Caught by the River

Music, Moonlight and Meatballs – New Year's with the Fence Collective

7th January 2009

by roving reporter Kieran Evans

Oh the eternal problems of what to do on New Year’s Eve. It always starts at the start of December with the offers to come to dinner parties or go round to someone’s house for party games and cocktails. My toes curl just writing that. It’s not because I’m an unfriendly chap but I am someone who acts on impulse, who enjoys waiting til that very last moment before committing to either a night out or hitting the web to plan some mad cap week-long expedition. But this year there definitely wasn’t much on offer. On the travel front, previous New Years have seen me either trekking round dormant volcanoes in the Azores or tramping down cobbled streets in Andalucia but this year I was damned if I was going to fork out £700 or more for flights with Ryanair or Easyjet for a new travel experience. On the musical front the past few years have seen me in a warehouse underneath Liverpool Street jumping to ear-bleeding techno courtesy of Simian Mobile Disco or down the front for the Super Furries at the Royal Festival Hall but this year I was damned if I was going to join Elton and 17,000 of his biggest… No, I’ll stop there.

So with Christmas looming large, I was having a chat with Kenny Anderson aka the wonderful King Creosote, he of those fine folk from Fife called the Fence Collective and writer of some of the most achingly beautiful songs to grace this fine Earth. We have a lot in common and amongst other things he, like me, is a single man with children and both of us had our kids for the New Year. Not that this was a handicap in anyway, it just meant our options were a bit more limited. Over a long phonecall we were bemoaning the lack of New Year’s Eve options when I heard the words… ‘Come up here then. We’ll have a little party.’ Yes. It all made sense. Train tickets were booked and a flurry of negotiations were made to book a cheap cottage. I even hit my iTunes and compiled a New Year’s Fence Compilation to get things rolling.

Over the next few days, the party started growing and quickly moved from the front room of a house to one of the many hall’s in Kenny’s home town of Anstruther. If you don’t know anything about Anstruther and the East Neuk of Fife, it’s an hours drive North of Edinburgh, tucked into the lip of land that lies opposite the capital city. Historically, it’s rich in Scottish legend laced with stories of Robert the Bruce and Spanish Armada landings. Rolling hills run into white sanded beaches and small fishing villages dot the coastline. Most importantly however, it is home to Fence Records and the best small festival in the UK, Homegame (more on Homegame in another posting methinks…)

New Year’s Eve day was spent running around on the vast empty beach of nearby St Andrews flying kites that cut through the pure blue sky, exploring the castle and it’s ancient graveyard and knocking back hot chocolate’s in the local caff whilst waiting for the sun to ebb slowly away for the final time in the year. KC checks in to see we’re on our way. The plan for the night was laid out over the next few minutes. Everyone was meeting at the Dreel Tavern at five, a small pub tucked in from the road with low ceilings, a blazing fire and a great range of beers and whiskeys. From there it was on to the upstairs room of the AIA Hall where we would be entertained by the acoustic sounds of King Creosote, Gummi Bako, a stand-up/comedy routine from HMS Ginafore and traditional Scottish tunes and rocking tunes courtesy of resident Fence DJ Papa Casino. There was also free food and drink and most importantly, the kids were welcome too. I detected real excitement in his voice. “There’s a low tide tonight. We’re gonna have a bonfire on the beach. The kids are gonna love it’.

Fast forward four hours and I’m standing in the crowded tiny kitchen with Mama Casino, creator of one of the best soups I’ve ever tasted, (carrot and coriander-HomeGame 2007 FYI ) dolloping out bowls of food. Everyone’s mucking in. I’m on the buttering of bread and rolls, Uncle Beesly is on distribution. In moments like this, you really do feel you are part of a ‘community’. Barriers and uneasiness come down. Looking around there are some familiar faces and some who are not. But that doesn’t matter. Conversations are struck up over the simplest question. “So, how did you get into Fence?”

Back in to the hall for Kenny’s set. Midway through, he reminds us that the aubergine and potato curry will be ready in fifteen minutes followed by Jake’s meatballs. He then breaks into a spine tingling rendition of “Admiral” with just voice and guitar. The whole hall holds its breath as the final notes ring out. We burst into applause and my kids run to take a picture of the great man. Papa Casino drops the Gay Gordon, partners are grabbed and away we go off on another musical

Now the meatballs mentioned by Mr KC were truly something to behold and after a chaotic Gay Gordon, I was fortunate to find myself in the tiny kitchen with their creator, Jake, a kindly old gent with the best moustache I’ve seen in years, topped off with a flowing ponytail that was as white as the surf crashing on the beach outside and the kind of piercing blue eyes that only people who’ve really lived could have. Over the next twenty minutes, Jake takes me through the recipe step by step, embellished by stories of his life on the sea and slugs of whiskey. He dishes out four meatballs into a bowl, marinated in tinda spices and cooked in a tomato and onion sauce, hands me a chapati and waits as I plough through his offering all I can do is smile and ask for more. A smile creeps across his face as he sees me polish off another bowl. We chink wine glasses and grin. It’s all in the marination he reminds me.

Back into the hall and Gummi Bako regales us with his song ‘Spunk 77’. There’s no need for explanation. Just a folky punk rendition of a filthy drinking song. It should have had me reaching out to cover the ears of my kids but they were hanging with their new Fence chums. My kids heckled him as he finished his set and he heckled them back and everyone laughed as we awaited for HMS Ginafore‘s comic turn. She has us giggling from the start as she enters dressed as a ‘coastal walker’. Twenty minutes of witty and wry observations on the minutiae of life in and around Anstruther and we’re all wondering whether this can be the same person who suffers from stage fright and thinks her music is ‘rubbish’… It isn’t… check out her new record “Love + Hate = Hate”. Incredible songs about love and small town life, with lyrics and music that will leave you breathless.

There was no time to pause. It was closing in on midnight so we grabbed our coats, scarves and drinks and headed out towards the nearby beach where the bonfire and fireworks awaited us. The New Year was brought in by a boisterous rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” accompanied by KC on the accordion. Whiskey and rum were passed around as cheeks were kissed and embraces made. Wish lanterns were lit and launched, forming their own constellation as they drifted off into the night. We gazed out over the moonlit sea and watched as the light from the lanterns slowly flickered and died. I held my two boys close and looked around at the smiling faces all lit up by the glow of the bonfire and realized how sometimes the small and simple things in life really do mean so much. My youngest stroked my cheek and asked to go home. We said our goodbyes and, to the sound of KC breaking out in to song on his accordion, we ambled back home along the shoreline and into our warm beds. As I tucked my eldest into his, I asked him what he wished for when he released his lantern. He shook his head and said he couldn’t tell me, that to do so would ruin the best New Years he’d had. Then he rolled over and went to sleep. Happy New Year.

Kieran is the director of a brilliant movie about Vashti Bunyan – due for more cinema screenings this year.