The Old Fruitmarket is a bit of a revelation. Entry is through the overbearing civic frontage of the City Halls, and then via a fairly anodyne, typically minimalist ‘arts centre’ type space. But buried within is an impressively cavernous, high-vaulted hall. There is a sense of the old times here – all uneven flagstone floors and curious dark corners, with fading names of fruit traders around the walls. A balcony runs high around the building, and weirdly my first thought is of the secret synagogue buried behind 19 Princelet Street. Tonight, the hall is laid out cabaret style – an odd touch perhaps but I always get the sense that organisers don’t quite know what to make of Fence events – beard-stroking folkniks, or spirited outbursts of dancing? In the event tonight we were going to get a little of both. But it’s important to remember that tonight had a purpose – namely in kicking off Scottish Refugee Week – and to this end the show was interspersed with short films on the themes of ‘Spirit’ and ‘Courage’. These were understated and affecting, and managed to convey the reason that we were all, in fact, here without damaging the celebratory atmosphere. Aside from the unusual surroundings and these more down-to-earth concerns, this was a rare chance to see some of the gems of the East Neuk here in the city, alongside one of Glasgow’s own finest exports. It promised to be an interesting night…
It’s going to be very difficult to add to the almost fawningly fulsome praise I’ve already heaped on Randolph’s Leap in these pages, but once again they pulled off that difficult trick of opening the show while still stamping an impression on all those present. They appear to do this by launching full tilt into a set of riotous, stomping gleeful pop which gets better with every chance to see them. Airing a number of tracks from “The Curse of the Haunted Headphones” along with some welcome new pieces, perhaps the winning bit of the formula for me tonight is their two-piece brass section, which given the space and opportunity to really belt out their accompaniment to Adam Ross‘ compositions has transformed the band the last couple of times I’ve seen them. As ever, the sporadic outbursts of irrepressible on-stage dancing and collective sing-alongs get the audience irresistibly involved in the tiny but affecting dramas at the heart of Ross‘ songs. During the set Adam announces that there will be a Randolph’s Leap EP on Fence soon, which makes a sizeable contingent in the audience sigh with relief that they snapped up their subscription to the forthcoming “Buff Tracks” series. The band leave the stage all too soon, to a warm reaction from the audience. From the closing notes of the now traditional final tune “Crisps”, it’s clear some hearts have been won here tonight.
It’s my first opportunity to see The Pictish Trail performing with his band tonight, and it’s something of a surprise to hear how they manage to mutate Johnny Lynch‘s often plaintive and fragile solo efforts into hulking rock anthems. Some of the new material which will form an EP and album release later in the year is aired, not least “The Handstand Crowd” which has turned from a wistful stream of memories in St. Andrews to a chugging pop-rock epic here tonight. There’s a brief electronic interlude where Johnny presses buttons and operates machinery through a cloud of dry-ice while live drums are expertly combined with the beats remarkably effectively. But ultimately there’s no shying away from the big solos and crashing powerchords here as Alex Supergun and Bart Eagleowl hammer away on guitar and bass respectively on the closing pair of tracks – a punky storm through personal favourite “Ribbon” and a soaring, stop-start grind through the previously delicate “Words Fail Me Now”. Overall the set feels like a success, and the band appear to have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Johnny‘s stage chit-chat didn’t quite land right tonight – and what would have been a two-way conversation between performer and audience in Anstruther Town Hall felt a bit more one-sided here in The Old Fruitmarket. But, musically at least, The Pictish Trail unmistakably connected with the audience via their punished eardrums and plucked heartstrings.
I’d been excited about seeing King Creosote playing something other than “Diamond Mine” for a while – despite an enduring love for that forlorn paean to East Fife. Mostly, its the thought that Kenny Anderson‘s vast, untapped back catalogue and the stash of new songs which surfaced on “That Might Be It, Darling” hadn’t had a fair crack of the whip for a long time. Tonight, the band numbers eight – including stalwarts like Gummi Bako on guitar, Uncle Beesley on bass and rakish headgear, and Captain Geeko The Dead Aviator thumping frantically on his djembe mid stage. Add to this the additional vocals provided by the almost impossibly lovely Bam Bam and as he surveys the stage it’s clear the King is in his element. The set spans his recent career, from the very recent big band reworking of “Doubles Underneath” – an irresistibly catchy, stomping affair which gets the audience shuffling in their chairs, to a spirited and acid-tongued “You’ve No Clue Do You?” – a much darker affair than the polished recorded version.
