12 years ago

Posted in SHOFT on Tuesday 29th May 2012 at 8:05am

King Creosote - I Learned From The GaelsThis is the first new King Creosote solo material to be widely released since 2009 - which apart from being a criminally long gap in releases, is surprising since the "Diamond Mine" effect means I can now have meaningful conversations with work colleagues about him without blank looks or nervous glances at the clock. During that time Kenny Anderson appears to have almost lost faith with the turbulent and slowly imploding music business, going as far as to provide an album via live performance only, to thwart the more mercenary elements of the business. But now, back on Domino who at least seem to understand how (and when) he works, this is the first in a series of EPs which re-visit and re-work the songs from the largely acoustic "That Might Be It, Darling" LP, which you could mostly get only by fronting up at a Fence Records event of some description. So with Kenny's profile rarely higher among the nation's music lovers, and with the industry still languishing on it's collective arse and lashing out at the hand that feeds it by way of lawsuits, talent shows and format wars, what exactly has King Creosote learned from the Gaels? If you've come looking for an honest, warts-and-all critique, you'd better leave now because Songs Heard On Fast Trains isn't the place... This release has seen days crossed off calendars in anticipation, pre-orders placed at the first possible moment, and a mercy dash to the Post Office depot to effect an emergency rescue. This is, in all fairness, unlikely to be an objective piece of writing...

There haven't been many songs which are complimentary about the 1980s. In fact musically at least there seems to be a collective amnesia about some of the aberrations which occurred during those dark, confused times as Britain began it's slow transit to modernity. Sure enough, in these similarly gloomy financial times, there is a money to be made in ironic theme nights, and it was left to the long-since decommissioned Prolapse to succinctly sum things up in their scathing piece "Deanshanger". But, calculating that I am in fact a very similar age to Kenny Anderson, its impossible to deny the influence that the eighties had on some of us who grew up during the time, and "Doubles Underneath" is King Creosote's love song for the lost decade. Shuffling in on a jaunty drumbeat with little reels of accordion and a nifty bass melody appearing on cue, Kenny is in fine voice - his oblique and cryptic lyrical opening giving way to the more direct observation that "there's definitely something up/'cause the clocks have all but stopped back in 1984". Part way through it becomes apparent that this isn't perhaps a simple nostalgic look back at the music of that bygone era, it's King Creosote's apologia for what he sees as his own past deficiencies. In his words it's the decade that came "before that 90's guff" was the one "you're overly proud of". Whilst I'm not sure his assessment of either of those periods in terms of his own releases is accurate, if this signals the rejuvenation and reinvigoration King Creosote, then that's got to be a good thing. With a reverb heavy guitar solo, and a droning organ ending this is a proper rock song which wouldn't have cut much muster back in the era of synth-pop and highly elaborate haircuts perhaps? But then again, it's maybe no accident that this EP is available on 12" only, with the heyday of the 'Maxi-Single' format being one of my fondest memories of the decade. You always knew you were in the presence of a proper fan if they had the twelve-inch...

One day I will count the references to stars in King Creosote's back catalogue - not an easy prospect, as I'm often reminded by pangs of horror that I have only the tiniest bit of his massive output here - but even so, its an image which crops up a lot. Maybe it's something about clear, northern skies and the lack of light pollution in the East Neuk of Fife? In any case "Near Star, Pole Star" is a welcome addition to this list. By far the quietest and most uncomplicated song on the EP it benefits from the initially strange but ultimately beguiling overlaying of HMS Ginafore's song "Ounces" onto its quietly direct and emotive structure. A rolling, maritime rhythm with a gentle acoustic guitar line and a woozy organ backs Kenny's plaintive vocal here. A painstakingly described would-be-relationship sees its false-start laid bare - like all the best ones, starting with dutch courage, a nervous proposal, drunken late-night coffee and alcohol induced vomiting. But it's ultimately all for nothing, a brief episode in a life described in acute, slightly raw detail with buckets of sublime pathos and a little humour. It's left to the distant, spectral and gorgeously underrated voice of HMS Ginafore to bring the song to a close.

