It shouldn’t be news to anyone that Scotland is undergoing an intense period of self-reflection. The combination of the forthcoming independence referendum, Glasgow’s hosting of The Commonwealth Games and the anniversary of The Battle of Bannockburn have made this inevitable. From Scotland With Love, the excellent new album from King Creosote (Kenny Anderson) makes an important contribution to this cultural self-examination, in addition to being one of his finest albums to date.
The album was created to accompany Virginia Heath’s documentary film of the same name, commissioned for the Cultural Games that accompanies The Commonwealth Games. The film, made up of archive footage from The Scottish Screen Archive, provides a visual tribute to the past hundred years of Scottish history and Anderson’s score is no different. This project of writing songs to accompany the film appears to have led to a new direction in Anderson’s songwriting. While Anderson’s previous songs tend to be written from his own perspective, From Scotland with Love sees Anderson writing from the point of view of those on the screen. This allows Anderson to pull off the impressive feat of writing songs that manage to both tell the story of individual struggles while also documenting the struggles of whole groups of people.
This is particularly effective in the moving Cargill, a song written from the point of view of a woman waiting for her man to return from sea. Anderson’s yearning vocals are accompanied by sweeping strings and a repeated plaintive piano riff.
Miserable Strangers sees Anderson inhabit the mind of Scottish emigrants travelling to a foreign country. With the lines: “I’m done with being brave/ and oh how we slaved to pave our way/ and only to be dropped upon this quay/ and only to be pressganged overseas” Anderson manages to brilliantly capture the fears of those who risked everything to start a new life abroad. The song finishes by breaking into the repeated refrain: “At the back of my mind, I was always hoping that I might just get by.” These lines will be familiar to some from the song 6,7,8 that featured on Anderson’s KC Rules OK (and features again later on this album)but take on a wider resonance here.
The rousing Pauper’s Dough also sees Anderson revisiting his earlier work. While ‘Harper’s Dough’ was a personal song, dealing with depression, Pauper’s Dough is a protest song about fighting for justice. Again, set against this social context, Anderson’s lyrics take on a wider significance.
Not every song on album deals with such weighty topics. Largs concerns Scottish holidays in seaside towns and For One Night Only the weekly night on the town.
It is Something to Believe In, though, that is the undoubted highlight of the album. The repeated refrain of, “You promised me a feeling/ Something to believe in/ You promised me a feeling/ Now I promise to be real.” This song closes as well as opens the album and binds the rest of the songs together.
Anderson’s message seems to be that while there is place for dreaming and appeals to emotion these should be grounded in reality. By offering a vision of Scotland’s past that is happy to look at the bad as well as the good and free from tartan kitsch, Anderson has succeeded in doing exactly that.
Review by: Alfred Archer
From Scotland With Love is out now
DVD – Made entirely of Scottish film archive, From Scotland With Love is a 75-minute film by award winning director Virginia Heath with a transcendent score by Scottish musician and composer King Creosote’s. Purchase Link