Somewhere in the middle of Kenny‘s set, something strange happens. Up to now there have been sporadic outbursts of dancing, not least from the now dangerously inebriated Edinburgh Bill who gesticulates and throws wine over himself in evident awestruck delight in the bands. But suddenly, a couple of youngsters who are hear with the Refugee Council break through the shyness barrier and start to career wildly in front of the stage. The floodgates open, and suddenly there is a miniature moshpit. True, these kids don’t seem to know all the words like some of us old stalwarts do, and they haven’t quite grasped the rhythm of the much more delicate “John Taylor’s Month Away” as they clap along, but they’re loving every single second of this. And so is the band – smiles are exchanged, lyrics are subtly changed to pay tribute to the dancers, and now even Bill is somewhere in the mess of bodies swaying dangerously around and incurring the interest of the security guy who thought he was up for a quiet night until a few minutes ago. We’re treated to energetic versions of the defiant “Coast On By” and a gleeful dash through “Single Cheep” with its reportedly “unforgivable” guitar solo delivered intact. Finally, the reins are handed to Gummi Bako as the sprawling, rocking “Little Man” is given a thunderous and triumphant airing.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about King Creosote and friends is how they can take that atmosphere and spirit which starts in a tiny hall in a coastal town or around a beach bonfire, and transport it here to the middle of Glasgow on a Tuesday night. The warm, open-hearted and conspiratorial nature of the Fence Collective is a welcome opposite to the usual closed-shops of music scenes and arts movements. If there is one theme which runs through tonight’s proceedings and ties it to the underlying purpose of this event it’s perhaps exactly that – no matter where you end up, how you got there or why you made the journey, there’s a welcome in this music which is hard to resist.
I awoke to bright sunshine and a distinctly fuzzy head, and decided that the only remedy was to get out into the fresh air and wander around St. Andrews. For a Sunday morning things were surprisingly busy, with irritatingly fresh-faced students already striding around town, some clearly having already done energetic, sporting things. Noticed a few more familiar faces looking distinctly green though, and slinking into Tesco to emerge with paracetamol and lucozade in their shaky grasp. I decided to make the best of my situation with a fine walk to the ruins of the Cathedral and around the town. I don’t get to be a tourist very often, and it seemed like a good way to remove cobwebs. Pleasant though it was, it didn’t quite manage to shift the fug, and it was with a mixture of delight and relief that I spied the Fisher & Donaldson’s van arriving at Younger Hall as I found my way there a little before events recommenced, conveying it’s ever-welcome cargo of guaranteed hangover-busting baked goods. This was tempered though by the sight of King Creosote unloading vast amounts of booze from the back of a car. Things were about to start all over again…
Today’s events were to take place in The Younger Hall, from the outside a vast grey Greek temple of a place sitting on North Street amongst the tight knot of attractive, ancient university buildings. Inside it had a strangely reverential air – the venue for graduations and classical recitals, it was covered in wood panelling and huge gleaming organ pipes, save for a huge, strangely abstract Eye o’ The Dug banner which adorned the back of the stage. Somehow it felt a little more like the mixture of halls and spaces in Anstruther which are appropriated for Homegame use, and once I’d got my bearings in the sprawling building it felt like a fine place to see some of the acts on the bill today, which would likely be a little less energetic than last night’s performances. However, openers Randolph’s Leap had absolutely no intention of lacking energy – bursting into life with the gusto and pomp of a headliner rather than an opening act, Adam Ross was accompanied by an expanded bunch of co-conspirators, including trumpet, trombone and strings. From the outset this was pretty special – fresh from public opprobrium regarding ‘tweeness’ and the whole Briangate affair, this band was resolutely not that – going as far as a hilariously poor Josh T. Pearson impersonation in their efforts to prove the case. There was no need at all, with the big, bold sound suiting Ross‘s compositions perfectly. Rollicking through a set including highlights from recent cassette release “The Curse of the Haunted Headphones” along with some unfamiliar new material, there were even outbreaks of spontaneous onstage dancing. Finishing up with a triumphant big band recasting of early relase “Crisps”, the audience stomped and yelled for more. What a way to shake off the last of yesterday’s cobwebs. With more of the audience beginning to drift into the hall following the excesses of last night, latest Fence signing Seamus Fogarty took to the stage. Having not managed to catch his performances previously this was something of a revelation to me, as he unravelled strange tales over gentle guitar backgrounds, strange echoing electronics or sometimes almost acapella. His voice, a gentle but emotion-cracked wonder, soared over the silent crowd and into the hall – all the more amazing as it came from the distant figure on the big, churchlike setting of the stage. Some of the material was familiar and bodes well for the imminent album – not least “The Wind” which has recently seen a haunting Geese remix, and the compelling semi-autobiographical storytelling of “Christmas Time on Jupiter”.
