Any Sunday morning TV chef will tell you that local produce is best. This is probably why The Anstruther Fish Bar is famous for its food; the front door is literally 10 yards from the harbour where fishermen bring in the day’s catch, the only form of refrigeration for the little fishies being the brisk chill of salty sea wind before they are dipped in the batter.
If you’re still reading this, do not fret. This article is not about the state of Fife’s fish and chip shop industry, it is in fact about something entirely less greasy and I can’t even fathom how to include something about adding salt and vinegar. It is of course music, and specifically, the Eye o’ The Dug festival that will be coming to our town on the 14th and 15th of April. But the needless metaphor shall prevail! Because it was when sitting out on that harbour in Anstruther eating those fish and chips that I first came into contact with some of the people behind EoTD: Fence Record’s Johnny Lynch (aka The Pictish Trail) and Kenny Anderson (aka King Creosote) who, on a nippy bonfire night, stole myself and some friends away on a torch led procession, down some narrow winding streets to a blazing fire by the shore, where songs were sung and icy souls were toasted nice and warm.
That was the first time I had been anywhere other than St Andrews or Leuchars’ train station in my three years up here in Fife and it was on that night that I first appreciated this part of the British Isles not just as the place where I go to Uni. I was surrounded by local people, listening to local music and like that locally sourced grub in my belly, it was good.
It’s both a blessing and a curse that music and its place of origin often go hand in hand. When I tell people I’m from Manchester, nine times out of ten I get the response ‘Ah so do you know Morrissey?’ The rest, I get the Bez dance. I’m proud of my musical heritage, and it’s a good one at that, but then I remember that I actually live outside of Manchester and the music of that city isn’t just for me, but for anyone who wants it. It is this kind of proud ambivalence to the locality of music that came across when I spoke over the phone with Fence Records’ Johnny Lynch, who is co-organising the EoTD festival along with Rollo Strickland.
When I asked Johnny about the underlying philosophy behind the self proclaimed ‘micro-indie’ record label he told me that if there was one, it wasn’t intended. He explained that Fence wasn’t really even a label, more a “collaborative effort” which relied upon “strength in numbers” for its success along with a spark of spontaneity and ambition, the inherent idea behind it all was that of “just doing”, whether it’s a random gig in a pub or an all day show culminating in a jaunt to a distant bonfire and back again for a disco in the town hall. This was the spirit that the Fence Records people, along with the organisers in the Union, harboured when deciding to bring a music festival to St Andrews, a town notorious in recent years with apathy for anything musical unless it’s related to the BOP or Tranny DJ.
It’s with this in mind that Rollo had a view to approach Johnny about the festival. On the lack of live music he told me “It was something I was raging about, in my first year when I came here there was sod all music.” But St Andrews, it appears, has only hit a lull in an otherwise vibrant audio history, as Rollo explained: “When Johnny had been here only a few years earlier, Fence had a record store here, there had been a lot more music promoted in St Andrews and it felt like we missed the boat so it’s good to bring Fence back to St Andrews.” Indeed, Johnny Lynch had been a student at the University, a time in which he met King Creosote at one of his 3 to 4 hour long sets in Aikman’s, which Lynch gave credit to for ‘inspiring’ him to get involved more actively with this ‘home-grown’ music.
That sense of homecoming is key with an array of Fife based talent set to play the festival but, with their success outside of the town, Fence are also proud to be fishing further afield. When I asked Johnny about whether he thought a vast and varying student audience from every corner of the world would be able to get behind the Fife centric aspect of the festival he told me that for Fence, impetus is placed on trying not to be “exclusive” and that although they are often labelled with being folk-biased they try not to be grounded in that stereotype. And you can’t wrong him, with acts from the wistful indie of Francois & The Atlas Mountains, the disquieting electro-rock of Errors, the utter kaleidoscopic bizarre of Django Django, the renowned KT Tunstall, and a DJ set from Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor, there will be no musical taste bud left unsated.
The strength of the acts on the bill has led to a lot of interest not just in and around town. Rollo told me: “we’ve got people coming from Austria, up from London, all over the UK and Europe. The majority of Fence fans, ironically, aren’t from Fife.” Johnny later suggested that this pilgrimage of fans was integral to the festival saying that the “journey is part of the experience; it’s about making the effort to be somewhere.” The effort will be worth it, with the events taking place in and around the town which, let’s face it, is still pretty beautiful, even after all the years of rainy days writing countless essays ending with monotonous nights in the Union bar.
Despite the impetus on escaping that stranglehold of stereotype with which a local music scene can find itself caught up in, there is undoubtedly a sentiment that the local is the unavoidable centrepiece of the show with King Creosote and Jon Hopkins to perform for the first time in Fife their Mercury Prize nominated and genuinely spectacular album ‘Diamond Mine’. Inspired by East Neuk, the album is very much returning to a landscape with which it shares an affinity of splendour which is modest in its surface appearance but deeply rich in character and distinction underneath.
The festival will be the first event to mark the St Andrews calendar for a long time which hasn’t required either a sharp dress code or a copious amount of alcohol to stomach. Rollo informed me that “elite events [Balls, Fashion Shows] get a lot of attention but a lot of students would like to see better value for money, so we’re putting on an event with lots of big names for 35 quid just to try and offer the students some alternative.” Having almost sold all allocated tickets, the festival has indeed been welcomed with excitement among students, locals and far-flung music lovers alike. For this fact, Rollo and Johnny hope to make the festival an annual occurrence: “We’re keen to make it a rolling thing potentially, it’s the sort of thing that can build year on year, we are doing it with a view to it becoming a permanent part of the events calendar… those students that take a punt on it this year will enjoy themselves and will say to the next generation of students that the EoTD fest was a top notch experience.”
Cast your minds back to when I was rambling about how locally sourced fish is best. Well, I lied, and so did the Chefs on TV. Because it wasn’t the fish, as tasty as it was, nor was it the music, as lovely sounding as it was, that made that night special – it was the feeling that everyone had come out from their respective homes, whether they were locals from down the road or students from across the UK or beyond, and were stood around a single fire, all our lives leading up to that one moment, from which we all went our separate ways. Well, I think that’s the gist of what Johnny meant when he said that the EoTD was about putting on something special which people from all over had to make the effort to attend. Either that or I missed the boat completely.