King Creosote and Jon Hopkins - Grand Ole Opry, Glasgow, Wed 7 Sep
The recent Mercury award nominees hit all the right notes
Gig of the year if they win, they said. Not a dry eye in the house if they win, they said. Well, guess what. They didn’t win. You think that made their Glasgow performance any less enthralling? Two chords in – two of Hopkins’ hymnal, heart-stopping piano chords – and the room was in silence: tears in eyes, hearts in mouths, before King Creosote had sung a note. That was the kind of night it was.
Fresh from the London train that carried them away from the Mercury Awards, where they were pipped at the post by PJ Harvey and yet remained the much-loved heroes who defied the bookies, eclipsed Adele, provoked excitement and offered the fleeting sense that sometimes these awards things do mean something – KC (alias Fife singer-songwriter and Fence Records boss Kenny Anderson) and London electronic composer Jon Hopkins played a warm, engaging set which embraced their album Diamond Mine and much alt-pop delight besides. Hopkins’ piano heartbreak ushered in an unembellished version of ‘First Watch’, the opening track on Diamond Mine, and the laidback twain proceeded to enliven the LP’s songs in turn: the exquisite kick against the dying light of ‘Bats in the Attic’; the tender fortification of ‘Bubble’; the abiding hope of ‘Your Young Voice’.
That’s not to say that Anderson and Hopkins were too hung up on live perfection. The show was not without its slight sound hitches, and KC dealt good-humouredly with the unsought vocals of a fan who hollered tunelessly throughout. These songs’ charms do not only lie in their flawlessness or in Hopkins’ meticulous, gentle arrangements (although these features are remarkable): they also lie in their history, spanning KC’s entire back-catalogue and adult life; in their sense of place and daily existence; in the ways that Hopkins’ chords and ambience complement Anderson’s nigh-on supernatural voice.
The songs are also testament to KC’s longstanding contention that simple compositions are king, and that they have the most potential for building upon. ‘Bats in the Attic’, for example [see video below], worked as beautifully with Hopkins’ piano and harmonium as it had done with a KC alt-folk trio during his Nth Bit of Strange show in Anstruther’s AIA Hall last year, or as it did when he played it as a rodeo hoe-down with The Earlies as his backing band. Further evidence of Anderson’s versatile songwriting knack emerged in the evening’s mid-set ‘hits’ package, as he performed a mourning, squeezebox-intoxicated take on ‘Missionary’ – the same song that is currently enjoying a raucous drive-pop outing courtesy of his stirring union with Kid Canaveral. There were loads of other favourites in there too – ‘Not One Bit Ashamed’, ‘Leslie’, ‘Spy Stick’ – and props to the percussive chops of Captain Geeko the Dead Aviator, whose deft command of subtle beats chimed perfectly with Hopkins’ approach: let the voice and the melodies guide.
Neither Anderson nor Hopkins begins or ends with Diamond Mine, of course, and this was intimated by their inclusion of earlier aural alliances, like their jaw-dropping version of HMS Ginafore’s ‘And The Racket They Made’ (from KC’s 2007 Bombshell album), and their forthcoming single of new material (‘Aurora Boring Alias’, ‘Honest Words’) suggests that there is more to come. Harvey may have clinched the Prize, but let us not forget the quiet victories of Diamond Mine. This unhurried, unforced labour-of-love made the Mercury headlines over the likes of Elbow, Tinie Tempah and Katy B. This independent album with few choruses, pop hooks or conventional singles was plastered all over the London Underground and nearly rendered William Hill 50 grand out of pocket. And it offered a sublime reminder of the ways in which Fife, via KC, shifts the pop world on its axis, bit by tiny bit.
King Creosote and Jon Hopkins’ 'Honest Words' EP is out on September 19; Diamond Mine is out now.