Interview: King Creosote at Letham Nights – 'They are talked about with the same reverence as a gathering of druids'
Fife musician Kenny Anderson helps thriving local music night celebrate 50th gig
With a capacity of 140, and based 16 miles from the nearest large town, Letham Village Hall is no Barrowland or Brixton Academy. But for the bands who play there, that's exactly the point.
Started by a group of volunteers in 2008, Letham Nights has worked hard to earn its strapline, 'The Best Small Gigs in the World'. Every six weeks, live music by both emerging and established acts from Scotland, the UK and abroad, see the hall packed to capacity.
Born out of a desire to build local audiences, offer a platform to musicians, and raise funds to create a zero-carbon village hall, Letham Nights has surpassed all expectations.
'We spent our teenage years in the 1970s listening to John Peel and going to live gigs in small venues,' says Letham Nights' co-founder, Michael Farrell. 'It was said about Peel that he gave people what they didn't know they wanted, and in that spirit we were convinced that if we offered something different in our fantastic village hall, we could draw in new audiences and surprise people. But in reality we had no idea it would take off the way it did.'
At the start, Farrell and his co-volunteers had to search for potential acts to perform, but very quickly the shoe was on the other foot and acts came to them. To what does Farrell attribute the Letham Nights' appeal?
'Firstly, there aren't many live music venues about and musicians are desperate to be heard,' he says. 'And when they come to Letham Nights, they not only get to play, they get a listening and appreciative music-loving audience in a warm supportive atmosphere. We also treat musicians well - they get paid a decent fee, as much as we can afford from door sales, they get food and accommodation, we've got a great sound engineer, and we support them afterwards by promoting them on social media.'
As for what's in it for him, Farrell says he and the other volunteers are 'buzzing with the excitement and enjoyment of another success' after each gig. And that buzz is likely to be particularly loud and long after the next one on 28 Jan, when local boy Kenny Anderson (aka King Creosote) is due to perform Letham Nights' 50th gig.
'We've been keen to get King Creosote to Letham Nights since we started,' says Farrell. 'His music goes straight to the heart and, as a Fifer, he fits the bill by representing the very best of local talent. Most importantly though, while being critically acclaimed internationally, Kenny eschews mainstream 'stardom' and represents a different, edgier approach to music, rooted in community, that chimes with our ethos.'
Following the release of his latest critically acclaimed album, Astronaut Meets Appleman, Anderson is currently travelling the UK on what he calls 'my first ever tour on a proper sleeper bus'. After playing venues such as Bristol's Colston Hall, Glasgow's Old Fruitmarket and the Sage Gateshead, how will a tiny village hall in the middle of rural Fife compare?
'It's perfect for a tour wind-down,' says Anderson. 'and it allows me to show off a bit more of Fife to a couple of the city dwellers in my outfit. Des Lawson for example piles into places like Manchester or Liverpool with me – he needs to see, and smell, some ploughed fields!'
Was Anderson aware of Letham Nights previously? 'I certainly was,' he says, 'although always long after the event. They are talked about with the same reverence as, I dunno, a gathering of druids or suchlike. It's very secretive. I like that.'
Inspired by what Farrell and his pals have achieved with Letham Nights, local resident Keith Taylor recently started a similar venture, only with film. Supported by the Grow Your Own Cinema project, Letham Lights is 'bringing back the idea of film as something that unites a community rather than being consumed on your own in your living room,' says Taylor.
To tie-in with Letham Nights' 50th gig, Letham Lights will run an afternoon screening of From Scotland With Love, a beautifully constructed coming together of archive footage from the 1920s to 1960s, scored by King Creosote. After which, Anderson himself will take part in a Q&A.
'The questions folk ask are usually related to the archive footage - locations, filmmakers, stuff edited out,' says Anderson. 'Questions I am woefully inept at answering, alas. However, I did listen in on bits of conversations between the director and producer, and I'm pretty good at making stuff up. In return, I get to hear some family histories from the older ones in the audience.'
Farrell and the other volunteers are hopeful that having attracted a high profile act like King Creosote, further big names will follow. But their ambitions don't stop there.
'It would be nice to think we could have an influence on developing a different, more community approach to the arts that's sustainable and not based quite so much on a tiny minority of very famous stars playing huge soulless venues,' says Farrell. 'Because that's a model which is a dead end for so many very talented people. Now that we have the Letham Lights community cinema as well, what's to stop this expanding further with a bit of drama, comedy nights, workshops? It needs others to get involved because we have a limited capacity as volunteers, but all it takes is a bit of imagination and the will to make it work.'
From Scotland With Love with Kenny Anderson Q&A, Letham Lights, Letham Village Hall, Fife, Sat 28 Jan, 2pm; King Creosote, Letham Nights, Letham Village Hall, Fife, Sat 28 Jan, 8pm
Night of musical talent, celebrating the local stars of smaller towns and venues.