There is of course, a whole new generation of King Creosote fans who will have heard Kenny mostly in reflective mood, with Jon Hopkins slowly manipulating a harmonium by his side. How they'll make the transition to this new material will be an interesting prospect, and "Single Cheep" is going to be the acid test. It's good old fashioned pop music, performed by a band which strides stylistically across the decades - bright acoustic guitars tangle with delicious sixties-style rock'n'roll solos and fifties-throwback vocal harmonies courtesy - in part at least - of BBC Radio Scotland DJ Vic Galloway. Meanwhile Kenny leaps for the notes and belts out the bitterness in inimitable style. In her hilarious but neatly apposite sleeve notes Nicola Meighan makes reference to Anderson and Galloway's previous exploits in the Khartoum Heroes, a band rejuvenated for a riotous Homegame 2011 performance and now occasionally to be reformed on special occasions it seems. This is very much in that spirit, a high-speed dash through an old tune now infused with new energy and a shiver of anger and frustration. Finally, and in the time-worn tradition of Fence Collective related releases, the everyone-is-in-everyone-else's-band effect arrives in earnest on "Little Man". With the majority of the vocals delivered by the tiny human dynamo that is Alan Stewart aka Gummi Bako, this was always going to get messy! It chugs and stutters in, a tangled mix of noisy, garagey guitar sounds. Gummi Bako's oddly alien vocal delivery is well-suited to the angry, frustrated lyric which complains "I'm so tired of this old life/just can't seem to get it right". With each wheel around the song, Stewart ups the ante, his voice sounding increasingly unhinged and urgent. Guitars build, an urgent patter of djembe sets up courtesy of Captain Geeko, and the organ whirls appealingly. King Creosote himself orders a final crash from the band, and the record is done...

Well, done for now at least. By my calculation there will need to be at least two more of these all too tantalisingly brief forays into the post-Mercury world of King Creosote in order to cover all of the "That Might Be It, Darling" material. These songs have burned slowly, gestating over a long period whilst the promotional duties for the project with Jon Hopkins have consumed time and energy no doubt. That these new versions haven't landed far from their stripped back, simpler cousins at all is testament to just how good they are perhaps? But where they have altered and developed, it's to become even more engaging, direct and impossible to ignore.

You can purchase King Cresote's "I Learned From The Gaels" via the Domino Records Mart, or from the Fence Webshop on proper, old fashioned 12" vinyl only. Wherever you get it, you'll find a download voucher inside. What you won't get, sadly, is any sort of preview here. Because I suspect that would make Kenny very angry indeed! King Creosote curates and headlines the Refugee Week Scotland Opening Concert on June 18th, at Glasgow's Old Fruitmarket, and can also be seen in a variety of fields across the nations this summer including Camp Bestival, Green Man and Festival No.6.

Movebook Link


 14 years ago

Posted in Railways on Saturday 29th May 2010 at 10:35pm

Things aren't going well at Network Rail's special train planning unit in Leeds at the moment. A new computer system, which was meant to revolutionise train planning has made the production of the May 2010 national timetable a painful, error-ridden process. As for short-term planning work, like charters - well, things are moving very slowly. Thus, today's trip has been dogged with timings (and thus tickets) arriving late, changes to the order of play and revision after revision of the times on the single lines west of Dovey Junction. But, most importantly, and in true Spitfire tradition, the tour ran almost as planned.

What wasn't in my original plan was the 05:57 from Crewe to Preston! The tour had originally offered a very lazy 08:55 start from Crewe - promising breakfast, a lie in and good light for the photographs! I could still have all that if I wanted, but as the change from WCRC to DRS Class 37s was now scheduled for Crewe, I'd miss the first pair of engines entirely. So, up at a more traditional time and onto a pair of Voyagers which were confused about where they were going. Reassured a number of passengers that this wasn't going to Llandudno via Nuneaton and settled in for a quick run north. Surprised to find nothing open at Preston station yet, so cursing a lack of caffeine I stumbled over the bridge to find the stock already at the platform, with no less than three locos attached! Leading the ensemble was recently refurbished 37685 along with WCRC sister 37706. Tucked in behind was DRS's 37218. Impossible to get a picture in the rather gloomy morning, and given that the train stretched almost two loco lengths off the platform!

