World Tour of Crail - Various venues, Crail, Thu 20 & Fri 21 Feb 2014
King Creosote and co host some community gigs, with Withered Hand, Lomond Campbell and Jo Foster
There's a sign above Julia's cafe in Crail that reads, 'Come in for a cuppa'.
What it does not say is that your scones will be sound-tracked by homeboy King Creosote, singing his heart out to 20 people. It does not mention that country-gospel songbird Jo Foster will have her gorgeous take on Dolly Parton's 'I Will Always Love You' embellished by cutlery clatter and percolating coffee – much to the windswept surprise of three septuagenarian ladies who chance upon this pop delight, all walking frames and baffled smiles. Nor do the tearoom's steamed-up windows suggest that FOUND's Ziggy 'Lomond' Campbell is within, breaking our hearts right into our soup with his glorious, amorous kosmische-folk ragas; that Hamish Hawk is crooning lovely tunes about submarines, Spain and shores; that Lidh is lighting up the sky. That berserk-rock poet Gummi Bako is paying homage to Scotland's untouchable classic-pop empress, aka Our Great Lady of Fife (Barbara Dickson, in other words.)
The tearoom sign says none of that. But it all occurs in Julia's (and in the neighbouring gallery and pottery), albeit in the dream-like state that Fence events have so long conjured in the East Neuk of Fife. As the late-afternoon sun streams in, and the Friday traffic idles past, you'd be excused for finding symbolism in the hand-made love-hearts bedecking the cafe; for noting black holes in the bright pine tables and feeling a fleeting profound sense of grief, because time does nothing but disappear; for broaching something akin to human tears, if not an existential epiphany.
It might just be a hangover, right enough. The night before, in the Golf Hotel, to a chorus of snakebite and blackcurrant toasts, King Creosote (that is, Kenny Anderson) kicked off his second annual World Tour of Crail. He did so with a stripped-back 'Rims', whose rampant lack of egotism ('I am the worst') and clandestine saddle hankering were punctured by pub dinner microwave timers, and this of course amplified its charms. His congenial opening set also featured an exquisite cracked aria, 'I'm A Great Believer In Threes', lifted from forthcoming album Three on this Island (to be launched at June's World Tour of Mull), amid promises of a guided walk, inexpedient colour-coded venue cartography, and a 10 percent chip-shop discount for ticket-holders. (Despite being solely promoted via KC's quarterly Alter Ego Trading Company postal fanzine, the weekend-long pop brouhaha was a sell-out). Anderson would conclude the night with a preview of his upcoming film soundtrack (for Virginia Heath's From Scotland With Love), but due to an early taxi booking and your meek correspondent's ensuing tantrum, the less said about this particular missed set, the better.
Thursday night also hosted many of the weekend's players and Fence Collective favourites – including the ever-dashing, flat-capped Campbell, who asserted his position as Hawick's answer to Elvis and serenaded us to the point of abandonment with 'The Lengths' (which is well worth seeking out via last year's excellent Dewar House compendium, Experimental Batch #26). There were also sets from hirsute alt-rock heart-throbs Emporium (unplugged), KC bassist Uncle Beesly (who became a disturbingly sensuous David Byrne for a convincing recital of 'Psycho Killer'), Jo Foster (truly, she is the Mariah Carey of the May Isle), KC axe-virtuoso Scruff, and a typically rousing turn from piano-stud Rich Young, who has worked with Iron Maiden and Dire Straits, and whose vast rock talent is rivalled only by the colossal size of his hands. Withered Hand would not arrive until Saturday, but his alt-rock genius was there in spirit, thanks to his terrific new album, New Gods, issuing sublime intervention via the shoogly PA between sets.
By Friday night, shenanigans had relocated to the Marine Hotel, with its superlative Moon Hop DJs, patterned carpets, boxes of wine and olive bathroom suites, and between stints peddling home-made CDRs from a battered suitcase, King Creosote performed with a seven-strong band starring Uncle Beesly, Captain Geeko, Gummi Bako, OnTheFly, plus cello overlord Pete Harvey (The Leg) and keyboard charmer Derek O'Neill (Blantyre's Bruce Hornsby, and twice as handsome). KC's set included 'Doubles Underneath', 'So Forlorn', ' and a cover of Withered Hand's 'Between True Love and Ruin', and if all this felt like a party starting, then so it was: it went on until Sunday.
The Sabbath has always struck an irreverent chord in Crail. Legend has it that Robert the Bruce granted the former royal burgh permission to host markets on God's day, which enraged holy zealots to such an extent that John Knox damned the local fishermen. The town's weekends are not so contentious these days, but its (pop) spirit is no less independent. Its king is no less revolutionary. Its choirs are no less divine.