A while ago, in Cambridge, I went to see King Creosote support James Yorkston. Yorkston was excellent, but rather overshadowed by his support, who gave one of the most extraordinary performances of the year. Kenny Anderson, whom no one seemed to know or expect, took to the stage alone, accompanying himself on the guitar and on the accordion.
I’ve never seen anyone else play an accordion-only song, or sing in such an unaffected Fife burr, but I can’t imagine they’d be more mesmerising. He rifled through his huge back catalogue, he covered songs by friends and relatives on his Fence label. Over it all floated that incredible, haunting voice – soft, and human, and timeless. Covering an HMS Ginafore song about pirates, he sounded neither silly nor strange: an achievement.
“I’d rather be travelling solo”, says I’ll Fly By The Seat Of My Pants. K.C. Rules OK draws on the starkness of Anderson’s live show, even as it clothes its folk in rich, lilting arrangements. The Earlies, who back Anderson here, lend him a quiet depth, but never trample the intimate beauty at work. It is a brilliant combination – best compared to that other royal songwriter Will Oldham. When Locked Together and the closing Marguerita Red introduce backing vocals, they are unexpected and spine-tingling.
Such subtlety only endorses what the Fence ethic demands, that the song be more important than the sound. Some of these songs are better than others, obviously, but only a couple fall below excellent. They take in scatter-mouth meditation on what could be (You Are Could I?); the realisation of love (Favourite Girl); and, in Jump At The Cats, the wisdom of surprising your pets.
In a way, the whimsy of Cats doesn’t really do Anderson any favours – it’s funny, but such songs have cast Anderson as insignificant bumbler. He can write lyrics of really compelling beauty (see 678, or Locked Together), and he can write them to splendid, charged melodies.
This is just the third of umpteen King Creosote records to be properly distributed – it sits beside the Secret Machines, The Futureheads, and Death From Above 1979 at 679. “I never was going to be first out of the stalls”, goes 678 in tribute to the move. Fair enough – Anderson is no Casablanas. But, at last, Fence is getting more famous. It has, in recent memory, turned out James Yorkston, U.N.P.O.C., and Lone Pigeon. Fife is proving to be a centre of talent to rival, in a small and independent way, Omaha, New York, or Detroit.