We shuffled downstairs next to the strangely shaped and rather cramped Stewart Room, which seemed to be directly underneath the main stage above. It was perhaps the perfect intimate space in which to witness Barbarossa – an artist from the early years of Fence who has been involved in all manner of other musical outlets over the years. Recently reactivated, James Mathé‘s own singer-songwriter project drew a huge audience from among the faithful for his beautifully soulful voice and simple, guitar and keyboard arrangements. I’m not ashamed to admit that this was new to me, and I was slack-jawed in mute appreciation along with many of the other casual listeners who hadn’t known what to expect but were now hushed and reverential. Some gentle backing vocals from Rozi Plain just added to the sense of quiet wonder in this fantastic set. I can’t wait to hear the forthcoming EP, which an informed guess might suggest will be a future “Chart Ruse” subscription effort. After struggling back up to the main hall – and realising just how awkward the building was to get around was despite it’s great acoustics and atmosphere, we were treated to a set by The Pictish Trail. Johnny Lynch confessed a little later that with all the work to get this event up and running, he’d not thought a great deal about what to play. In the event, he turned in a warm and memorably emotional solo performance which will remain with me as an Eye ‘o The Dug highlight, making this look impossibly effortless in the process. Mixing older tracks like “Words Fail Me Now” with the existential angst of new material like “Of Course You Exist”, Lynch worked the audience like a consummate showman. Amid the heartstring tugging though were plenty of laughs, and a little audience participation was called for on “Not To Be” extended greatly from it’s brief appearance on the “In Rooms” LP last year. As the song ended with exaggerated Pictish Trail vougueing and the audience yelling responses back at the stage, it wasn’t hard to see why this essentially one-man-and-a-guitar act can pack the main hall here. There was just time before scattering off to find refreshment in the short break to catch James Yorkston performing with the lightning-fingered Jon Thorne accompanying him on double-bass, though sadly visa issues prevented Sarangi player Suhail Yusuf Khan from joining them. As ever, Yorkston was grimly humourous and darkly self-aware and his anecdotes and observations alone could have made up a suitably entertaining set. He too chose to use this opportunity to showcase new material, and the songs which made up the set varied between self-immolating guilt ballads to spirited rants, all of them accompanied by Thorne‘s dizzying playing. There were genuinely affecting, lump-in-throat-moments aplenty too, and as I cast an eye around the hushed Younger Hall, I could see I wasn’t alone in being transported by James‘s muse. It was magical stuff for sure, delivered humbly and almost apologetically.
Suitably refreshed after a variety of hostelries and eateries had been rapidly besieged by Dug-goers, people began to drift back towards the venue and there was for a moment, a rather pleasant lazy feeling to proceedings as musicians and festival-goers alike sprawled in late afternoon sunshine and waited for things to start up for the last session of the day. If there was one tiny hitch in proceedings it was the extended soundcheck in the main hall which kept people confused and waiting to know quite what to do. As entrance to the Stewart Hall was also via this room, there was no clear idea where to queue. Eventually, some of us were lucky enough to be directed out of the building and into a mysterious door leading downstairs, just in time to catch Monoganon‘s set. Their set commenced with a couple of new songs which continued in the vein of last year’s “Songs To Swim By” album, combining passages of delicate folky loveliness with crashing walls of noise. In the confines of the smaller room, Monoganon in full flight were a force to be reckoned with and happily, as the soundcheck issues upstairs resolved themselves albeit with a huge delay incurred, a steady stream of people managed to get down to catch the blistering end of their set. Another unintended consequence of the delays was that it was possible to stay downstairs for much of Kid Canaveral‘s set. My deep, near embarrassing love for this band has been detailed here before and the prospect of them clashing was a difficult one to consider, with the logistics occupying a bunch of us all weekend. With the room now full to bursting they struggled up to the stage with Dave MacGregor posing briefly as KT Tunstall. This interest should probably have been predicted by their triumphant set at last year’s Homegame, as they proceeded to induce instant dancing in the already uncomfortably packed room. Beside the occasional bob of a Canaveral‘s head, I couldn’t see much but I could hear new songs effortlessly tumbling out of this talented foursome, and on this basis the new album is going to be packed with the kind of moments which once again today induce involuntary smiling in even the sternest audience member. Even some of the security staff looked mildly entertained, and that was no small feat!
