As the tribes of bearded, plaid-shirted young men start to assemble around the steps to Anstruther Town Hall, something very unexpected happens. The sun comes out. For the past twenty-four hours, the East Neuk has been shrouded in low, misty clouds. This morning the rain beat down making the bus trip out to St. Andrews a frightening rollercoaster ride as the single decker aquaplaned, slithering close to the margin of the road and sending stones skittering along the underside. But now, blinking in the unexpected light, the crowds begin to assemble to exchange tickets for armbands. Once this administration is complete, most choose to head back out into the sunshine, discussing the merits of their newly obtained event programme whilst lounging in the churchyard or dangling their legs from the high wall at its foot. As we lounge, dangle or chat excitedly something strange is happening. The artists are arriving. In all kinds of haphazard ways – the Toad Van delivers Meursault from Edinburgh, parked awkwardly on a corner whilst arrangements are made, Slow Club appear in a taxi, unload their gear into the street and stand around chatting, before being whisked away to their digs squished into Kate Canaveral’s car. Whilst the sense of expectation is strong there is something else at work here – a sense of community and belonging is already beginning to form. Old acquaintances are renewed, new introductions are made. For a bit of a loner like me lurking on the margins – a Homegame virgin so to speak – this is surprisingly not exclusive at all. It feels comfortable and easy.
The programme takes place in a variety of venues around Anstruther and Cellardyke – quite literally of all shapes and sizes, from the civic to the alcoholic in nature. Tonight starts with a plenary session in Anstruther Town Hall – perhaps the only venue for miles capable of taking the massed ranks of Homegamers. In the foyer, local bakers Fisher and Donaldson ply tempting baked goods while the bar, including some excellent local ale, is staffed by HMS Ginafore, Dave Canaveral and Sarah Tanat-Jones latterly of the much missed Come On Gang. The music starts at 6pm sharp as The Pictish Trail takes the stage to welcome everyone. He can’t help but be excited and enthusiastic, despite days of frenetic running around organising this – and with that eagleowl kick off proceedings. With both their numbers and volume boosted by a new drummer and an additional cellist, the band sound huge. At the centre of the stage though, Bart still stands slight and uncertain, victim of good natured jibes about a particularly fine sweater he’s wearing. Starting with quiet strums of guitar and hushed vocals, they build through a remarkable set towards a thudnerous conclusion. This confirms that on record at least, we’ve only seen one side of eagleowl. Next up, is Sweet Baboo. Again on the excellent recent record we’ve perhaps only seen a limited range of what this curious young Welshman is capable of. Starting with a cranking, grinding but quite absurdly named “The Morse Code for Love is Beep-Beep and Beep-Beep and the Binary Code is One One” he leaps and jerks around the stage. His between song banter is self-concious, old beyond his tender years and refreshingly humble. The set tonight veers towards the louder numbers in the repertoire – and a request to play “I’m A Dancer” is declined because the band didn’t reherse it when they last met up “last month”. For such an apparently unprepared band they are remarkably tight and deliver a storming set much to the delight of an expectant Homegame audience. This is followed by another band who I’ve only recently discovered in Monoganon. Veering from slight, acoustic strumming to dizzy prog-folk meanderings, the recent album “Songs To Swim To” is a strange but infectious creature. Live, Monoganon deliver much the same experience. With weird visuals projected above the stage, they reach a peak of oddness on “Devil’s Finger” which provides a queasy, weird take on folk-rock with a satisfyingly noisy climax.
A brief walk in the damp and humid evening over to the Smugglers Inn next, with the choice of acts upstairs and downstairs. I mull over the decision with a pint in the main bar, among the assembled young folk of Anstruther. In the corner, presiding over a laptop full of dance music is DJ Tigress. The barmaid asks us, with a strange hint of sympathy if “we’re with the Fence?” before letting us through the back of the bar into the foyer to avoid glasses leaving the venue. I opt for downstairs – and just in time because the tiny room is fast filling up. No wonder, as Meursault are here. Almost unable to make their own way to the stage, they joined on guitar by the amazing Debutant as ever a quiet and self-effacing chap, but seemingly much more comfortable performing as part of a band. Mostly consisting of new material, the set is ridiculously good – stomping, grinding drums supporting Neil Pennycook’s wonderful, soaring and authoritative vocal. There are some concessions to the past, particularly with a closing “The Furnace”. This is probably the sweatiest and most uncomfortable I’ve been at a show for a long time, and it was worth every bit of the personal space invasion. The crowds clear only a little, but the stage gets far more crowded as The Last Battle prepare to play. My entire trip here so far is vindicated when they play “Ward 119″ – which becomes an aching, frustrated howl of a song which I’ve loved since I first heard it, and never imagined I’d get to hear live.
I extract myself from the heaving, moist room and despite the official advice in the programme, wander off alone in the dark. Its been raining, and the evening is fresh and thankfully cool after the heat in the Smugglers. I intend to wander back to my home for the weekend, but keep ending up in odd impromptu conversations with fellow Homegamers also wandering – are you on the Beefboard? What’s your name on there? What are you planning to see tomorrow? Anywhere else these random conversations would feel odd and intrusive, but here they seem entirely natural and quite unforced. The walk home takes much longer than planned and involves more beer.
I think I’m going to like it here…