King Creosote is one of the great outsiders. He occupies the margins in both the songs he sings and in the way he sends his songs out into the world. This short residency in a downstairs room in a pub in Clerkenwell coincided with the release of an album that was previously only available at his live shows, and then only in vinyl form.
The Mercury Prize nomination he received in 2011 for his album Diamond Mine – a collaboration with Jon Hopkins – was one of those moments when a best-kept-secret steps out into the open. On the back of the album’s success, he and Hopkins played to packed Shepherd's Bush Empire, and he was wonderful. But he’s a performer who seems most comfortable in an intimate space.
This time his accompanist was a djembe player going by the moniker Captain Geeko - real name Andy Robinson. The Fife music scene of which King Creosote is the presiding spirit goes in for such disguises. King Creosote is actually Kenny Anderson, and that kind of juxtaposition is central to his live performance.
Poet, wit, and raconteur, King Creosote conveyed an ineffable sadness in his songs while interspersing them with rambling tales that had the room in stitches, like the one about how his brother had gone into a chip shop and asked for cheese on his chips - a dish, we were told, that has now become “a phenomenon”.
The jesting found its way into the music when Geeko produced a series of cue cards – “Subterranean Homesick Blues”-style – not all of which quite matched what King Creosote was singing.
King Creosote’s voice – a light, reedy tenor with departures, occasionally uncertain, into counter-tenor – is a thing of extraordinary beauty. And between his acoustic guitar-strumming and the rhythms set up by Geeko, some lovely contours emerged in songs in which sorrow and loss were a constant theme.
An elaborate feint was played out when the time came for an encore. King Creosote had broken his ankle and he wasn’t going to get up and go anywhere. So he talked us through his imaginary disappearance to the bar upstairs and subsequent return, and then the gig continued.
The climax was devastating – a tribute to fellow Scot Doogie Paul, a musician in James Yorkston’s band who died of cancer last year aged only 40. “How is that fair,” King Creosote sang.
A night of tremendous heart and soul and humanity.