'n'roll whirlwind!
Did it take a lot of courage to make the move?
It's always daunting moving away from friends and family, especially to a huge metropolis like London. Fortunately, my partner Amy was as keen to start her own professional performance career as I was to take the opportunity, so the timing worked out really well. It's always easier when you've got another person to 'check-in' with, be that a spouse, family member or friend, just to make sure that you're not going insane!
I think the North of Scotland is brimming over with artistically talented people and always will be – there's definitely something in the water. People have the space and time to breathe, and create, in the Highlands, which a lot of busier locations can make quite difficult. However, I will always encourage people to get out and explore the world, so if anyone is tempted to move away I would say do it – but don't forget where you came from. It doesn't mean that you'll never come back...
What have been your favourite and also scariest moments since you moved away to make a career elsewhere?
There have been so many highlights it's difficult to choose a favourite. It's been great to meet some personal heroes since moving to London – joking around with Bill Bailey underneath Dippy the Dinosaur in the Natural History Museum was a wonderfully absurd experience!
Taking the leap into self-employment is probably both my favourite and scariest moment since moving away. Of course there are the normal worries – how will I pay the bills?! - and the other challenges of forging your way in a very competitive industry.
Yet what makes it worthwhile is that sense of empowerment - the freedom to choose what you want to do is wonderful.
How did you get your current role as the MC and rhythm guitarist for the Buddy Holly And The Cricketers?
The story of how I got the role in The Cricketers is a true testament to the age-old advice of just getting out there and meeting people. I attended a networking event at the Leicester Square HQ of the casting network Spotlight, which was an evening for new members to meet their team and other actors.
Awkwardly looking around the room, name badge on and everything, I spotted a guy who looked like he at least owned a few heavy rock albums. We got chatting and he told me about this role that he had coming up as Buddy Holly in a touring show, and that they were looking for a new MC and guitarist.
Six months later, here I am with JB Newman (AKA Buddy Holly) and the rest of the gang nearing the end of a sixty date tour!
There have been some really fantastic venues and shows on this tour. We've been able to perform the show whilst jiving away amongst the audience on the dance floor; we've played surrounded by a panto set (Buddy Holly and the Forty Theives, we called it that night…); and I've even survived getting on the plane with Mr. Holly to fly over to Jersey Opera House… and back! Terrifying, but the show was worth it!
How much are you looking forward to playing to the home crowd?
To say that I can't wait to play at Eden Court for an Inverness crowd is a bit of an understatement… As anyone who has worked at Eden Court can tell you, it feels like you're part of another family, no matter how long you've been gone. Having worked both Front of House and as part of the CREATIVE team, it definitely feels like I'm coming home!
The support that I've received from my family and friends is unbelievable, it's wonderful to have so many familiar faces coming along. I just hope that we can provide them with a show that will have them dancing in the aisles and singing all the way home.
The last show I played in Inverness was with the tribute band Foo Fixers (Terry Small, Roddie McLaggan and Joshua Mackenzie [Lional]) at the Ironworks in 2013. It's been far too long!
Is there anything you miss from the days when you played your own solo acoustic material in Inverness?
I do miss playing places like the Market Bar and Mad Hatters… Interestingly, I've just started resurrecting some of my solo material during soundchecks on tour. I tend to be quite project-based, so I find it difficult to dip in and out of things quickly. You never know, some of the old songs might find their way back on to the airwaves in the near future.
I haven't been performing solo material in London so far. The other things that have taken up most of my time include finishing my first novel, which I'm editing at the moment, that's been really exciting. Amy and I have also been performing as a rock-pop duo, 'Speakable Truth', which has been great fun as well. Besides all that, and the two film scripts I'm working on… The devil makes work for idle thumbs, as they say!
Any advice/some insight for anyone thinking of doing what you have done?
The first piece of advice I'd give to anyone considering starting a performance career is: DO IT. There's never a perfect time, there's never a moment when you feel like you're good enough, there will always be challenges and there will always be ways around them.
Be very clear about what you want to achieve and go out and do it. Ask for help, ask for advice, ask all the time! It's great for young people in the Highlands to have influential performers to look up to, but everyone that's ever achieved in the entertainment industry – yes, including Karen Gillan – had their share of pitfalls and setbacks. Whenever the fear of failure starts to set in, there's a quote that I always say to remind myself just to keep pushing forward and take the risk:
“A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are made for.”Kai Henderson appears with Buddy Holly and The Cricketers at the OnceTouch Theatre, Eden Court, at 7.30pm from Friday December 11 to Sunday December 13 at 7.30pm.