Fence n Chips: The Pictish Trail on Fife's Cuisine

One of them is known far and wide for their unique take on a traditional art. The other is your favourite chip shop. We spoke to Fence Collective's Johnny Lynch about fish suppers, nostalgia, and the elderly.

Feature by Peter Simpson | 02 Jan 2012

Johnny Lynch, the Fence Collective mainstay also known as The Pictish Trail, has just had a brainwave. “We should combine Fence Records with a fish and chip shop,” he jokes.

“We could put download codes for the music on the little forks, get James Yorkston in to do the white pudding. Forget records, that's the way forward!” He's even got an idea for the name. “We'll call it 'Fesh', a mix of Fence and fish. It's handy because that's already how Glaswegians pronounce the word fish.”

Yes, the two most famous exports to come out of the East Neuk of Fife in recent years are the world-renowned and celeb-attracting Anstruther Fish Bar and the folky loveliness of Fence, run out of the Neuk by Lynch and Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote. The small villages of Anstruther, Cellardyke and Pittenweem may seem like an unlikely mecca for top-end chippys, but Lynch has a theory as to why.

“Fifers all have terrible diets. Honestly, one of the staples of the Fife diet is a macaroni pie from the bakers, in a roll, with brown sauce on it. You then take that round the corner and get some chips to go with it. It's every kind of carbohydrate you can think of in one go.”

As for the Neuk itself, the decline of the fishing industry hasn't been kind. Other than during the summer holidays and the likes of the Homegame festival Fence put on in the Neuk, there isn't a whole lot going on.

“Back in the 60s and 70s, Anstruther was a proper little holiday town,” Lynch says. “You look at the old pictures and it's full of really busy caravan parks and holiday parks. It was almost like the Scottish Blackpool, in a good way.

“When people come up for Homegame or to see gigs they start getting flashbacks to their youth. It's a very nostalgic place. Nowadays, though, it's a sleepy wee village where everyone is someone's granny. When the kids hit 16 or 18, they're all out of here, and it seems like all the grannies in Scotland come to Fife at a certain age, there's just so many of them. Us lot are counted as the 'young ones' when we're out in the pub.”

The success of Fence and the Fish Bar have shone a light on this corner of Fife, and Johnny thinks there are some similarities behind the unlikely pair's renown.

“The Fish Bar is all about the experience. It isn't at all posh – it's a proper chip shop, with cardboard trays and little forks, and their fish and chips are great. There's something about the surroundings though that makes it all a bit better. You're down at the seafront in this little old fishing village, looking out to the water, surrounded by little old ladies, feeling like a giant because no-one else is taller than 5' 4".

“I think if you had Anstruther fish and chips in Glasgow or Edinburgh, you'd think they were nice, but that they were just fish and chips. But the journey to come here makes it feel a bit more special, and a bit different. That's how we find things with Fence; we're slightly out of the way, but when people get here they get taken in by the place. They've been on a journey to get here, and it makes everything that bit better when they finally arrive.”

Anstruther, then; home to the old, the carb-loaders, a lovely bunch of folkies, and Scotland's best chip shop. You should pop by some time, and see what all the fuss is about. Johnny recommends the macaroni cheese, at least until 'Fesh' is up and running.