With upstairs still rather behind schedule, we were able to make the final ascent in good time to pitch up directly in front of the stage. The choice here had been terribly difficult – with Withered Hand and FOUND closing things downstairs. However, I’d been gently persuaded over the past few weeks that it would be good to see KT Tunstall. I’d never seen her play live, and my only contact with her work in recent times had been via the radio. Contrary to popular myth, I don’t think there is any great rift between Fence fans and KT at all, but the rumour persists and there are some I think who like to keep it running. But, tonight at least, back on a familiar stage in their home town KT and some old friends were going to play together again. Whilst I regret what I didn’t get to hear downstairs hugely, I am very happy I stayed for this. Like others, Tunstall had elected to play a set of new material – so new in fact that this was the first public airing for these songs. Accompanied by the simplest of band set-ups, including a fantastic steel guitar player, she picked her way through a set of bewitchingly beautiful songs. The tunes were often dark – countering her self-confessed “perky mofo” reputation – and far more anchored to place too, with several of the songs seemingly about the area and in fact the town where we were hearing them. The security guards’ burly image had now slipped entirely, with a pair of them jostling each other at the side of the stage to get a good shot of KT on their camera phones. I’ll confess that despite my reservations and probably some vestiges of inverted snobbery, I was utterly spellbound by KT‘s voice. Recalling only hearing it belting out big radio-friendly things – which she is, it must be said very very good at – it was a genuine pleasure to hear this, her more considered side. And any sense that the audience wouldn’t be up for this was dispelled by the huge reaction the set garnered – and a quick glance over the shoulder showed that there were a fair few regular Fence folks up here too. Despite any concerns Tunstall had managed the never easy trick of delivering an entirely new set of songs and still pleasing the crowd. It was another of those Eye o’ The Dug moments no-one will forget in a while. The news that she will soon be recording in Arizona with Giant Sand genius-in-chief Howe Gelb was also very significant, and the results could be very interesting indeed. The songs performed tonight, stripped back and delivered in the dry desert air, could be some of her finest work yet.
It will probably surprise regular readers to hear I had reservations about King Creosote and Jon Hopkins too. Having heard “Diamond Mine” performed a few times, and having played the record until it was almost worn through, this album has sort of absorbed itself into me – and oddly I’ve found it strange and difficult to listen to live. However, this was going to be something special. For starters it was the first time that it would be performed in full in the Kingdom of Fife – the geography which inspired and runs inextricably through the songs. Secondly, the band which assembled to deliver this was pretty special – with Geese providing strings and drums and KT Tunstall assuming additional vocal duties. Kenny Anderson shuffled on stage to a tremendous, warm reception, hushing the crowd as Jon Hopkins began to pick out the notes of “First Watch” on the absurdly large grand piano which had been shifted onto the stage for the occasion. What followed is almost impossible to explain in words… With no breaks for between song banter, and with an audience showing the utmost respect for the quiet, delicate nature of the songs the album was reinvented. Anderson was in fine voice, stretching for notes it was surely not possible to reach and lifting onto tip-toes to catch them. Tunstall‘s counterpoint vocals were utterly beguiling too, and the moments where she and Kenny harmonised and made eye contact should have melted the hardest heart – there is no animosity in Fife, just a genuine love for the craft of musicianship. As the other musicians left the stage, Anderson and Hopkins were left to deliver perhaps the most wrenchingly lovely versions of “Your Own Spell” and “Your Young Voice” which I’ll ever hear, before an absolute explosion of appreciation from the rapt audience. Mercury Prizes, even Scottish Album of the Year Awards might be important – but this kind of immediate, emotional feedback must surely transcend all of that critical acclaim?
