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King Creosote

+ {Skuobhie Dubh Orchestra} + {Khartoum Heroes} + {The Burns Unit}

The choice moniker of Fife-born Kenny Anderson (born 2nd February 1967, St. Andrews), KING CREOSOTE has become synonymous with Scottish indie and nu-folk music. From his home base at the Fence Collective, KC and his sunshine cohorts have spread their Caledonian gospel via a series, nay plethora, of CD-r’s and of course proper scheduled classics.
But it was in the late 80s that singer Kenny (guitar and accordion), his wee brother Een Anderson (double bass, banjo and vocals), Eric Baekeroot (banjo, guitar, mandolin), Andy Robinson (drums, vocals), Atholl Fraser (bass), plus fiddlers Donna Vincent and Jason Brass, swung into town on the horse they rode on as the SKUOBHIE DUBH ORCHESTRA (pronounced “Scooby Doo”), an energetic Celtic-bluegrass outfit who had barking mad trad purists up in arms with their thrash-y indie-type dirges. Two albums surfaced between 1992 and 1994, 39 STEPHS {*6} and SPIKE’S 23 COLLECTION {*6}, both stemming from the unlikeliest of sources, Lochshore Records, better known for its Hieland type pipers and/or MOR Gaelic singers. Retaining Een and a few others, but not youngster Kate TUNSTALL (or KT to her friends and subsequent fanclub), Kenny and his Cajun folk-a-billies, as KHARTOUM HEROES {*6} delivered one eponymous set for the same outlet; incidentally his original ceilidh band regrouped for live shows from 1998-2003.
Described by the man himself as a micro-indie record label based in Fife (Cellardyke near Anstruther to be precise), Kenny’s Fence Collective chose a completely original approach by releasing only records by artists who worked or were connected to the imprint. Apart from Anderson’s KING CREOSOTE bluegrass/folk outfit, there was of course Pip Dylan (formerly Een Anderson, a talented busker-type singer-songwriter and guitarist whose inspiration comes from commuting back and forth to Spain and France), their old mucker James Wright (aka JAMES YORKSTON), The Jose (swanky lounge lizards Alan Coutts, James Gourley and John McCulloch), The Abrahams (Edinburgh students/pilgrims Martin Noble from Leeds, Rick Lyons and Joanna who fused folk and country), Immigrant (aka Lingus Gordon), On The Fly, Gummi Bako and former BETA BAND songwriter LONE PIGEON (aka Kenny And Een’s brother Gordon Anderson).
Finally we get to KING CREOSOTE, Kenny’s uber-folk collective who take delight in the fact they have the great Ian Rankin (Rebus detective novelist and Fife-born celeb) as one of their famous fans. As mentioned previously, one could get lost in the jungle of self-financed recordings on Fence, from QUEEN OF BUSH COUNTRY (1997) {*6}, RAIN WEEKEND (1997) {*6}, INNER CRAIL TO OUTER SPACE (1998) {*6} and others, to further post-millennium CD-r’s 12 O’CLOCK ON THE DOT (2000) {*6} and BUY THE BAZOUKI HAIR OIL (2001) {*6} to DISCLAIMER (2001) {*6} and KENNY AND BETH’S MUSAKAL BOAT RIDES (2003) {*7}, all have merit and are much sought-after in this particularly modern-day medium.
Concentrating on his impressive off-Fence/“official” CDs, one can vouch for just about everything that’s emerged from KC’s bunker, including his Fence finale ROCKET D.I.Y. (2005) {*7} before moving to various outsider outlets; check out `Things Things Things’ and `Klutz’ – at least. KC RULES OK (2005) {*8}, meanwhile, has all the hallmarks of a classic, not exactly folk-music per se (bar `The Vice-Like Gist Of It’ and `My Favourite Girl’) but a singer-songwriter set that sees Kenny reunite with KT TUNSTALL on `Locked Together’ and Manchester’s The EARLIES on several others including brill opener `Not One Bit Ashamed’. Now signed to a major label, BOMBSHELL (2007) {*7}, showed he could live with the big ‘uns and with that now unmistakable sharp and Scots-brogue vocal, the bearded KC balanced between the lovelorn intensity of `Home In A Sentence’ and the lo-fi sea shanty of `Admiral’.
Sketching on his i-pad where BADLY DRAWN BOY once outlined and ruled, KING CREOSOTE and Domino Records got together independently to release FLICK THE VS (2009) {*6}, a slightly but sprightly disappointment – only by comparison – of laptop dirges of such as `No One Had It Better’ or the accordion-friendly folk ditty `Two Frocks At A Wedding’, saviour of the day was Radio 2 SOTW `Coast On By’.
