The Pictish Trail

Following his sell-out show with Josie Long and James Acater in Freshers Week, Johnny Lynch aka The Pictish Trail indulges the questionable questions of Music Is Love’s Rollo Strickland.

RS: Thanks for a cracking show on the Tuesday of Fresher’s Week; we’re you happy with how it went?

JL: Aye, it was a fun show, and I’m really glad we got to bring the tour to somewhere close to my home (I live in Cellardyke, about 15 mins away).   It was quite surreal being back in Venue 2, though.  I was a student at St Andrews until 2003, and used to put on music and comedy nights there.  The music nights were great, DJing indie, hiphop, and alternative stuff to a packed room.  The comedy nights were a bit more odd.  I put on a night called ‘The Comedy Horse’, and tried my  hand at stand-up.   It was pretty terrible.  So I stuck with music.  I was a bit worried that ‘The Comedy Horse’ might rear its ugly head at the gig I did with Josie and James, but thankfully it was a really good, attentive crowd – and I was made to feel very welcome.  Ahhh.

RS: Having been a student here yourself, did you find it a musically inspiring environment, or did you find yourself bussing it over to Glasgow and Edinburgh to get your musical fix?

JL: St Andrews is a funny place, y’know.  When I was there it felt like the music scene, and the theatre/comedy/arty scene changed every year, with incumbent 4th years leading the pack … but when they graduated they were replaced by a horde of understandably timid freshers. So, one year you could have a vibrant, exciting scene – with gigs in interesting locations, and a horde of bands writing their own material … and then the next year you’d have a bunch of wanky ‘ironic’ covers bands.  Ugh.  I’d often take the bus up to Dundee to watch shows – I remember seeing Elbow on their first UK tour at the Doghouse, as well as Richard Hawley, Frank Black, Snow Patrol and tons of other great acts.  The most musically inspiring scene in St Andrews was Fence, though.  So many great bands, and inventive gigs.

RS: When you first met Kenny Andrerson (aka Fence head honcho and Scottish indie hero King Creosote) did you poo yourself a little bit, or did you calmly take it in your stride?

JL: Well, I first met Kenny when he was running a record shop in town (called CD Outlet, and later called Fence) – and he was releasing his own music on CD-R in hand-crafted packaging.  So he wasn’t exactly the well-kempt Chris De Burgh-a-like we all know and cherish today.   I’ve made no secret of the fact I moved to St Andrews Uni because of The Beta Band – I was a Scottish teenager, who moved with his family over to Connecticut in America, did 4 years of high-school, and then was urged back to Scotland because my favourite band was from St Andrews.  Within a month of moving into Andrew Melville Hall, I witnessed my first Fence gig – in Aikmans pub on Bell St.    King Creosote was on stage performing with his brother Gordon (aka Lone Pigeon), who I later discovered was a founder member of the Betas.  And there they were, performing ‘She’s The One’, and it was mind blowing.  It later clicked that the guy on stage was the guy that worked in the CD shop on South Street.  I spent the next 3 years going along to countless Fence shows (Kenny would play every 2nd Wednesday in Aikmans), buying up the back-catalogue, before summoning the courage to hand over my demo tape to KC.  He’s never been someone to be intimidated by, really – his whole approach to music has always felt really inclusive, and the following he’s had from both fans and Fence Collective members alike has been truly inspiring.

RS: I caught your Magic Bubble set with Silver Columns at Glastonbury this year (very good it was too). How do you find making music with someone else compares to writing material on your own? Do you feel S.C. gives you a chance to explore a different side to your musicality, or do you feel like your just doing your usual thing, with someone else (Adem) helping it along?

JL: Silver Columns has been an amazing experience.  I’ve written with people before, but not across a full album – and the recordings we’ve done so far have come together really quickly and almost – dare I say it – effortlessly.  The exciting thing for me with Silver Columns is that I get to approach a song with just a few simple ideas, match them with Adem’s ideas, and then the pair of us work out how to expand them / adapt them into full songs.  The way Adem records music is completely different to the way I do – he uses computers, and I use tape-machines and digital recorders – so Silver Columns gave me an opportunity to try out things and make them sound less lo-fi than they would have been if I’d recorded them myself.

RS: The Fence Collective is of course at the vanguard of Scottish independent music. Have you got any artists you’d recommend to readers, either from inside or outside of the collective?

JL: From the Collective, I’d really recommend a new addition to the fold called Seamus Fogarty – he’s played the last couple of Fence events, and has a really interesting songwriting style, that’s quite dislocated and ambient at times.   OLO Worms, Rozi Plain and François Marry are three different artists from Bristol who are part of the Collective – and, although their music is quite different stylistically, they inspire me equally. You should buy all of their stuff.  From outside the Collective, I’d thoroughly recommend the new Deerhunter album, Halcyon Digest, which is extremely beautiful – and probably my most listened-to album this year.

RS: I’ve been in contact with Meursault, and also Errors, about putting on shows in St Andrews. What do you make of those guys?

