Recent weeks have seen the political future of Scotland dominate headlines. But attention was turned to Scotland’s social and economic past on Saturday at Milton Court with two screenings of Virginia Heath’s film From Scotland With Love with a live soundtrack by King Creosote and his seven piece band. Kenny Anderson’s music for the film has gained significant acclaim on its own after being released on Domino Records earlier in the year. But being performed live on stage as the images of the film played out behind him was to elevate its beauty and power to new levels.
The mining of archive footage to construct nostalgic portraits of people and places long since gone or radically changed has been a regular occurrence over recent years, giving large swathes of society a posthumous presence they never would have expected (and would have doubtlessly found very odd). From Johann Johannsson‘s soundtracking of Bill Morrison’s The Miners’ Hymns to British Sea Power‘s score to Penny Woolcock’s From The Sea To The Land Beyond it is a trend that has resulted in some outstanding pieces of work (Saint Etienne‘s scores to Paul Kelly’s films on London and Jarvis Cocker‘s music for Martin Wallace’s The Big Melt also spring to mind).
Virginia Heath’s film draws upon a wealth of material depicting life in Scotland during the 20th century – mostly in grainy monochrome but occasionally in washed-out colour. Her ability to edit and condense it into a powerful 75 minutes is impressive, and the painstaking attention to detail is tangible. The film possesses a remarkable breadth of content and variety of themes given the age it covers – work, industry, architecture, transport, agriculture, leisure, childhood, war, emigration, economic hardship and social upheaval all feature. King Creosote’s music instils it with an engaging and resonating emotional power, noticeable immediately on the sensitive, yearning opening track Something To Believe In.
Each of the songs that follow compliment the accompanying scenes superbly – the moments of simple family happiness captured at the seaside (Largs), the snapshots of the Scottish fishing industry (Cargill), the sight of children in playgrounds and schools (Bluebell, Cockleshell, 123), the distress of enforced social separation (Miserable Strangers). Additional songs from King Creosote’s back catalogue that don’t appear on the soundtrack album slot into the film well – 678 soundtracks footage of city slum clearances while My Favourite Girl accompanies scenes of war. Kenny Anderson’s fragile voice – vulnerable yet weather-hardened – is the perfect fit to tell the tales of these lives now gone.
Perhaps most successful is the footage taken in pubs, clubs and dancehalls – seeing the population collectively unwind via the joys of music and drinking as the glorious pop sensibilities of One Night Only fly by works brilliantly (and also helps temporarily remove any residual sadness associated with prior scenes of social and economic hardship).
It is Pauper’s Dough that registers as the emotional climax of the performance however – the euphoric, heartfelt message that grows into a stunning massed chorus to accompany scenes of social unrest is incredibly moving. As Kenny Anderson leads the line of “you’ve got to rise above the gutter you are inside” the feeling of empathy, respect and solidarity is overwhelming.
As the credits roll up on screen the audience rise to give a fully deserved standing ovation. Hugs are exchanged on stage amidst visual displays of delight from director Virginia Health and producer Grant Keir. This finely struck balance between film and music, delivered with such compassion, beauty and artistic integrity should be remembered as one of the best concerts of 2014.