Posted in SHOFT on Saturday 26th February 2011 at 11:02pm
One or two people I discussed today's events with thought it excessive to make a 400 mile round trip for a gig. I always stay quiet at such moments, because it's far from the most ridiculous mission I've ever despatched myself on. However, they were right that this was an exceptional trip - and it's one I've been anticipating for some time. So, after a lazy trip up to Clitheroe and a wander around the curious old town I made my way to The Grand. A word first about this venue - new, purpose built and spacious - I was struck by the posters for upcoming act. This place appears to be becoming an essential stop for bands working their way around the north, and no wonder. The main room has a raised bar area at the rear, with some pretty fantastic sound and lighting equipment installed too. I'd never really associated Clitheroe with investment in the arts - to be honest, I'd never really associated it with anything until tonight!
First up tonight was Mick Travis who had the difficult job of dealing with an audience who were still keen to hang around the bar catching up with old friends. The nature of these Fence Collective gatherings is such that the same faces pop up, sometimes travelling miles across the country to do so. Indeed an urgent tweet just before the doors opened indicated that The Pictish Trail was on his way, despite a signal failure at Darwen! Mick dealt well with the initial indifference of the crowd, and began playing understated acoustic songs with a sweet surface but an underlying dark heart. It was during "The Ballad of the Bootboys" with it's gritty, modern tale of post-Madchester comedowns that I thought I'd heard this before - and only recourse to the web indicated that Mick had once been part of the Blackburn based indie-pop band Tompaulin. Mick was joined on stage for several songs by Stacey McKenna of the former band also - both now recording for the Blackburn label Winterbird Recordings. On these duets, with the quietly strummed, sparse guitar and understated vocal duets there was something of a Galaxie 500 feel developing at times. Overall this was a thoroughly enjoyable short set, which managed to motivate a fair chunk of the audience.
Dan Wilson of Withered Hand was clear from the start that he wasn't in good shape tonight. Dogged by a sore throat and a heavy cold, he made a remarkable attempt at pressing on with things. Starting off alone on the stage with "No Cigarettes" his high voice sounding more cracked and damaged than usual actually almost suited the songs - and as he pointed out, he'd been sick while recording the "Good News" album too! With most of the fans now down at the front of the room, there was a disrespectful racket of talking from the bar - perhaps a drawback of the large open space? From a wander around the town later, I can see there is little to do here unless you're out in the pubs - so a fair amount of locals appeared to have met for a social event at The Grand. Dan struggled on, inviting his band (dubbed "The Laties" for this brief tour) to take the stage. With just a drummer and a cellist they took on "Cornflake", "New Dawn" and "Love In The Time of Ecstacy" with Dan struggling but the strength of these remarkable songs shining through. Eventually, the poor guy could take no more, and struggling with his voice and the racket that the locals were making, Withered Hand called it a night. A shame, because I could have listened for hours to the simple but lyrically dense tales which they spin.
And so to the main event - with the majority of the audience now pressed up against the stage, including the massed ranks of The Earlies friends and family which went by the collective name of 'Fanage'. The huge band took to the stage - eleven members if I counted correctly, ranged across hammond organs, bass, congas, drums, guitar and a small but respectably equipped brass section. It was clear from the outset that this was going to be pretty special. King Creosote appeared to a hearty welcome and explained how this would work - they'd play the whole of the "My 13th Bit of Strange in 15 Years" album live. It probably wouldn't be released. Simple. As if to further illustrate the point proceedings began with "The Big Idea" including the line "...your ears are filled with stolen, compressed tunes". And with a swirl of organ, The Earlies burst into life. The sheer, dizzying variety of genres which The Earlies delivered in the course of the set is both a joy to listen to and oddly confusing. Kicking off with the almost ska-tinged "Collector of Mundane", it was clear that King Creosote was in fine voice tonight too. The huge disadvantage of hearing the album live was the lack of song titles to refer back too - but some have become familiar, not least the stirring "Swallow Dive" which rattles in on a martial drumbeat with lyrics which see KC taking a tour of the sorry, financially embarassed isles. It ends with The Earlies saluting the audience as the drum fades to thunderous applause. The audience are loving this, the band are clearly enjoying themselves and Kenny looks genuinely touched by the reception these songs are receiving.
As "Tits Up" chugs into a Black Sabbath style riff, KC starts to spit lyrics around a refrain of "I'm alright, I'm just not that bright..." as The Earlies mutate into some sort of Zappa-esque parody rock act. They shift modes like this with little effort, the gurning and gesticulating of the hammond player apparently signalling to the band what is required in each case. They also seem to almost instinctively respond to Kenny's changes of mood and tone, as after all KC songs are never quite the same twice. In a couple of quiet passages, it becomes clear that the locals are still chattering away at the back, and Kenny makes reference to this by altering the lyrics to include the lines "...an audience that couldn't stay quiet for ten little songs" before deciding that's probably enough "...if he wants to leave with all his teeth".
With the whole album played to a riotous response from both the KC faithful and The Earlies' Fanage, the band return in party mood to deliver an encore. Starting with live favourite of some pedigree "La-di-da-di-da" the audience respond with foot-stamping, hand-clapping sing-a-long glee. This naturally leads into KC's take on Hamish Imlach's "Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice". With The Pictish Trail now installed as an additional Earlie and pogoing insanely around the stage, its become nothing short of a triumphant end of tour party on stage. With a further admonishing word about the annoying chatter earlier on, Kenny introduces "Twin Tub Twin", tapped out on his guitar at first, before the band tear into the extended end section with more frenzied dancing and backing vocals from Johnny Lynch - echoing similar scenes in the surprise 'moshpit' in front of the stage. A final, reflective but triumphant take on "678" and the evening is over - the band off to celebrate and the locals still chatting at the back.
Whether these songs will ever see light of day is unclear - it seems wrong if they don't because far from being some sort of unformed collection of music, the "Bit of Strange" is a complicated, brilliant clutch of songs. Of course in the world of King Creosote nothing is solid or set in stone - songs re-emerge in new guises years later and are reinterpreted with different bands and musicians, indeed "Bats in the Attic" from this set of songs appears to feature on the upcoming "Diamond Mine" collaboration with Jon Hopkins. In some ways, I can't help but feel a little deflated after the show - it was utterly brilliant and well worth the travel, but almost like seeing Bob Dylan twenty years ago - there is so much in KC's massive back catalogue that could have been played but wasn't. I decided to focus on the wonderful music that I'd heard, and look ahead to Homegame for the next installment.
As I wandered back to the hotel, Clitheroe was in full swing - semi-clad teenagers falling over PCSOs and into the ancient streets. I contemplated the "silver in my sideburns" and decided it was time for sleep...
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.