Should you want to send a demo to Lost Map Records, one of Scotland’s newest independent labels, just mark it for the attention of Johnny Lynch, the Green Caravan, Isle of Eigg, Inner Hebrides.
As record company addresses go, it’s pretty poetic – the reality even more so, with chickens roaming around out front, sheep in an adjoining field, a stunning view over to the mainland mountains and absolutely none of the fraught bustle one might associate with running a small label at a time when physical sales are on the wane.
Lynch, however, has previous with such cottage (should that now be caravan?) industry operations. He was the director of Fence Records for ten years until he and Fence founder Kenny “King Creosote” Anderson parted ways last summer and acts from the roster joined Lynch on his new adventure.
The Pictish Trail
Lynch, better known by his musical alter ego The Pictish Trail, named his freshly minted label after his love of maps. Various Fence festival tickets over the years have come with hand-drawn maps directing fans to tucked away venues. While more remote than your average record company HQ, the road to Eigg is not so arcane – on the 75-minute ferry ride from Mallaig, Eigg lies dead ahead, floating on a bed of sea mist, recognisable by its distinctive pitchstone ridge, an Sgurr.
The ferry is particularly full today, with revellers heading over for the annual ceilidh celebrating the anniversary of Eigg’s community buyout, a landmark for collective ownership in Scotland. Since 1997, the islanders have taken stewardship of their affairs to an impressive degree, with shared-equity deals to encourage the building of homes and an off-grid electricity supply using renewable resources.
So for the island’s 80 or so residents, 12 June is Eigg’s independence day. Local piper Donna greets the latest batch of party guests off the ferry. Clumps of tents are already pitched along the waterfront. Drinking commenced hours ago and will continue long into the night at the bijou island gathering hall in the company of Gaelic party band Daimh and others.
‘The spirit of the islanders is as beautiful as the scenery’
Lynch has lived on Eigg for the past four years and it was love at first visit. “The spirit of the islanders is as beautiful as the scenery,” he says. “They’re all just really relaxed, interesting, funny show-offs, and the most accommodating people. By the end of the first week I knew everyone, had drunk with everyone, hugged everyone. It’s one of those communities. They’re all really excited by new people.”
This spirit of welcoming acceptance will come in handy on 18 July when 250 music fans descend for Lost Map’s inaugural Howlin’ Fling festival. Lynch has already hosted two Fence Awaygames on Eigg, which left a lasting impression on attendees. “I was getting emails and letters from people saying it was the best weekend of their life. People were getting engaged.” For Lynch, such ecstatic response makes all the financial and logistical challenges of getting bands, equipment, punters, not to mention food and supplies, to and from the island supremely worthwhile.
“You are removing yourself from day-to-day life, you’re picking yourself up and putting yourself in a completely different location and there’s something magical about that. Even if all the music was crap, it wouldn’t matter because people are so excited to be here.”
Music that exists on the edges
As it happens, the music at Howlin’ Fling will not be crap, thanks to a small but perfectly formed bill including Beth Orton, Steve Mason, Hot Chip frontman Alexis Taylor, RM Hubbert, The Phantom Band, local death metal duo Massacre Cave (who also double as Lynch’s non-metal backing band) and every act on the Lost Map roster – Rozi Plain, Monoganon, Kid Canaveral, Randolph’s Leap, Seamus Fogarty, Tuff Love and eagleowl. “It’s music that for the most part exists on the fringes,” says Lynch of his bands. “I guess living right on the outskirts of normality maybe informs that.”
Far from being deterred by his remote location, Lynch is inspired. “It’s a really cheap, simple life and I’m doing it. I’m organising tours from here, putting out records [snail mail is handled from Kid Canaveral’s Edinburgh HQ], I’m in touch with the bands all the time…”
Lynch freely admits that Jack White’s Third Man Records, based in Nashville, is an inspiration for the creative way it approaches making and releasing music. Neil Young recorded his latest album, A Letter Home, in White’s 1947 Voice-o-Graph record booth and the label is known for its weird and wonderful coloured and embedded vinyl.
“This is the golden age of indie labels,” Lynch reckons. “Ideas are king. You’ve got to be doing something different but it doesn’t have to be something big. In fact, the more stupid and weird and small it is, the more people are interested. The more limited something is, the more people want it.”
A win-win way of sampling the label’s wares
Lynch may not have White’s toy box of vintage technology or, indeed, an onsite pressing plant but Lost Map has already demonstrated that it can field some quirky ideas of its own, such as the postcard single – literally, a postcard mailed for a nominal fee, carrying a unique download code to exclusive tracks. It’s a win-win way of sampling the label’s wares and concealing that damp patch in the kitchen at the same time. An exclusive series of cassettes called Lost Cats, which also come with a download code and a poster of a lost cat on the cover, are only available in indie record shops and at Lost Map shows.
“I like labels that have a little contained world,” says Lynch. “I also encourage a lot of collective activity. I know my own career would be nothing without the strength in numbers at Fence, the support I had from KT Tunstall and James Yorkston. I’m well aware that Pictish Trail trades a lot off the back of Fence and Lost Map. But I’m allowed to take ownership of that thing and I encourage the rest of the bands to do the same, that’s what this whole collective thing is about.”
Called I Can’t Dance To This Music
Kid Canaveral already run their annual Christmas Baubles bash in Edinburgh featuring other bands from the label beside bigger names such as Edwyn Collins. Randolph’s Leap will shortly launch the first of a proposed series of gigs called I Can’t Dance To This Music. And as for eagleowl: “I’m trying to get them to do a series of nights called Irregular Owl Movements…”
In addition to these collective efforts, Lynch has plans for pop-up events in mystery locations. Further down the line, he would like to start a residency programme on Eigg where visiting artists could write and record a series of subscription EPs using equipment provided. Does anyone have Jack White’s number? He would love a bit of that.
As for the day-to-day running of the label, happiness, it seems, is an internet connection and a peaceful view. “Living on an island means there’s no distraction so I’m a lot more focused on getting stuff done with the label,” says Lynch. “The one downside is you don’t see people as much. If the weather forecast is looking bad then I can’t leave the island. So I have to miss the occasional meeting.”
Lost Map’s Howlin’ Fling takes place on the Isle of Eigg, 18-20 July. I Can’t Dance To This Music is at Bowlers Bar, Glasgow, 27 July. The Pictish Trail’s Secret Soundz Vol.1 & 2 is out now on Moshi Moshi Records