A surprise line-up of 37218, 37706 and 37685 at Preston
A surprise line-up of 37218, 37706 and 37685 at Preston

Found my seat, and relaxed - this should be a nice, easy trip. A simple out-and-back dash along the Cambrian Coast, finally doing a bit of line I'd left to last in terms of regularly operated passenger track in the UK. A big unhighlighted stretch of black in my Baker atlas should be inked in if all went to plan. As a bonus, we'd also cover some interesting rare sections I'd not covered for a while at Oxley and (since we now weren't visiting to change locomotives) avoiding Shrewsbury. After setting off it became clear that all wasn't well with the traction, and we lost a little time - however, some smart driving and the frankly bizarrely slack timings to Crewe made up for this. News soon reached us that 37685 had failed with a seized power unit. Not a good start for this loco's much anticipated return to service. At Crewe, I dashed over the the platform where I'd started the day three hours earlier to get coffee and food, whilst the WCRC locos were detached and 37069 from DRS was placed on the front of 37218. 37069 was a winner for me, and things began to feel a little better as we sped off south.

At Oxley, we took the chord avoiding Wolverhampton and providing access to the line to Telford and Shrewsbury, passing the depot and soon gathering speed once again. As we curved to the south at Abbey Foregate and passed the new Network Rail depot, the sickening sight of three of the Class 97s which were supposed to haul this tour became evident. Quite why they couldn't be used, given they clearly had no commitments for Network Rail today, was unclear. At Sutton Bridge, we joined the Cambrian Line and began to head west into darkening skies. The weather was supposed to improved out here during the afternoon, but there was little evidence of this! Had a pleasant, quiet and sleepy spell as we passed Newtown and headed over Talerddig. Woke from a snooze as we rounded the curve at Dovey Junction and began to head for the coast.

Found the vestibules packed for the shot of the train going over the Barmouth Bridge, so contented myself with the incredible views here as the line is hemmed in on one side by the Irish Sea and on the other by steep slate-grey cliffs, with tiny settlements creeping up the sides to seemingly impossible houses balanced near the top! The timings allowed a fair amount of time at some of the stops, either to pass units or due to the generally rather slack allowances provided. Had the weather been good, this would have been perfect, but instead it was a pretty damp experience. Got drenched at Porthmadog but enjoyed a leg-stretch and was amused to sea what appeared to be some sort of druid-vicar hybrid flailing at the train! It's rumoured that he then did a part-fare to Pwllheli and is a well-known crank and campaigner for local rail services. The weather deteriorated further as we turned west onto the Llyn Peninsula and headed for our destination. Poorly prepared with no coat, I wasn't looking forward to the couple of hours in Pwllheli at all.

Indeed, there isn't much to the town at all. I wandered only briefly, due to the rain, but aside from a few small shops it has the abandoned air of my own home town in some ways. There were plenty of people around, presumably a mixture of locals shopping and tourists here for a weekend at one of the camps further up the coast. With the undeniably amazing scenery of Snowdonia and Llyn nearby, it's easy to see why people stay in the neighbourhood - but the town itself, especially in the drizzle, wasn't inspiring. As I shopped for local beer - opting for several from the excellent Purple Moose Brewery - I thought about how my journey had begun about fifteen years ago with a desire to find out what Uttoxeter was like, and had ended in some senses here in Pwllheli. Quietly and ceremonially marked off the line, realising that I had a long way to go yet in terms of less easily used track. However, this was the last regularly served passenger line that I needed since I began keeping records and that deserved some thought!

