You’ve Got To Rise Above The Gutter You Are Inside
If 2011’s wonderful collaboration with electronica musician Jon Hopkins, the Mercury Award nominated Diamond Mind, was a series of snapshots of Scottish life, then King Creosote’s newest album From Scotland With Love is an entire photo album. Where the Scottish folk singer’s Diamond Mine was concise, restrained and intimate, From Scotland With Love is more expansive, varied and ambitious. Of course, it needs to be. It is the audio accompaniment to the documentary film of the same name, which was released for the Commonwealth Games this summer, and created in collaboration with director Virginia Heath and producer Grant Keir. As the documentary features archive footage of Scotland, but no narration or interview, the music, along with the images, drives the film’s themes of love and loss, war, resistance, emigration, work and play. To fully do the documentary justice, King Creosote, aka Kenny Anderson told the Guardian that he had resolved to create a piece concerned with ordinary people and community rather than tartan, Highland Games and shortbread.
As such, each song focuses on a particular theme or idea. “Miserable Strangers”, with it’s delicate organ lines, softly strummed guitar and Olafur Arnalds-esque string section, laments the pain and tragedy of emigration in a manner reminiscent of Beck circa Sea Change. It’s a stately song in which Scots are “press-ganged overseas”, and leave their home with eyes “blurred by tears”. The song ends with a tragic hopefulness as the narrator crooning “At the back of my mind, I was always hoping I might just get back”. This is direct but effective stuff and reminiscent, in theme at least, to any number of traditional folk songs that deal with the perils and upheaval of emigration. The galvanising group vocals at the song’s denouement, reminds the lonely emigrant that she/he is never completely alone.
“For One Night Only” is an uncharacteristically upbeat and fun song for Anderson. It deals with the weekend, and in particular about going out Friday or Saturday night. It depicts the respite after a long, arduous week working down the shipyards, out on the treacherous fishing boats or at home raising seven children. “Now it’s the weekend, we’re spending all our money.” It is at once celebratory and tragic. It celebrates the communal release of a nation dominated by, “Dangerous jobs. Pressures at home. Passions kept at bay,” as Anderson puts it. The tragedy lies in that the only escape from these difficulties is through drink and forgetting your struggles. There are little other options.
The rag time jazz of “Largs (long)” perfectly encapsulates the good spirited chaos of a family day visit to a local provincial holiday town. The song bounds along joyfully and without burden like a young dog left off it’s leash. With the song’s mention of “99s”, kids “kicking up sand”, freezing water, and bandstands, a rich and evocative picture is created in the listener’s mind of the cacophony of sounds and activities of the imagined beach and boardwalk. All the song needs is a mention of hard boiled eggs and crisp sandwiches and it could have been written solely about my own misspent youth in such carefree places.
Eventually, the album culminates and climaxes in the tender and plaintive piano ballad, “Pauper’s Dough”. The song deals with a number of strikes in Scotland over the last 100 year, with footage in the documentary drawn from the carter’s strike in Dundee in 1911, numerous rent strikes and the 1919 Battle of George Square. This song is particularly pertinent in today’s recession hit and remorseless capitalist dominated Britain. The narrator’s unwavering assertion that he will, “Fight for what is right”, and “Strike for what is rightfully” his because he wants, “Better for his boy”, is once again simple and direct, but undoubtedly a universal and powerful sentiment. The soulful song builds slowly and gracefully with repetitions of “You’ve got to rise above the gutter you are inside”, until a whole crowd of enthusiastic voices join Anderson in his sentiment. The effect is wonderful and overwhelming. Once again, it reinforces the idea that we are not alone regardless of how we may sometimes feel, and that hope can be drawn from the most unlikely of places. If you remain unmoved by the end of this call to action, you must be an android.
In the end, Anderson has attempted to create an album dealing with the ordinary people and communities of Scotland, but what he has actually succeeded in crafting is something more universal. Any of the songs on this record could be about a multitude of different peoples: the Irish, the Polish, or the Palestinians. It’s a beautiful and thoughtful album, full of poignancy, joy and the mundane. It is about what is similar about us all. It is about the past, the present and the future. It is about you and about me and about everyone. Listen to this album now, or, ideally, watch the documentary. It opens the music up exponentially. You will not be disappointed.
From Scotland With Love was released on 21st July via Domino Records. An extended version of the album is also available on vinyl and digital download with eight bonus tracks.