Do My Ears Look Like They’re Painted On? King Creosote Plays Belfast
King Creosote is the stage name of Kenny Anderson — the Mercury Prize-nominated singer-songwriter from Scotland, who joined the Out To Lunch Festival in Belfast for a much anticipated sold-out gig.
Before The King appeared, though, Ciaran Lavery came to the stage to perform in front of his first standing crowd. With only his voice for company, his initial song brought the room to a standstill. His utterly bare version of Bonnie Prince Billy’s “Careless Love” exposed the sand and the defencelessness in his voice. As the room’s silence wrapped itself around the song’s last words, “I say cry cry”, the harmonica crept in, followed on tip-toe by the guitar. Then he flowed into his self-writ beauty, “Shame”.
Between the songs, Lavery’s seasoned banter and chat gave the impression that he had all the time in the world to play. “Return to Form” entertained that dark Belfast thread running through us, with his “F bombs” as he called them: “I used to be scared of falling/Now I don’t give a f*ck”. Then, with “Left for America”, he returned to his forte — the songs that remind you of those aching feelings, the most exquisite of pains.
The upward trajectory that Lavery is coursing has resulted in supporting acts such as John Fullbright, Petunia and Nathan Godfrey, The lost Brothers, and more. He’s playing Folk Alliance in Kansas, USA in February.
He left the stage, and the next time I looked there were six people on it, settling into their instruments, just arriving for their night’s work. King Creosote introduced his band and then they started the song “For One Night Only” (from last year’s album From Scotland With Love). They were all in it together; there was a drum intro and big-ish guitar, upbeat keys, and noticeable cello grounding it all.
Indeed, the cello hooked me in from the start. The sound from the stage was allowing its round soulful voice to accentuate Anderson’s. When they played “Cargill”, a song about a woman watching for her man to come home from the sea, we were given cello moving like the water, lapping against Anderson’s vocals. “The dread of counting home the fleet, the sudden thrill of seeing you’re safely back”.
The cello in “Leaf Piece” was reminiscent of k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving”. The last high notes of the song repeated “It’s not good enough”. Anderson lengthened his neck, his eyes were front. After that, he pulled a paper from hisback pocket and squinted at it. “Here’s my set list”, he said. “This song is called ‘Something to Believe In'”. A disembodied voice called out from the room. “It’s f*ckin brilliant”. “No”, he smiled, “that’s the next song”.
“John Taylor’s Month Away” is a haunting track from the 2011 Diamond Mine album he recorded with Jon Hopkins. Before he started the song, Anderson told us about a conversation he had with a neighbour. The conversation had hit on what life was like for this neighbour as a fisherman, and at the end of his tale Anderson squinted out at the faceless crowd. “You know what? My life’s pretty good”. He nodded, his was face serious. The words of the song echoed this. The instrumental parts were aching; the cello was pulsing and slid through it.
“Homeboy” gave us a lovely long intro with raindrop keyboards. The bass guitar was like a dad’s voice in the background. “Do my ears look like they’re painted on?” he sang. The drums were tick-tocking like a clock, as the riff on the electric guitar caught us and moved the crowd along with it.
He said, “[The airline] Flybe f*cked my guitar case today. So I had to buy a new one. I’ve done my bit for the local economy”. Then he launched into “Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice”, much to the audible joy of the man who had requested it earlier on in the night. “Circle My Demise” was opened with beautiful guitar and keyboards like a rainy city street. “Something’s got to go/Please let it not be me”. The “please” was lengthened, pleading.
He made a point, a long point, of explaining why the band weren’t going to leave the stage, and then have to return for the encore. So they remained there, firm and steadfast through a powerful rendition of “Pauper’s Dough“, with the much-repeated and heartfelt line, “Rise above the gutter, you are inside”. Then the finale of “Happy Song” gave us keyboards sounding like a highway, big drums, and cello with closed eyes and intermittent foot stomps. We danced and we shouted, “Happy, happy, happy”. Indeed we were. It was a great ending to a very good gig.
Video Credits: BBC Northern Ireland and Domino Recording Co.