It was left to King Creosote and Jon Hopkins to close things, and they did so via a clutch of non-”Diamond Mine” material which delighted a crowd which probably didn’t think it could be any happier, including a storm through “Spystick” and a superb take on “Home In A Sentence”. It could have gone on all night, but as they left the stage again to a thunderous reaction Eye o’ The Dug was all over, bar the post match drinking and the mournful “I don’t want to go home” tweets, of which more than a few were going to be mine. During his set earlier, Johnny Lynch had asked the audience if this event had “killed the spirit of Fence?”. With tongue perhaps firmly in cheek, he reasoned that yes, it had a bit – but that was OK. As scores of happy faces straggled along North Street heading for the after party or their much needed beds, I don’t think anything died. In fact, this weekend, something might just have been reborn in this quiet corner of Fife.
“I don’t want to go home…“
It’s possible of course for these blogs to become terribly personal and subjective, and I’ve wondered for a while if inviting others to chip in their thoughts would be a good idea to break the monotony of my reviews and ramblings? Particularly when the shows I’d really like to cover are often miles away and not easy to get to, I’ve toyed for a while with including views from those who can make the trip to the furthest corners of the country to these hallowed events. But who can sustain the level of heavily biased, utterly one-sided observations which our readers have become used to? We needed a celebrity contributor who could step up the mark – and well, we’ve got one. Some of you will, I’m sure know our guest from his often bizarre but always entertainingly alcoholic ramblings on Twitter. Today, putting the critic in Cricetinae, I’m delighted to introduce Zaphod Jr. His view arrives in the form of a letter from Edinburgh – and yes, I’m assured he really is a hamster…
From my little perch on top of a speaker I had a pretty good view of Kid Canaveral‘s Christmas Baubles II for someone so small. First on was The Pictish Trail, I enjoyed that very loud set, made my paws tingle. But all the better for it! His cover of Slow Club‘s “Gold Mountain” was a winner! Next, after a quick soirée to the bar, rolling back my can to my perch (the can was almost bigger than me!) was Eagleowl. At first from the name I thought they might eat me, but all was good! I’d not seen these guys before and was impressed. After this was Sweet Baboo who’s periodic mentions of drink were right up my street! Closely followed by Aidan John Moffat who is also maybe a man after my own heart. At this point I decided to get my straw out to siphon off passing humans’ drinks since getting a can is harder than it looks! Martin John Henry was up next and I had a bit of a dance on the speaker as you do! And Josie Long‘s jumbled cracker jokes nearly made me fall off – I know the issues with ghosts well, I swear one keeps pinching my sunflower seeds!
So to lunch, or for me what seemed the ideal time to go syphon off the slops bucket into my pouches for later. Came back with full pouches and cider soaked fur to see Standard Fare who I had stowed away to see first earlier in the month much nearer my cage. Loved them. Then it was time for the big one, Kid Canaveral! I think this set took all my dancing reserves for the month I’ll tell you! A mash of older and newer songs, all so much fun, and joined by King Creosote for the new joint single “Home Run and a Vow” blowing the crowd away again. Then my favourite song of all: “You Only Went Out To Get Drunk Last Night” it’s almost a ballad to my little life!! And heading off the evening was Slow Club, starting their set with a cover song in the centre of the room acoustically before starting properly- another reason to dance around! The set ended with an encore of Christmas songs which really got me thinking it’s Christmas I better buy my laaaaaaady hamster a gift or two! The humans stayed around for a while after doing what they call dancing, it was a bit lame – no gymnastics and hanging upside down involved. I snuck off home before my humans started to miss me!
You can follow our guest contributor on Twitter, here. Zaphod is currently touring the country taking in a string of Christmas gigs and parties. He may well be popping up near you soon. Kid Canaveral are currently working on material for their second album.
