Fence Records: Keeping it Surreal Since 1996
From small beginnings, Anstruther-based label Fence Records has deservedly grown in stature over the last decade or so, and now boasts a dedicated fanbase and an impressive roster of artists whilst very much retaining its down-to-earth DIY ethos. Milo McLaughlin caught up with label lynchpins Johnny Lynch and Kenny Anderson, otherwise known as The Pictish Trail and King Creosote for a chinwag just before they played a blinding gig as part of the Retreat! mini-festival in Edinburgh last month
Given the shared ethos and sound of the artists involved, Fence could almost be classed as a sub-genre in itself. For example, there's no doubt that Fence's relative success is to some extent down to the fact they are a collective as much as a record label; this extended family includes post-Beta Band acts The Aliens and Black Affair. The Beta Band connection is one that Kenny Anderson is justly proud of, especially as his brother Gordon, aka The Lone Pigeon, co-wrote several of their songs. "This year at Homegame (annual Fence festival held in Anstruther) Steve Mason played and he had my brother Ian on the drumbox," Kenny beams. "He did his solo thing but he did also lots of Beta Band songs, and for a lot of the guys that came to Fence from the Beta Band, so this is people that in 1999/2000 had tracked us down, and they were in tears at the door of that hall. It was like a complete circle."
Not everything has run smoothly however. Anderson's last two albums as King Creosote, KC Rules OK and Bombshell were released through Warners offshoot 679, allowing him to reach a much wider audience than Fence's East Neuk hub would allow. But the record industry being what it is, he's back to releasing his latest album through Fence and perhaps not coincidentally it has a more experimental side, not least in title - They Flock Like Vulcans to See Old Jupiter Eyes on His Home Craters. Being back in control must be something of a relief though, given the hoops that major labels expect their artists to jump through to justify their investment? "Well, it is a relief," Kenny admits. "We're at the helm so we're as busy as we make ourselves. The difference is when you're with another label and they make you busy with all sorts of things that you never expected to have to do, but you've signed up to do it - and they make it quite awkward for you if you don't do it. All these things are there to help promote your album, but it's just amazing all the weird and wonderful things you end up doing."
Video: King Creosote - Leslie (Live at Pittenweem Festival, 2006)
As well as interminable interviews that take up entire days (The Skinny not included, obviously), this has involved some major support tours, for the likes of KT Tunstall and Squeeze. And despite Tunstall's early links with the Fence clan, it was playing with Squeeze which paid off. "Actually, Squeeze made more sense," says Kenny. "It was an older, music buying audience, and we did better from sales of albums. Whereas a lot of Kate's audience were younger and had only heard two or three songs on the radio; it was like a different gig. As soon as she played Suddenly I See, the place just went bananas - even though it's not a stand-out in the set at all, but it's just one that everybody knows. So for us as a support band, can you imagine? We don't have anything even approaching her least known songs."
Johnny, however, is keen to stress the glass-half-full side of the arrangement. "It doesn't mean it was worthless because the end product of that was that for other Fence shows that we've done since then, it's brought in a different audience and it's made the audience that was there think of us as a real band instead of 'just some guys from Fife.'" Kenny agrees that there are benefits to such compromises. "That's true, and also playing with Kate did get us that Jools Holland gig - without a doubt that was what swung it for the producers."
Video: King Creosote - You've No Clue Do You (Live on Jools Holland)
But despite the raised profile, both are determined to avoid the label morphing, Decepticon style, into a monstrous corporate machine. "It's reflective of the audience that's there." Johnny offers. "If the audience that gets properly excited about it becomes bigger then we want to accomodate that, because there's nothing worse than putting on something when the people who really want to be there can't get to it."
"But we're not in it just to make a quick buck and escape," reassures Kenny. "The Homegame, for example, is different, oddly enough because it is different. We've made our own rules. Everybody expects you to want to be bigger and better, but we kind of don't. We want it to be manageable, and just to keep people happy." Johnny: "Because at the end of the day the Fence thing only has to supply a wage for two people." Kenny: "And a lot of kids..."
Fence Club #6 takes place on Wed, 17 Sep at The Caves, Edinburgh and will feature James Yorkston, Malcolm Middleton and The Pictish Trail. They Flock LIke Vulcans... is available now at King Creosote's live gigs and will be more widely available in November.
King Creosote, The Pictish Trail and The Fence Collective play The Corn Exchange, Cupar on 25 Oct.http://www.fencerecords.com