Interview: King Creosote on Diamond Mine

This feature originally appeared in The Herald newspaper (Scotland) on September 6 2011, the day of the Mercury Awards, under the heading KING CREOSOTE’S MAGICAL ALBUM IS A WINNER, SAYS NICOLA MEIGHAN.

King Creosote is sat in a pub in Perth, regaling me with the debauched rock tales he’s amassed since being shortlisted for the Mercury Prize.

“It was funny yesterday, I was in the Fisheries Museum,” goes one such anecdote from KC – alias Kenny Anderson – a propos his East Neuk hang-out. “One of the old boys sitting next to me was like, ‘I’ve just been in London, and your poster is all over the underground.’ And then then he said, ‘you know the guy with the beard [on the artwork]? That’s my great-grandfather.’ He was so proud.”

The poster in question is for Diamond Mine, Anderson’s collaboration with the sublime electronic composer Jon Hopkins, which features two bygone Fife fishermen on the cover. The record’s union of KC’s heart-stopping voice with Hopkins’ subtle alchemy has drawn plaudits, breath and often tears from those who have encountered it.

Tonight this homespun, seven-year labour of love between two friends 500 miles apart (Anderson lives in Crail; Hopkins in London) will go head-to-head with Adele, PJ Harvey, Elbow and more for the 2011 Mercury Album of the Year award.

They were touring the US when the Mercury shortlist was announced in July, and the time difference meant that they heard the news six hours after everyone else. “My phone just went absolutely daft, as did Jon’s,” Anderson recalls. “The first thing I thought was, ‘oh my God, there’s been a disaster at home.’ My heart was right in my mouth.’”

With a twenty-odd year cult-pop career under his belt – not to mention his DIY Fence Records empire and his side-line in indie-folk super-group The Burns Unit – the value of the Mercury nod is not lost on King Creosote. “It’s a recognised yardstick,” he says. “If you’re a songwriter, it’s hard to gauge success, unless you have a hit. So with the Mercury nomination it’s almost like I can hold my head a bit higher now.”

While many of us hold our heads in our hands at Anderson’s impenetrable modesty – he is regularly, rightly, pegged as one of our finest singer-songwriters – it’s worth bearing in mind that an ill-fated major label dalliance and years of self-financed music-making have honed KC’s pragmatism.

The six exquisite psalms that ebb and flow through Diamond Mine were unearthed from Anderson’s vast back-catalogue by Hopkins, who rekindled them with piano, harmonium, strings and found sounds from coastal Fife. The album’s textures and atmospheres are mesmerising – Hopkins is fascinated by the hypnotic possibilities of music – and the overall sense is at once of time standing still, and of a lifetime passing. Perhaps this is fitting: they capture and span Anderson’s entire adult life.

“A lot of these songs were written by somebody else,” KC notes. “I’m not that person any more. Like, between Your Own Spell [which he wrote at university in the late 80s] and now, I’ve had the Skuobhie Dubh Orchestra, the Khartoum Heroes, the whole of the Fence thing – it’s just so long ago.”

It is strange to re-inhabit these songs; to try and relate to them again? “Yeah, and I’ve got to make it believable – that’s the hard bit,” he smiles.

“It’s weird to go back and start playing them live, and it was weird to realise that they all do in some way hang together,” he continues. “Jon has essentially taken a rumpled bit of paper and smoothed it right out, so everything fits. And I did a bit of shelving as well [with the oldest songs], like reworking bits of Your Own Spell and Bubble. And Bats in the Attic is very new, which brings it forward.”

Bats in the Attic is beautiful, but Anderson is perplexed by its charms. “It’s not up-tempo, there’s no chorus as such, it’s just ramblings, but radio have gone for it. It’s coming out as a single. Why? I just don’t know the laws of records,” he laughs.

This is to our benefit. Diamond Mine breaks all the rules of long-player marketing – no gaps between songs; no conventional singles; few choruses – and is all the more precious for it. Whatever the outcome at tonight’s awards, Diamond Mine is the ground-breaking jewel in the pile. Of course it’s the album of the year.

King Creosote and Jon Hopkins play Glasgow’s Grand Ole Opry on September 7 – for some insane reason, at the time of writing, there are still a handful of tickets available GO SEEK THEM OUT. The Honest Words EP is out on September 19. Diamond Mine (Domino) is out now.

For loads more on Kenny and Jon’s collaboration, and how they made Diamond Mine, go here.

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