Belfast Telegraph

King Creosote: 'One night two cops burst into my gig and were mistaken for strippers'

Ahead of playing Belfast, Scotland's King Creosote tells Simon Fallaha that his stage name has nothing to do with Monty Python, even if his concerts occasionally do have moments of surreal comedy.

Creosote. A name that, for Monty Python fans at least, will immediately conjure up memories of the grotesque, gluttonous comic character who literally explodes after one nibble too many in the troupe's 1983 film The Meaning of Life.

However, the Creosote I'm talking to, King Creosote, is not about the mass, but the music - and the moniker has nothing to do with any classic comedy.

"When I came up with the name, the band I was in at the time had a bit of a dysfunctional record deal," recalls the Scottish troubadour. "They were falling apart around me, and I began to record songs that the band had rejected. I wanted to go out there by myself - to dare to be different - and with names like King Crimson and Kid Creole & The Coconuts already on the National Bands Register, King Creosote was born. It stuck, like the American brand of the same name it reminded me of back then.

"Only later did people come up to me and talk about Monty Python and the wafer-thin mint!"

And, as his arrival at Belfast's Out To Lunch Festival next week approaches, it's safe to say that this particular King's career CV has been anything but wafer-thin. Born Kenny Anderson in Crail, Fife, in 1967, he has been recording under his current stage name since 1995, when he founded the independent Fence record label. This, in turn, gave birth to the Fence Collective, the group of musicians associated with the label, whose reputation blossomed when Kenny supported fellow Scotsman James Yorkston in Belfast 10 years ago.

"Back then, there was a sense of the Collective getting bandied about by James," he says. "When people came to see James and heard us play, I think a few of them sensed that something deeper and more convoluted was forming - an internet community."

To date, Kenny has released more than 40 albums under the name King Creosote, with a high point coming last year when he created the soundtrack for From Scotland With Love, a historical archive film released to coincide with the 2014 Commonwealth Games. It's a long way from his younger days, when he and one of his favoured instruments, the accordion, weren't exactly the most comfortable fit.

"I wasn't all that keen on it in my youth, even though my father played dance music on it," he says. "I had a love-hate relationship with the instrument. I went through one phase when I enjoyed playing it, and another in which I disliked the tunes that came along with it. But when I got through the barrier of making both hands work on the accordion, I felt like a nine-year-old god! You can't see your left hand at all when you play, so it was a triumph."

Throughout school and into university, Kenny was a keen music lover, whether he paid for it or played it himself. Ska, The Jam and later Dexy's Midnight Runners were among his favourite genres and artists during the 1970s and early 1980s. It was an attitude and aptitude that clearly rubbed off on younger brothers Gordon and Ian, as both went on to be musicians too, with Gordon co-founding cult folktronica outfit The Beta Band (he co-wrote the band's song Dry The Rain, which famously featured in the film adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity).

Kenny also reveals how Ian gave him a helping hand which proved vital to both of their musical careers.

"When I left university and took off to go busking, Ian was a gamekeeper on Mull. Now, the summer is terrible for midges, so to keep himself occupied through difficult times, he played the mouth organ as a hobby. His instrumental skills blossomed from there, and when the band I was in at the time needed a double bass player, Ian stepped in."

It would also appear that the family's musical trends are being passed down to Kenny's two daughters, 15-year-old Beth and 14-month-old Louie Wren. Kenny reveals that his youngest, from his relationship with partner Jen Gordon, is already watching videos with music on YouTube, while his eldest both plays the accordion and sings well.

"She has this incredible mental capacity for memorising lyrics and singing them back in key," he says proudly.

One feature of his music is the remarkably personal edge that it contains, something that comes from his ongoing habit of keeping a diary.

"I've done so from the age of 18," he says. "And what I find about diaries is that you write them as if someone will read them over your shoulder.

"You're very candid when you keep a journal, perhaps embarrassingly so, but in such a way that what you write seamlessly seeps into your music. The life that I document in my diaries transforms into a more technicolored version full of aspiration and nostalgia." Songwriting is, in Kenny's words, about nailing particular emotions in a manner that's not cheesy but identifiable to the listener. For him, music has never been about business - it's always been a means of expression that's kept him sane, an art form that he can continuously look to experiment with. Although he admits that by "ploughing his own furrow" he hasn't always made things easy for himself.

"By accident, the right record label has come along for me, but it's not been a case of everything just falling into place. It's taken a lot of hard work to get here. Myself and the musicians who've played with me ... we sort of fell through the cracks. We were playing bluegrass at a time when Britpop was the 'in' thing." Tales of laughter and embarrassment have been quite commonplace on Kenny's musical journey too, though. And while he admits that recounting them all would take a while, he recalls one recent occasion in his hometown of Crail, at a reunion gig for Khartoum Heroes, the band he once played in with BBC Radio Scotland DJ Vic Galloway. The event was packed to the brim with ridiculous costumes and tongue-in-cheek posturing, and all seemed well until the last strum of Kenny's guitar was plucked at the stroke of midnight.

"The Fife constabulary then burst upon the scene," Kenny says, "but the audience were so into the swing of things that they thought we'd hired a pair of male strippers! They believed everything was a part of the show - not once did it occur to them that we'd actually stirred up trouble because of a noise complaint. It was one of those moments where you had to be there to appreciate it."

  • King Creosote plays Belfast's Black Box, next Tuesday, Visit www.cqaf.com

Putting on a royally good show...

King Creosote is far from the only artist to bear a regal moniker. Other famous royally named rock and pop acts from the past and present include:

The Fresh Prince - before Will Smith's Independence Day, black suit and solo career, he was best known for being the Fresh Prince on TV and on the stage; he and 'DJ Jazzy Jeff' Townes enjoyed a successful career as a hip hop duo

Queen - Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon came together in the 1970s. Cue countless iconic anthems and the oft-voted "greatest song of all time" in Bohemian Rhapsody

Prince - An artist of numerous names (and symbols), wide vocal range, and even wider array of costumes, Prince Rogers Nelson's career has now spanned four decades

King - the New Wave band from Coventry - famed for lead singer Paul King's 'cockatoo' haircut and spray-painted Doc Marten Boots - enjoyed a period of short, but sweet success during the Eighties

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph