BY JEAN WEST
[star rating = 4/5]
IT was just about as Scottish as the itchy Fair Isle patterned bunnets Kenny Anderson wears to keep the chill Fife wind at bay and no less glorious or mesmeric for it .
When King Creosote, his alias, took to the stage last night at the newly revived Leith Theatre to reboot its status on an international platform, 30 years after the last act took a bow, he distilled the homegrown ingredients of its startling resurrection even more keenly.
Edinburgh International Festival’s gamble on the grand Art Deco civic citadel, so recently a crumbling edifice of urban decay, to showcase its eclectic Light On The Shore season, insisted on something unique and vital to peacock to the world.
A Mercury award-nominated folk troubadour, who last paraded his grounding in this land’s rich, bonny and brutal history, with the magical, hymnal, labour of love soundtrack for the documentary, From Scotland with Love at the 2015 Hub Sessions, was an assured choice.
Raggedy-round the edges much like this resuscitating musical arena, the performer immediately elicits a deep sigh with the potent You Just Want, a panting, breathy anthem from Astronaut Meets Appleman about the rift between digital and analogue, nature and the manufactured. Audacious, brave, well-observed, heart-achingly melancholic, witty, emotionally turbulent, and raw, melodic and understated, the folk legend’s material morphs through so many styles and still somehow survives and sparkles through a set that soothes and fortifies, lulls and excites.
Supported amply by Hamish Hawkes and Iain Morrison, the stage really comes alive when Anderson walks in with his keen wit and charisma. He connects with the audience with a warmth and sense of fun, like he is throwing a house warming party and has been charged with topping up the drinks.
The folk legend, no stranger to experimentation and collaboration – compelling themes of the Light On The Shore’s 16 day line-up – headlines an exciting season, including Glasgow art rock outfit, Django Django tonight and later in the programme, edgy indie stalwarts, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Celtic songbird, Karine Polwart and actor and camp clubster Alan Cumming. Neu! Reekie, Hidden Door and local folk heroes Lau, will in the coming days serve from their treasure troves of maverick music, poetry and animation.
Anderson’s own restless musical eccentricities are undisputed. He has form with artists like Jon Hopkins and even his baby daughter appears on one of his songs, all contributing to the forty plus albums under his belt. And along with former members of his Anstruther and Cellardyke-based Fence-collective and record label, that swelled and then ebbed in the East Neuk, has been infusing global influence in Celtic folk for years.
Scrubbed-up this evening in a military-style jacket and converse trainers, just slightly removed from a look once described as if ‘ he had been ‘dragged through Shane McGowan’s duck pond,’ the singer is energised and excited, aspects reflected in the crowd, who are like house prospectors viewing and inspecting the quirky, new venue with glee.
Jocular and affectionate with his five strong band, he is not afraid of being self-effacing. At one point he notes: “I think I’m in the wrong key but nobody knows: I used to be the finest front man in this band- it went to shit!”
Drawing from a back catalogue and new material for future collections, his wistful storytelling makes way for brisker melodies that feel like an early morning run through the park, all the while pulling the audience around a warm, hypnotic campfire, more like a folkloric island gathering than a big sell out event.
Cosmic references to Orion and Betelgeuse, psychological states like bipolar, romantic yearning and even more obscure lines, alluding to health, (‘white flour and sugar in my diet is going to be the death of me’), are accompanied by jangling guitars, ethereal harp, pipes and other strings, to convey his love affair not only with Scotland but the wider world and universe too.
His distinct, heavily accented vocal range, shrill at times, angelic at others, a fusion of smokey peat fires, bramble and the lapping of coastal waves into a shore he seems to walk barefoot, is magnetic. All the while, his band members – ‘the best band in Scotland’ by all accounts – uplift and support him, violins sawing through and settling his rhyme, guitar composing his sadness, drum and cello doing their bit.
Throughout the show he remains generous and inclusive both with the audience and his band. ‘Anyone survived the Isle of Bute Festival?’ he grins – referring to the recent post heatwave elemental wind and rain lashing of the event.
All the while he is careful not to overshadow this majestic auditorium, with its peeling paint, marble columns and early 20th century elegance, which by the end of the night, has become a home. Bathed as it is in kaleidescopic lighting, like fragments of an exploding star that shine, from the stage back to the ceiling and its shabby splendour.
More proud lyrics, ‘Don’t be the one to slam the door, I won’t let you back in’ before he calls back the support singers to join him in neatly scribed piece for finale. The crowd called him back with some standing ovation and wolf-whistle – but it was a subdued, respectful catcall, not a huge stampede.
Light On The Shore runs until August 25.