From New York to the New Town: Lach on his move to Edinburgh

Lach has been a hit at the Fringe
Lach has been a hit at the Fringe
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Why would the king of New York’s alternative music scene give it up to move to Edinburgh? That was the question plaguing Richard Melvin, and the inspiration behind a radio documentary airing later this month.

Lach (the T is invisible) is the New York native who launched the Antihoot (and with it, the Antifolk movement), which became the world’s longest running open mike night.

When I interviewed Lach this summer I fell under the spell of his surreal and engaging sense of humour. With the straightest of faces, he told me the convoluted plot of a book he claimed to have written that turned out to be a précis of Russell Brand’s autobiography, though I know that to this day he’ll deny that he was pulling my leg, or that he’s ever heard of that other Booky Wook.

From the early 1980s until this year, when Lach and his family relocated to Edinburgh, everyone who is anyone passed through the Antihoot, including Suzanne Vega, Michelle Shocked, the Moldy Peaches, Beck, Regina Spektor, Dean Friedman, and Paul Foot. Some of them have spoken to Melvin for the broadcast, and you’ll also get a chance to hear snippets of Lach’s own music.

He told me that the first time he arrived in Edinburgh, he found himself face to face with Ramsay Gardens. “I saw those white houses and had deja vu. A year later, another tour, and there’s those houses. This time I had been here before. So between the soundcheck and the gig I walked around. It was enchanting. I felt like I was in a Tolkien book or something. After being here a whole month in 2010 I thought I’d like to come back and live, because something (creative) was happening here.”

Artists no longer have to go to where the action is, because the internet means the action is wherever you want it to be. In which case, why not make that some place where you like the architecture and the people, and where you’re enjoying yourself, Lach reasoned?

Back in the day, Lach’s music proved an affront to the established Greenwich Village folk scene, becuase it was as informed by the Clash as it was by tradition. “The music of Antifolk is informed by punk, and informed by Woody Guthrie. It’s not informed by mainstream corporate MOR music. When we started in the early 1980s there was nothing like it. There was no MTV unplugged and the Violent Femmes’ album hadn’t come out yet. When it did, it was the first album that let us know we weren’t alone.”

New Yorkers were stunned by Lach’s departure. Michelle Shocked describes him as a street corner ambassador for lower Manhattan, and a ringmaster. Vic Galloway calls him a Svengali, and can’t wait to see how that plays out here in Scotland. And Duglas T Sewart reckons that if they ever revive Jim’ll Fix It, or The Generation Game, Lach would make the perfect host. If your curiosity is piqued, tune in to learn more.

• From New York to the New Town: The Story of Lach airs on BBC Radio Scotland (92-95FM) on 28 December at 2.05pm, and features contributions from Dean Friedman, Suzanne Vega, Michelle Shocked, Duglas T Sewart, Vic Galloway and many others.