Vic Galloway - Songs in the Key of Fife (3 stars)

Vic Galloway - Songs in the Key of Fife

BBC DJ's personal biography of area of Scotland home to thriving music scene

Comedy buffs have long been fascinated by the fact the tiny village of Navan has managed to produce magnificent stand-up talents such as Dylan Moran, Tommy Tiernan and Pierce Brosnan (if you haven’t yet seen his performance in Stephen King’s Bag of Bones, it’s a thing of non-deliberate wit and wonderment).

In the world of British pop music, geographical movements have generally attached themselves to large conurbations such as Liverpool, Sheffield, Glasgow, Bristol and Manchester. But the East Neuk of Fife? It might not immediately strike the casual music-watcher as a buzzing creative hub, but when you namecheck the likes of KT Tunstall, Beta Band and James Yorkston, this is only the tip of a folk/electronica/pop iceberg.

As shown in Radio Scotland DJ Vic Galloway’s splendidly titled history (his introduction pores over the many other punning possibilities for its name and he definitely chose wisely), the area is a hotbed of musical endeavours. While many names crop up throughout the story, Kenny Anderson is the tale’s fulcrum. Brother of fellow musos and twins Een and Gordon, his Fence label, shop and lo-fi, high quality ethos permeates everything about this near 400-page biography of a place and a time.

The place is a ‘dreamy enclave’ with bad mobile reception and the time is effectively the mid-90s to the current day. Galloway writes with a wide-eyed enthusiasm for the music of the area and its acts, understandable given that he has either made friends with or been in bands alongside many of the book’s supporting cast. At times, his honest opinions about those he is close to are refreshing; on other occasions it feels like he’s holding back on a career critique for the very same reason.

To his credit, he does peer into the dark side of Gordon Anderson (Lone Pigeon) and the Beta Band’s Steve Mason, both of whom have suffered from varying degrees of debilitating mental illness and depression which have had an effect on their careers and personal lives. Perhaps the book itself is too ambitious and sprawling: it certainly needed an even firmer editorial hand given that while the same stories inevitably crop up they often arrive as though they are being told for the very first time.

As the afterword notes, the future of Fence is uncertain with founder Kenny Anderson unsure about whether he wants to move things forward with the label at the same time as continuing to make his own music. Johnny Lynch (The Pictish Trail), Anderson’s business partner for many years, appears to still have the drive to push Fence on to the next level, wherever and whatever that may be.

Songs in the Key of Fife is out now published by Polygon.

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