If there’s any justice in the world, an unassuming collaboration between an obscure Scottish singer-songwriter and an electronica producer should nestle alongside more attention-grabbing artists like tUnE-yArDs, Metronomy and James Blake in 2011′s end-of-year best of lists.
In truth, King Creosote and Jon Hopkins‘ Diamond Mine seemed to fall perfectly-formed out of the ether – a meditative, poignant album about accepting your place in the world, all set against the loose concept of a life spent in a coastal Scottish town. It was rightly lauded for its uncanny ability to evocate both the bosomy warmth of a tight-knit community and the rigours of a normal life lived to the full – every subtlety of human relationships seemed to be present, however obliquely, in its snatches of recorded dialogue and lovelorn lyrics.
Yet naked intimacy is often a little difficult to replicate in front of a crowd of complete strangers, and the pair wisely opt to debut their collaboration at Islington’s Union Chapel. The fully operational church can accommodate a pretty sizeable audience among its intricate wooden pews, and as a single cough can echo round the hall like a gunshot, the audience seem suitably awed by the reverence of the occasion.
In the spirit of low-key comfort that the record exudes the pair, along with two violinists and a backing singer-cum-drummer, set about bringing the audience into the fold from the minute First Watch’s clatter of voices and coffee machines washes over the audience. Creosote – roughly half man, half beard – sits in silence looking benignly out over the audience as Hopkins plays a simple, haunting piano refrain over the sounds of everyday bustle, rendering the moment beautifully intimate.
From here on, the band play Diamond Mine in order, with little pause for audience banter. The urgent strum of John Taylor’s Month Away cuts through the languid electronica and Creosote begins to sing of “A month on land/And then they’ll surely dream/Of girls they can afford/But cannot have,” his voice clear and stronger than on record. The song, that, like many this evening will touch on life’s tiny victories and disappointments, ends in a blur of seagulls and hazy sighs. It may sound fey, but in these hands it is utterly beautiful. Bats In the Attic is perhaps the most on-the-nose about the trials of getting older and fucking things up, “hours go by like sips of water” and “silver in my sideburns”, but even his assertion that “It’s such a waste of what we had…” is both quietly devastating and perversely uplifting.
It helps that Creosote (aka Kenny Anderson) is already a seasoned performer – veteran of over 40 albums, a well-regarded record label boss and loose collaborator with bands like The Burns Unit and The Aliens, while Hopkins has come off the back of collaborations with Brian Eno and Coldplay. Together there is an affectionate bonhomie forged in the haze of Fife sunsets, blokey but romantic. Perhaps the only moment of coup de theatre in such a subtle performance is Creosote singing the last track of the record, the bitterly hopeful Your Young Voice acapella as he walks off stage.
The band return to play a short set of a handful of Creosote’s other songs, the veil lifted and the audience suddenly allowed to breathe again. When the pair settle down to their last song at the front of the stage, Hopkins on accordion and Creosote plucking out a cover of Sinéad O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U – at once totally incongruous and utterly appropriate – it’s difficult to know whether to laugh or cry. And suddenly, you realise that’s what they had in mind all along.