Johnny Lynch on his roving Howlin’ Fringe festival

Johnny Lynch hopes to take Howlin' Fringe to new town halls around the country every four or five months. Picture: Contributed
Johnny Lynch hopes to take Howlin' Fringe to new town halls around the country every four or five months. Picture: Contributed
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JOHNNY Lynch explains why he chose Penicuik Town Hall to host his inaugural Howlin’ Fringe mini-festival

‘It never ends,” says Johnny Lynch. He means it in a good way, probably, but he sounds like a man with a lot on his plate at the moment. There are the finishing touches to his latest album as the Pictish Trail, partly recorded with his old friend and Silver Columns partner Adem; the latest work with his record label and festival organiser Lost Map; and the fact that he and his partner have to finish building their house on the Isle of Eigg before their first child arrives in the autumn.

It’s a huge slab of work for anyone to take on, but ebullient (and a bit hyperactive) is Lynch’s default state of mind. We’re discussing the first edition of Lost Map’s Howlin’ Fringe mini-festival, a companion piece to the Eigg-based, bi-annual Howlin’ Fling and a natural evolution from the Homegame festival in Anstruther, which Lynch used to organise when he was part of the Fence Collective. The line-up includes Lost Map regulars Tuff Love, Rozi Plain, Kid Canaveral, Seamus Fogarty, Randolph’s Leap and Lynch himself as Pictish Trail, while Sheffield duo Slow Club will be guests alongside an as-yet-unnamed roster of comedians.

Continuing the theme set by Homegame of taking a group of musicians to an out-of-the-way spot, the first Howlin’ Fringe will be a one-dayer set in Penicuik Town Hall – although, as Lynch discovered, it’s not all that out of the way. “I’d never actually been there, but it’s surprisingly easy to get to,” he says, “there are buses going there every half hour and through the night. When it presented itself as being available I thought, ‘We have to do it’. The hall reminds me a bit of Anstruther Town Hall – it’s the same sort of size, maybe a bit smaller, it’s got two spaces, and the people who run it are really relaxed and cool and up for it. Once you’ve got that, it makes things ten times easier.”

The suggestion to do something there was first made by Penicuik native Neil Pennycook, aka Edinburgh musician Supermoon, formerly Meursault, who had put on events there in the past. “I went down to see it and the place has an amazing PA, a really great lighting rig, there’s a guy who puts on events there and he helps out,” says Lynch. “It was like when I went up to Eigg for the first time and met everyone there, I got on with them and I wanted to do something with them.”

It’s obvious that Lynch enjoyed the glory days of Homegame, an event with a passionate fan community drawn from across the UK, and events like Howlin’ Fling and Howlin’ Fringe are an attempt to do something similar. So, says Lynch, are the events Lost Map’s artists put on themselves with his support and guidance, such as Kid Canaveral’s annual Xmas Baubles party at Portobello Town Hall, Randolph’s Leap’s I Can’t Dance To This Music and Insect Heroes’ Apocalypso club nights, the latter pair in Glasgow.

Between Anstruther, Portobello and now Penicuik, the trickier-to-get-to town hall appears to be a venue of choice for Lynch. “These are places which exist on the fringes, they’re places which a lot of people haven’t been to, and it’s just that sense of journeying to a place which makes more of an event of it. It’s great to do something different, isn’t it?

“Coming from a place where I was doing an event every year in the same place in Anstruther for ten years, it was great, people loved the sense of familiarity in going somewhere that they knew and which was like a second home. Now that’s nonexistent, we’ve got to try harder to make something, to create that sense of adventure with the events we put on. And if it brings money to a town that doesn’t normally have that influx of people... I know the difference bringing 400 or 500 people made to Anstruther. Our audience aren’t the most wild, but they’re passionate about the music they love, they’re a really respectful audience, and one I’m happy to take to different places.”

This show will be 350 capacity, and Lynch says it’s sold well already to a mix of familiar names who have supported what he does for the past decade and a pleasing number of people from the Penicuik area. Even before selling out it’s covered its costs and his hope is that he might be able to take Howlin’ Fringe to new town halls around the country every four or five months; but we’ll see how good that baby is to him.

“This is the sort of thing where it’s an excuse to bring all the Lost Map bands together and have that collective thing happen again,” he says. “And it’s also a chance to see the folk who’ve been buying the records for the last year, to hang out with them and thank them, have a beer and have a laugh. We’ve had a lot of support for the last ten years, and those people have definitely stayed with us, which is great. There are a whole heap of new folk as well – dare, I say it, a younger audience – but that’s a good thing. Tuff Love are the first act who didn’t have any affiliation with the previous collective, and they’ve brought in a new audience.”

He says he continues to go about things in the same DIY manner as ever, but there’s no question that the Lost Map project has taken a step forward this year. Rozi Plain and Tuff Love are favourites on the BBC 6 Music playlist, and the latter band in particular have built a wave of support that’s shifted them away from the homely but consistently high-quality environs of Lost Map’s boutique appeal and towards the buzz-worthy attentions of the national industry. They supported reformed shoegazers Ride on their recent national tour and will be on the bill at Paolo Nutini’s Summer Sessions show in Bellahouston Park this month.

“It’s a funny time for music,” he says, with his label boss head on. “I think the streaming thing has hit its peak, with Apple Music happening a couple of weeks ago, it’s a massive tipping point. The people who would pay 79p for an MP3 have gone, they’re now signing up for the Apple Music subscription. I mean, I’m not totally against streaming, but only if it makes music sustainable.

“It all comes down to what the customer wants, and what the customer wants is everything free all the time, but the exclusive stuff will always come direct from us, and the events we do are so small they’re like exclusives in themselves. They’re where the audience gets to interact with the music and the people who play it in person.”

• Lost Map’s Howlin’ Fringe is at Penicuik Town Hall, 8 August. Tuff Love support Paolo Nutini at Summer Sessions, Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, 29 August, www.lostmap.com