Formed by Fife-based Kenny Anderson, plus several others on the indie-folk supergroup trail (a few picked from Canadian outfits), The BURNS UNIT was yet another act to hop on to the neo-folk gravy train; most stemmed from previous Cold Seeds collaborative (with Edinburgh’s Meursault and Animal Magic Tricks from Brighton). Scottish-based, Banknock traditionalist KARINE POLWART sat nicely alongside fellow Caledonians Emma Pollack, Sushil Dade and Kim Edgar, while Canadian (Celtic) connections and rappers made up the numbers.
Recorded from 2007, SIDE SHOW (2010) {*7} was a hotchpotch of folk (`Since We’ve Fallen Out’), Eastern rap (`Send Them Kids To War’) and Scots indie-pop (`Future Pilot A.K.C.’) were the order of the day, or session.
If there was any question of Anderson/KING CREOSOTE’s folk merits or credentials, the answer was in DIAMOND MINE (2011) {*7}, an oblique but romanticized field (or village shop!) recording and mini-set concept shared with the ENO-like JON HOPKINS. Only seven songs with an atmospheric, near-soundtrack-like touch (seagulls and all) from the folk stoic of KC’s lyrical terrain, defiantly Caledonian from Berwick to John O’Groats, from Aberdeen to Stranraer; `John Taylor’s Month Away’ awash with ambient seascapes and `Running On Fumes’ (the longest tracks at over six minutes) something akin to ALASDAIR ROBERTS sharing an imaginary studio with an off-colour ROBIN WILLIAMSON.
While one could wax lyrical on what was the best way forward for such a niche artist such as Kenny/KING CREOSOTE (releases seemed to arrive in waves), his heart and soul identified with the peoples and places north of the border. His efforts to raise money for the Anstruther-based Scottish Fisheries Museum on a whole set of songs, SURE & STEADFAST (2013) {*6} was indeed honourable. Then came a commission to soundtrack the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, while further times were spent bringing up a baby (his second daughter) with wife Jen Gordon (aka recent Fence signing HMS Ginafore).
Accompanied by archive film footage of his proud nation (who were about to undertake an unsuccessful breakaway from Old Blighty that September), his umpteenth album FROM SCOTLAND WITH LOVE (2014) {*9} was more than just a breath of fresh Caledonian air, it was truly a definitive piece that shied away from the tartan kilts, haggis and Nessie that seemed to seep in via the tourist board. Instead, both music and picture-postcard film occupied common ground.
Top 3 on home-soil and one place from a Top 20 spot in the UK, KING CREOSOTE had finally registered with the public after over two decades and a plethora of songs weighing down his musical CV. While there were a couple of re-workings on board (`Harper’s Dough’ was turned into `Pauper’s Dough’ and a chorus line from `678’ saw new light as the pastoral `Miserable Strangers’), Kenny was in his element on some semi-classics, namely his beautifully-sung folk ballad, `Something To Believe In’ (ditto `Cargill’), the orchestral-laden `One Floor Down’ and the rivet-shaking `For One Night Only’; the latter re-imagined domestic life in real towns all over oor wee country. Clawing in only a shocking 6/10 stars from the NME, maybe years of hardship and toil was beyond their political brief south of Watford. As upbeat folk music has progressed into a true chart commodity these days without much fuss or hype, could anyone dismiss the merits of `Largs – long’ and memories of the playground in `Bluebell, Cockleshell, 123’.
On the back of three homespun, mail-order/website album releases mainly for the Fence Collective imprint (SMAVULGAR (2015) {*6}, the half-n-half various artists KING CREOSOTE & THE QUEENS OF BRUSH COUNTY (2016) {*6} and THE BOUND OF THE RED DEER (2016) {*6}; the latter a collaboration with Michael Johnston), King Kenny’s first official Domino Records piece of pie was unfettered on the wee cosmic beauty of ASTRONAUT MEETS APPLEMAN (2016) {*8}.
His second Top 30 gate-crasher, and a favourite among the twee indie-pop collegiate, the set stretched from the lilting, bagpipe and/or cello-backed tracks (among them `Melin Wynt’, `Faux Call’ and `Betelgeuse’), to the rather upbeat, acoustic and poppy `Wake Up To This’ and `Love Life’ (the missing link between Michael Sembello’s `Maniac’ and ALASDAIR ROBERTS). Spoiled only by the sentimental, baby-addled calling of `Peter Rabbit Tea’, KC and his Sunshine-on-Fife posse sprung further delights a la crescendo dirge `Surface’ and the lullaby-esque `Rules Of Engagement’.
© MC Strong 2002-GSM-GFD2 // rev-up MCS Jan2015-Sep2016

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