King Creosote @ Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 7 Mar

King Creosote brings the critically acclaimed From Scotland With Love tour back to the Usher Hall

Live Review by Amy Hill | 12 Mar 2020
  • King Creosote live at Leith Theatre for Edinburgh International Festival 2018

It feels like a sort of homecoming for Virginia Heath and King Creosote’s critically acclaimed film-cum-album From Scotland With Love, which returns to the Usher Hall tonight for the first time since the Edinburgh International Festival in 2015. A sense of anticipation echoes around the sold-out venue and at 8pm sharp Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote, saunters onto the stage, accompanied by a nine-piece band.

A hotchpotch support performance, made up of all of the members of the main act, begins. Anderson acts as a conductor while various members of the band lead on a song or two. It’s a bit confusing, but quite endearing, and serves to familiarise us with the band who will soon guide us through the main event.

When the band return to the stage, the opening scenes of Virginia Heath’s film are immediately captivating. Industrial Glasgow, standing stones, rolling mountainsides and steam trains blend into each other in black and white, as Anderson’s voice glides atop (“But our story, it has only begun”).

This gives us a flavour of what’s to come. Decades slip into each other as archive footage dating through 20th century Scotland illustrates a heritage of industry, farming, fishing, playing and dancing. Film and music feel inseparable, each adding narrative and meaning to the other.

From the outset the film is devoid of cliché, considering Scotland from the eyes of its true makers – working communities. It’s at times harrowing, the harshness of early 20th century life laid bare. Yet there’s a desirability to it all when watched by a 21st century viewer. The footage exposes what was once ordinary to be extraordinary. Scotland’s beaches filled with holidaymakers, running full-pelt into the water; children playing mischievously on the streets; men and women dancing cheek to cheek to live music.

Tougher topics are craftily dealt with, with KC's Pauper’s Dough accompanying harrowing footage of protests through the ages, including tanks rolling ominously down the streets of Glasgow in 1919’s Battle of George Square. My Favourite Girl tells a tragic yet inspiring tale of the female war effort, with women crafting the weapons their loved ones will soon use in battle. 

Unassuming individuals turned into principle characters in a storyline of disjointed pieces, moulded together as we wind through history. The soundtrack is pulled off seamlessly by an unmistakably talented bunch of musicians, including standout performances from Mairearad Green and Hannah Fisher.

Perhaps the most moving number of the night comes in the form of Miserable Strangers. It begins with perhaps the final residents of St Kilda relocating to the mainland by paddle boat, sailing past the dramatic and unmistakable cliffs of the island, never to return. Then we’re watching a steamship full of Scots emigrating to New York, leaving stranded relatives 'dropped upon this quay'. Anderson’s words echo a sense of reluctance ('with each step forward there’s two looks back') as families step away from their elders and into the unknown. Watching one older gentleman fighting back his tears as he looks overboard, we find ourselves doing the same.

As the film draws to a close, and as the crowd offers the band and Heath a standing ovation, it feels as if we’re not just cheering for them, but for the characters we’ve just witnessed.