I was beginning to feel like I was on a proper holiday. Sleeping uncommonly well, getting up late, lounging around drinking coffee and actually reading and writing are luxuries at the best of times, but to have another day of fantastic music to listen to was of course the clincher. I set out for my morning wander around Anstruther, and found plenty of others doing the same – Homegamers and locals alike seemed keen to stop and chat this morning. Maybe it’s because the sun had managed a weak but fairly persistent appearance? In any case, having avoided being too desperately unhealthy so far this weekend, I decided that it was compulsory to visit the Anstruther Fish Bar to find out what the fuss was about. The food was very good indeed, and just like many things which will suffer in comparison after this weekend – it’ll be hard to face normal fish and chips again. In fact, in conversation this morning a couple of us had shared the worry that adjusting back to any sort real life after this would be a tricky proposition. I banished these thoughts – after all, I’m a rational creature aren’t I? It’s just music. Isn’t it?
I headed to the Erskine Hall early, because it was clearly going to be a busy session given the acts performing this afternoon. I wasn’t wrong and the hall, decked out in children’s art projects hung on walls painted a queasy yellow, was soon packed for The Pictish Trail. Johnny entered with his hood pulled tightly around his face, nursing the effects of the previous evening, and leaving the small children in the audience in no doubt about the consequences of making noise. Naturally, almost on cue a little one did just that, forming an unlikely comedy duo with Johnny to kick off the set. Unsurprisingly, from the outset The Pictish Trail had the appreciative Homegame audience hooked. The appreciation shown was as much for his efforts in leading the organisation of the event and spending days running around in a blind panic making final preparations – but Johnny wasn’t about to let us forget that he can sing and play wonderfully. What is perhaps most remarkable is how effortless he makes it look – just closing his eyes, opening his mouth and letting that high, clear voice soar – despite the after-effects of sugary cider and sleeplessness. This afternoon was all about singer-songwriters, and this short but accomplished set placed The Pictish Trail chief among them today. Rachel Sermanni followed, an unenviable slot in some ways as the audience shuffled around to get to the various competing sessions today. Having heard snippets of Rachel singing in various sessions and radio spots, I was intrigued to see her perform. Most remarkable though in this age of affected cool among younger musicians, was her disarming frankness when talking about her songs and their inspiration. But then she would start to sing, and none of that stuff mattered. Her frankly amazing Highland voice dipping low then soaring high over the hall. I took a quick look around the audience to gauge opinion and found them sitting rapt, staring at Rachel in disbelief. The recordings I’d heard hadn’t quite prepared me for hearing her sing live, and all of those sometimes a bit fawning superlatives heaped on her in the press seemed like perhaps they might be appropriate after all. When the set finished, with Rachel clearly touched and humbled by a fantastic reception, there was a collective sigh of approval. Definitely one of the stars of the weekend.
For a number of reasons, this afternoon’s session was one of my most anticipated of the entire weekend, not least because of Iona Marshall. Her recent split 10″ on De-Fence Records was a quietly released gem, which seemed to slip out to little fanfare except some enthusiastic backing from Glasgow PodcArt. Iona took the stage in a tangle of leads and equipment, but manage to weave some remarkable tunes around them. Perhaps the most overtly ‘Scottish’ sounding of the acts today with a strong presence of the sea in many of the songs, her outwardly simple folk tunes were transported by clever use of loops, beats and clever technical tricks. As someone who has insufficient co-ordination to walk and think simultaneously sometimes, I was left dazzled by the way Iona could manipulate her voice to produce the likes of the stunning “Shtoom”. Martin John Henry was a much simpler proposition – the ex-De Rosa member and his guitar alone, and blinking out over a near-full hall. He admitted to nerves so bad he couldn’t look at us, but this wasn’t borne out in his music. Just like his former band, this was heart-rending stuff. Simple songs, sung with passion and commitment. Someone a few seats away whispered “I’m crying! Why am I crying?” – and I’m not sure if it was the strange Homegame atmosphere, Martin’s quiet but powerful voice or the aching and transporting lyrics – particularly on the sublime “New Lanark” – but it was one of those moments. There had been a lot of them today already. I wasn’t sure how many more I could take. But of course, I’d have to suffer more because next up were King Creosote and Jon Hopkins. Having produced one of the finest records of the year barely weeks into 2011, this was a much anticipated performance – and as we scraped and squeaked our chairs forward to allow more people to crush into the