JL: I really like both of them.  Meursault we’ve had play at a number of Fence shows in the past – he’s an incredible songwriter, and has one of the most powerful voices I’ve ever heard.  Actually, scrap that … he has the most powerful voice I’ve ever heard.  They’re an interesting act, cos you don’t have to know their songs to be drawn in – I’m sure if you have them play in St Andrews they’ll make fans instantly.  Errors, too, are a great band – although I must confess I’ve yet to see them live. I’m a big fan of both of their albums, though – and I’m hoping they’ll come along for our Home Game festival next year.

RS: The recent Away Game festival you and Kenny put on on on the Isle of Eigg was apparently a great success, getting a 5* review from the Scotsman, as well as lots of love from people who don’t write for newspapers. Are there any upcoming Fence events that students should know about?

JL: Yep – we’ve got a Fancy Dress Hallowe’en Party in Glasgow happening on Hallowe’en itself, Sunday 31st October.  The theme is Wild West 3010: Space Cowboys and Aliens, and the fancy dress rule is compulsory!  The line-up for that is shaping up nicely – we’ve got King Creosote and James Yorkston playing, with Silver Columns, Lord Cut Glass, Alasdair Roberts, and a DJ set from John MacLean (from the Beta Band!  Wow!)… plus I’ve got  few surprises in store.  It’s all taking place from 2pm until 2am.  You can buy tickets from the Fence website (www.fencerecords.com).

If Glasgow’s too far a trek, then I IMPLORE you St Andrews students to come down to Anstruther in April for our Home Game festival.  We’re going to be announcing dates in December – check the Fence site for details.  Basically, it’s 3 days of amazing music from the Collective and our friends – happening in small halls and pubs around Anstruther and Cellardyke.  It only take 15 minutes to get to Anstruther from St Andrews (just take the x58 bus, or the more scenic 95 bus!), and you’ll make a ton of new pals, and discover a plethora of new bands.

RS: We’ve just had the annual commercial bullring that is the Mercury Music Prize. There was a minimal Scottish presence in the form of Biffy Clyro, wheras a large portion of the acts came from London. Do you feel that the power of the mainstream music industry is still unfairly centred down there?

JL: Umm, I think the Scottish music scene thrives on the fact that it’s out of the London lime-light.  There’s less of a sense of competition up here, I feel – and I think that’s conducive to a healthier spread of music.  The industry is being redefined all the time, and it’s small independent labels and collectives that are shaping the future.  I’m not convinced there will be a stable mainstream for music in the next 5 years, outside of TV talent competition winners and already established arena-selling dinosaurs.  And that’s fine by me.  Music always sits better in the margins.

RS: There were a large number of new-folkies on the bill (Laura Marling, Mumford and Sons, Villagers). Do you feel there’s something of a movement on the go – if so do you feel a part of it?

JL: “Nu-folk” and “anti-folk” and even “folk” have been bandied around our music for the last 10 years, and I’ve never really felt it’s something we’ve properly fit into.  In a way, I think we’ve been quite fortunate to have been linked with these acts – in the same way we were lucky to have been mentioned alongside Tunng, Bonnie Prince Billy, and KT Tunstall – but it’s mostly down to the generosity of journalists who are fans of our music.  We can’t afford big adverts in MOJO, we’re all a bit ugly and have crap clothes, and we’re not played on the radio – so any publicity we get is publicity generated by people who like our music and want to promote it in a way that they think might reach a wider audience.  Saying that, our sales figures haven’t gone massively through the roof since we started to get coverage – but we’ve managed to attract a loyal fan base, and I don’t think they define our output in the context of these popular and attractive acoustic acts.

RS: Are you a fan of The XX album?

JL: I don’t think it was the best album of 2009-2010, but I do really like it.  It has a really distinct sound, that’s different from pretty much every other London band at the moment, and I’m glad it won the award – even though the award is pretty meaningless these days.  It reminds me of what I loved about Massive Attack’s Blue Lines when I first heard it.

RS: What’s your position on illegal downloads?

JL: If you download illegally you are a fucking arsehole.  If you download legally you’re still a bit of an arsehole.  Just buy records and CDs.  Sometimes tapes.  MP3’s are just a bit lame, and you can’t put them on your shelves and show off to your mates. And that is what music is all about.  Showing off, and pretending you know all the lyrics when you play it back to your friends.

RS: This is definitely the last one. Silver Columns are signed to Moshi Moshi (another brilliant indpendent record label). If Moshi Moshi was a giant panda bear, and Fence Records was a scraggly but fiesty Scottish seagull, who would win in the fight over spilt chips on Anstruther pier?

JL: We wouldn’t be fighting.  We’d pick up the chips for the panda’s with our beaks and regurgitate it into their mouths.  And then shit on their eyes.  That is a metaphor.  But I don’t know what for.  If I get dropped by Moshi Moshi for saying that IT’S ALL YOUR FUCKING FAULT.

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