King Creosote

TrackAlbum / Single
Saffy NoolRocket D.I.Y.
On The Night Of The BonfireThat Might Well Be It, Darling
Tortoise Regrets HareDomino RUG293
John Taylor's Month AwayDiamond Mine
Coast On ByFlick The Vs
HomeboyKenny And Beth's Musakal Boat Rides
You Just WantAstronaut Meets Appleman
Something To Believe InFrom Scotland With Love
Saw Circular ProwessFlick The Vs
Marguerita RedKC Rules OK

King Creosote photo

King Creosote (Kenny Anderson)

 

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm
King Creosote playlist

 

 

Contributor: Duncan Harman

Many artists, and it’s easy to keep track of back catalogue. There’s a narrative in play; material written, recorded, released then toured. And because we buy records, play records and tend to understand records as testaments to time and place, individual tracks and entire LPs alike fall subjugated into public consciousness, culminating in the 20 year anniversary, playing the album in its entirety hokum for the nostalgia circuit we’re apparently looking forward to.

This is not a pattern Kenny Anderson appears terribly enthused by. Sure; there have been King Creosote records and King Creosote tours. Sometimes he even releases music on recognisable formats, or plays live in venues beyond the saloon bars and village halls of Fife’s East Neuk. But if the mechanics of the music industry are rigid – creative endeavour subsumed by the aesthetics of the production line – then Anderson inhabits an elsewhere, adjacent to but distinct from music as commodity.

In short, King Creosote has a different colour palette to most others. It’s not folk music. Stylistically in the vicinity of, perhaps, with elements of quirky, impish pop and nods to backroad Americana, squeezebox electronica and even Motorik, yet even with all the piano accordion and even the occasional set of bagpipes, this is far removed from the staid parochialism of the cèilidh. It’s music as atmosphere. As mischievousness. Honesty. Emotion as skein, winding through and across each song.

And this is not a linear story. Two main challenges in appraising the King Creosote discography: its contents and the chronology. Alongside studio LPs for the likes of Domino and Warner imprint 679 – and depending upon your definition of album – he’s also been responsible for a ridiculous number of homemade recordings (sources vary on the exact number). A complex web of collaborations, band tracks and solo tracks, generally hand-illustrated and released on his Fence label in strictly limited quantities, often on CD-R – the millennial equivalent of the C90 tape.

Tracks appear only to then crop up elsewhere, in different guises, sometimes under different titles, tweaked or wildly reimagined, something perhaps due to Kenny’s musical upbringing: a childhood soundtracked by the jigs and reels of Scottish folk music, and an early twenties spent amidst the anarcho-punk street busking scene; crusties with backpacks and Eurorail passes turning up in Amsterdam or Antwerp with guitars and grins (which in turn begat the Skuobhie Dubh Orchestra and Khartoum Heroes; the two bluegrass-inspired bands Kenny spent the best part of a decade going nowhere with).

Contrasting aesthetics, but similar in their utilisation of song as open-source and communal – which in turns adds something of the enigmatic to the King Creosote persona. A prolific songwriter who nonetheless considers his musical past as something living and breathing, there not be recycled or repurposed but explored then explored again.

Of course, such fluid version control makes identifying a ten-track list of ‘definitive’ KC songs self-defeating (NB: the tracks discussed below perch at the less obscure end of the scale). I swear I witnessed a beautiful, radically different interpretation of a King Creosote single he played live in a Glasgow church, the rain outside greasy and incessant, the moment caught in aspic, but then the song ended, and it was back to the real world.

And there was Saffy Nool (on 2005’s Rocket D.I.Y. LP); drunk, late at night, a scratchy CD player and a swirl of other Scottish stuff my then girlfriend was into. Amidst the high register bass and warm, plucked banjo, there’s plenty to unpack in the opening couplet: “You’re growing old, you’re growing tense. I was thirty-five before my face made much sense.” The playful self-deprecation. The manner in which Kenny’s long, lilting annunciation (“It means nothing …” ) backlights the track’s momentum. The tendrils of melancholia within the major key (and Anderson’s voice has an impressive habit of drawing out the melancholic within the major).

A further motif is the layering of emotion and texture onto unfussy composition; at face value his songs aren’t complex things, until suddenly – a line here, a cadence there – they become so. There are various iterations of On The Night Of The Bonfire, the best known perhaps from the 2012 four-tracker It Turned Out For The Best (subsequently re-released on the That Might Well Be It, Darling album). Jaunty to the point of being hurried, and with rhythm guitar and percussion unusually high in the mix, in lesser hands it would risk disposability. Yet here, the interplay between the vocal and each stand of instrumentation spins an enigmatic, evocative tale pivoted around a spoken word middle eight in which Kenny mumbles something about “the Tate Modern leaving you cold and upset” through a lo-fi saturated vox effect (see also: the King Creosote cover of James Yorkston’s Tortoise Regrets Hare … itself the B-side to the James Yorkston single Tortoise Regrets Hare. The original is softly woven and a little tentative in approach – it’s not intended to grab you by the lapels. Kenny’s version – tongue-in-cheek musicality, another saturated mic effect, the lyrics sing-spoken – has a very different feel, where flatter inflection and stressing different parts of each stanza affectionately reveal the song’s vulpine undertones).

One final pointer: the absence of cynicism. There’s an honesty to KC records. Not self-satisfaction or worthiness – it’s something far more natural, akin perhaps to innocence. A childlike curiosity that infects the listener, makes us smile. Diamond Mine, the 2011 Mercury-nominated collaboration with Jon Hopkins, could have been an opportunity to showboat. Instead it’s incredibly understated, which in turn encourages the material to breathe. John Taylor’s Month Away first appeared a decade previously; a pared-back maritime lament, following the folk music tradition of songs featuring the lives of working people. Hopkins is canny here; there’s nothing whack-a-mole about this. Just Kenny, acoustic guitar, accordion, and little more than the subtlety of found sound. As a collage it’s precisely constructed, and quite, quite beautiful.

Absence of cynicism #2: Coast On By, from the 2009 LP Flick The Vs. Another nautical jaunt – a tale of mixed-up shipping metaphors. Also, KC at his most overtly pop. “You’ve heard me laughing doubled-up on the floor. Did you know, I don’t like leaving my village no more.” There’s something fascinating in the way that Kenny flits between genre without diluting his distinctive presence. Grace over gimmickry; whether bothy ballad or light-of-touch pop song, the charm remains a constant.

Absence of cynicism #3: all of the 2003 Kenny And Beth’s Musakal Boat Rides LP – Beth being Anderson’s young daughter, her baby talk sampled on closer A Friday Night In New York. Homeboy – yet another song with multiple recorded versions – represents all that’s elemental in a King Creosote track. There’s an enjoyably woozy feel to the instrumentation, like being pleasantly drunk on a carousel, with playful lyrics that serve as a satirical tribute to introversion. An item full of glide, and pulse, and a warmth of manifold proportions.

You Just Want – the opening track on the 2016 album Astronaut Meets Appleman – is a very different beast, with its nooks and its crannies, a song without a chorus, a meandering, looping in and around the breathy backing vox, the harp solo, the lyrics nocturnal: “When you just want someone more for their being and not so much for the breeze.” It’s proof that King Creosote is as adept with shade as he is with light, because life can be sad and melancholic; it’s similar in tone to the bitter-sweet Something To Believe In (note the gorgeous opening couplet: “Dreaming without sleeping. It’s morning, are you leaving?”). It’s one of his better-known tracks, courtesy of From Scotland With Love, his movie collaboration with director Virginia Heath, which uses archive footage to illustrate the ordinary lives of everyday Scots. As an album it’s Kenny at his most straight-laced, but even then it still manages to tug on heartstrings.

Absence. Of. Cynicism. Saw Circular Prowess, the conclusion to Flick The Vs has an epic quality. The type of tune best heard last thing on a Sunday evening, with the whisky now dregs and a sorry sleep looming. There’s a sense of bitterness behind the lyrics, and frequent deployment of the F word, but there are notions of empowerment present as well, accentuating the personal nature of both song and album.

So, to conclude: we’re lucky to have King Creosote. For all of the reasons listed above, and probably many more. The girl who played Saffy Nool, late at night, with a smile, eventually became my wife, and she walked down the aisle to Marguerita Red. A track he wrote whilst still at university, with yet more alternate versions recorded and released, including two alone on different releases of KC Rules OK. “I could be pouring my heart out, still don’t think you’d hear me.” Floors me, every single time – but that’s Kenny Anderson for you.

 

 

King Creosote on his Fence record label for BBC Collective

 

Virginia Heath, Kenny Anderson & David McAulay on the making of “From Scotland With Love” – a journey into our collective past

 

King Creosote and Jon Hopkins play John Taylor’s Month Away (from The Guardian ‘How I wrote…’ sessions)

 

The Burns Unit – Emma Pollock, Future Pilot AKA, Karine Polwart, Kim Edgar, King Creosote, Mattie Foulds, Soom T, Michael Johnston – talk about how they got together and why …

 

King Creosote official website

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins official website

King Creosote & Michael Johnston official website

King Creosote on Domino

King Creosote at Discogs

“From Scotland With Love” – film website

“Songs In The Key Of Fife” – The Intertwining Stories of The Beta Band, King Creosote, KT Tunstall, James Yorkston and the Fence Collective – by Vic Galloway (Polygon, 2013)

King Creosote biography (AllMusic)

James Yorkston Toppermost #448

An occasional writer for the music press, Duncan Harman loiters on Twitter at @lazerguidedblog

Some of Duncan’s other posts on this site: Luke Haines trilogy, Pastels,
Prolapse, Cure, Dandy Warhols, Bananarama, Human League, Jake Thackray, BBC Radiophonic Workshop

TopperPost #874

1 Comment

  1. Tracey Bowen
    Jun 8, 2020

    So very little crossover with the 10 I would have picked but I’ll forgive you because it’s hardly the point is it? The warmth you talk of, the playfulness and the beauty – they’re all there in abundance in his vast body of work.
    My favourite observation from your piece: “…Anderson’s voice has an impressive habit of drawing out the melancholic within the major.” Totally. The skewed rhythm of his phrasing, the way he’ll soften a word with elongation then cut it off again with a sudden hard consonant; an effect he uses frequently which makes me swoon and then unexpectedly feel rebuked (Betelgeuse is a good example of this). Oh, Kenny, my heart…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

↓