Erskine Hall, I was glad I’d staked my spot early. Not just because of this – but because of the amazing range of talent which had been seen here today. So, the slightly terrified looking Jon Hopkins took his spot stage-left behind a harmonium, and Kenny slipped from behind the sound desk to the stage with his guitar. Low key and simple it might be – but as they quietly began “John Taylor’s Month Away” the audience were spellbound. I didn’t even dare whisper my aging and overused gag about the song referring to the Duran Duran bassist visiting the Priory Clinic. The duo worked their way through “Diamond Mine”, claiming to be unrehearsed but reading each others cues near perfectly. The highlight for me though was “Leslie”, Kenny donning his accordion with the warning “two wind instruments together, could be interesting“. It was, for all the right reasons. As the audience queued to leave after an afternoon of having their heartstrings well and truly tugged at, their was the strange sight of grown, bearded and serious looking men trying to compose themselves in the late-afternoon sunshine. I had my own preoccupations too – like how to get the copy of King Creosote‘s new vinyl-only album back to England in one piece on the train. It seemed like such a good idea at the time…
All this distracting music left me with a quick dash back to my digs before heading out to Anstruther Town Hall once again. It seems everyone else was a little behind too, as the hall was a little slow to fill as people drifted back from some pretty special afternoon sessions. I relaxed with a pint, wandered around the hall and chatted before taking my treasured spot near the front for This Is The Kit. I’m ashamed to say that despite being based relatively locally to me, I’ve never caught Kate Stables performing live before. With a band assembled from bits of Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains and Rozi Plain, she skipped through a short set of fairly upbeat numbers drawn from her two albums to date. Again, this performance will drive me back to listen again to records I’ve neglected with fresh ears, which is never a bad thing. During this set Josh T. Pearson arrived very late indeed, and to the palpable relief of Johnny Lynch who I thought may hug him at one point. However, he’s perhaps not the hugging type I thought, as his towering, shadowy presence loomed large behind me at one point while he peered out from backstage to catch the end of This Is The Kit‘s set. Thus, taking to the stage with no soundcheck due to some complications around his travel from Dublin, Pearson was in no mood for trifling. He stalked the stage, setting things up to his liking – the soundmen showing incredible patience as he tweaked and twiddled with things. However finally he advanced to the front of the stage and began to strum furiously at his guitar. After a little while, this curious noise resolved into “Woman, When I Raise Hell”, and that sonorous pain-tinged voice boomed over the guitar notes, by turns delicate and jarring. Given that few of the songs on his recent “Last of the Country Gentlemen” record clock in much below seven minutes, there were some anxious moments around the timing – but surprisingly as he headed for his last song, Pearson found time to joke with the audience. We laughed, with a strange nervous relief rather than genuine amusement. This man has a truly dominant stage presence – and while it was perhaps the only time in the entire weekend that the sense of commonality between performer and audience disappeared, it was an amazing performance. So, with the atmosphere still heavy with the last lingering notes of Josh T. Pearson‘s final marathon piece, Randolph’s Leap literally leapt onto the stage. It was always going to be incredibly hard to follow the previous act, but they managed it by force of sheer lunacy and exuberance. A rapid-fire cascade of songs underpinned by stomping drums, with flickers of violin and some seriously odd sound effects followed. Soon to be released “Counting Sheep” and “Deep Blue Sea” featured alongside filled-out band versions of older favourites like “Crisps” and “Squeamish”. I’ve loved Randolph’s Leap for a long time, and to see them in this setting, with an audience happy to dance like idiots to every note they played was a pretty special way to finally see them perform live. But all too soon it was over and we were only one act away from the end of the evening – but that act was Slow Club. It seems like a long time since their “Yeah, So” album stunned me into silence after happening across the band by chance in Crewe of all places, and I’ve managed to miss them consistently ever since. Tonight, there was plenty of evidence of what they’ve been up to all this time, with a whole host of new songs aired. These songs were somehow a little darker, a lot louder and Rebecca seemed to have morphed into a Janis Joplin like character, her always flexible voice focused on belting out these new songs alongside the more familiar older material. Suddenly though, something really special was happening. The guitars were unplugged and Charles and Rebecca were at the edge of the stage, singing the rather lovely “Christmas TV” at the top of their voices, accompanied by the audience. It was one of those Homegame moments again.