37069 during the impromptu photostop at Barmouth
37069 during the impromptu photostop at Barmouth

Watched the stock shunting in the rain, as the locos were reformed to provide the same pairing back to civilisation. Soon back on board, and watching the impressive coastal scenery slip by again. Another extended wait for a service train at Barmouth allowed the customary level-crossing shot at this location. As a bunch of grown men with cameras blocked the pavement clamouring for a shot a local voice was heard to say "it's a bloody train! I though it was the Queen or something!". Got my pictures and settled back in for the run back as far as Crewe. It was a sleepy return trip, a pleasant end to an easy and quiet day out in fact. Chatted whilst the WCRC locos rejoined the train at Crewe, then headed back to my hotel with another successful trip under my belt.

There are lots of things packed into the next few weeks, and there is a worrying sense that due to the Network Rail issues, some of them might fall by the wayside. After the impressive start to my 'UK tour' in May and June, I really hope this isn't the case - not just from my own selfish viewpoint, but also from the perspective of the people who've worked incredibly hard to bring trips like this to fruition. Some promoters are abandoning the crank market entirely - but as I discussed today, if you're prepared to put the work in, there are plenty of people who want to do this sort of excursion. Here's to many others I hope...

Movebook Link

 20 years ago

Posted in Railways on Saturday 29th May 2004 at 7:52pm

Didn't seem to hang around for more than a few minutes anywhere today. This means, in effect almost ten hours of continuous rail travel. Pretty exhausting, even for me! Out on the 0809 from Weston, and a quick change to the 0905 to Cardiff which was awaiting departure in the Platform 1 bay. The presence of a large number of West Ham shirts persuaded me of the wisdom of getting a seat on this one, and I'm glad I did. We left a few minutes early, packed to the gills. They were a good natured bunch of fans though, and their singing was actually pretty tuneful. Given the result I don't imagine there was singing on the return journey.

Prepared myself for the journey with food and drinks, since I wasn't entirely sure what facilities were at Fishguard Harbour. Waited patiently for the 1016 - which duly arrived. A two-car Class 150 in place of the expected locomotive and coaches! It seems that short-formations on the Valley Lines along with the additional pressure of the football gave the loco hauled stock work elsewhere. Almost despaired, but couldn't really afford not to use the ticket, so hopped aboard for nearly three hours of DMU travel. Luckily the 150 was refurbished, and careful seat selection provided reasonable legroom. Not the journey I'd planned however. The service became very crowded from Llanelli onwards too with passengers for Ireland.

Some confusion over the routing of this service too. South Wales Mainline to Briton Ferry, thence via the Swansea District Line to Morlais Junction. On the return leg we were booked nearly an hour to do the 22-minute average journey from Bridgend to Cardiff. Chatting to the (always friendly and forthcoming) Arriva Trains staff revealed more confusion. The loco hauled service was supposed to go via the Vale of Glamorgan (hence the timings), but this replacement DMU was booked via Leckwith Junction and Ninian Park into Central. All very weird. Still, this meant an earlier than expected arrival - and a chance to get well away from Cardiff before the match ended.

The journey itself was pleasant enough - some quite striking scenery in West Wales, and from what I saw, Fishguard seemed like a pleasant little town. On the return leg, the tide was in south of Carmarthen, which made for some nice views too. Despite the disappointments and confusion, a fine day out with plenty of new track.

Movebook Link

 23 years ago

Posted in Updates on Tuesday 29th May 2001 at 1:00am

Well, what I got to see of the Chippenham Folk Festival was pretty incredible. My highlights were really the impromptu bits of music whic just appeared from nowhere (like the quartet who practised in a corner of the churchyard). The acapella singing was quie moving too - never underestimate the power of a lone human voice. Stupidly managed to break my right arm on Sunday, necessitating visits to both Chippenham and Bath Royal United Hospials. This made things awkward and uncomfortable, and I can't help feeling it made things less fun for others, which makes me very sad indeed. I can't thank my friends enough for the support, tolerance and care they gave this weekend. Work things very confused now - was due to finish today at Bristol anyway! Definately got the job at North Somerset though, to start as soon as I'm fit.



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.

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