As the last notes faded, Johnny Lynch leapt back on to the stage urging us to “Flee, Flee for the night of our lives…“. I did, to Legends in time to catch a short but storming set from FOUND performing much of their recent “Factorycraft” album, with some rarities thrown in for good measure. The Legends audience was a jubilant, feisty and roaringly drunk one, but FOUND ended things on a high for me. My lasting memory of the set will be seeing Johnny Lynch being carried aloft around Legends, surfing a crowd who wouldn’t dare drop him after what he and his team of helpers had pulled off this weekend. Earlier on today, Rachel Sermanni said something which struck me enough to jot it down straight away…”This is how it should always be. All the time. Everywhere.“. I think that’s probably the best summation of things, better than I’ve managed in reams of wittering about Homegame. There had been a lot of talk about how Homegame affects people, how tough it is to get back to reality after this much fun, indeed this much alcohol. I’d doubted it would affect me, because I’m a fairly thick-skinned old character. But I knew it would – because I knew this would be one of the best weekends I was ever going to have, plain and simple.
I’ve written about music intermittently for the past ten years or so, and during that time I’ve read a fair bit about it too. I’ve been constantly amazed how often people reviewing things, and I include myself in this, use the phrase ‘indescribable’. Is it the ultimate get-out clause perhaps? To suggest that something is beyond the writers comprehension (either as a positive or negative statement) seems a bit of a weak response to challenging art. But some things are difficult to pin down and to glibly describe in a short review – and ‘In Rooms’ is very much one of those odd things. Born of a challenge laid down by comedienne Josie Long to The Pictish Trail, this record contains fifty songs of exactly thirty seconds duration. This could be a gimmick – it could be a disaster in fact – but what has emerged from this project is a set of fully formed miniature songs. Beautiful works in themselves, and full of the heartbreak and hilarity which Johnny Lynch specialises in – but tiny and detailed. A bit like the toy soldiers your granddad used to paint perhaps.
The album is available as a vinyl only release – a recent Fence policy which is causing me to hunt down a decent USB turntable very much as I type, but there is a concession with this release to a CD-R of the tracks. This isn’t to facilitate or appease the digitally-obsessed among us at all – it is in fact to offer the listener the opportunity to hear the tracks in an order of their choice. While Pictish Trail has assembled what he feels is the best running sequence on the vinyl, each CD-R has a different run. In the spirit of this, my first instinct was to hit ‘random’ and listen. A strange, bewildering and sometimes frustrating experience followed. Songs appeared, the constraints of the timescale meaning that introductions were short. Then a verse and a chorus and they were gone. For some tiny nuggets like ‘Sweating Battery Acid’ this was just enough – the idea of the song condensed into a thudding electronic pulse made sense. In other cases like the sublime ‘Not To Be’ its much too quick – and the song could happily have carried on. Indeed, I understand it does when Johnny sings it live – and I wonder how many of these little gems are in fact experiments which will develop further?
However it would be a mistake to think this album is a joke or gimmick – or indeed anything less than a collection of carefully constructed songs like any other. There is wonderful music here to be savoured – ranging from the bizarre and entertaining disco romp of ‘My Fizzy Bitz’, through the plaintive acoustics of ‘Tell Me What Is On Your Mind’ to the throbbingly danceable falsetto of ‘Arm In’ – which has more in common with Johnny’s Silver Columns project. Personal favourites include ‘Wavelengths’ and ‘Prequels’ which in their short spans manage to summarise the clever, intricate and detailed songwriting which are hallmarks of The Pictish Trail. There are of course, far too many tracks to mention – and the breadth of material means you definitely shouldn’t listen to my opinion. Go and buy this soon instead!
In considering this record though, the curious world of Fence Records is also a key factor. There is something warm and encouraging about the ethic at work up in Cellardyke which makes every listener feel like part of a special family – but like all families, there are frustrations and disagreements at times. However, they’re soon healed with a talk and a drink, and an invitation to visit. After all, this is nothing that won’t be fixed by shelling out on a turntable! However, out of respect for the stance Fence are taking, I’m not going to include an MP3 with this review, as we all know there are clever ways to misappropriate them from media players! No, folks – this is one to discover yourself via the shop at Fence Records. The oddity and novelty of the presentation aside, this record manages to showcase the many and almost impossibly varied talents of Johnny Lynch. Don’t let the strangeness put you off – it’s time to embrace the Fence and learn to love The Pictish Trail all over again.