Book review: Songs In The Key Of Fife by Vic Galloway

THE Fence Collective have been a cause célèbre of the Scottish music scene in recent years, a grassroots success story based in the East Neuk of Fife whose reputation is built on good music and a refreshing lack of pretension that’s ingrained in the character of your average Fifer.

Songs In The Key Of Fife

Vic Galloway

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Polygon, £12.99

More a loose association of friends and acquaintances who live or grew up together in the same area, their number includes KT Tunstall, Kenny “King Creosote” Anderson and the Beta Band. Through various musical alliances with its number over the years, particularly Anderson and singer-songwriter James Yorkston, radio DJ and author Vic Galloway is a member and well placed to write what he describes as an “honest, demystifying and straight-talking” history of “colourful, interesting and eccentric characters whom more people should know about”.

Over 17 chapters Galloway builds a history of the key players in the scene that could only have come from lengthy and involved conversations as well as first-hand knowledge. The threads he follows are those of the marquee names mentioned above, but the book exhaustively covers every cranny of the East Neuk’s scene, tracing the history of these and other participants both renowned and unknown from early childhood on. It’s this level of detail which makes Galloway’s writing compulsive, combining with a love of anecdote to really lend the reader the sense these characters’ stories are opening up before them.

Given the author’s participation in many of them he can be forgiven for placing himself in the text, although it’s jarring when his brisk writing lets in hyperbolic phrases better suited to his radio persona: for example when he and Anderson’s first group “summoned some kind of phoenix from the embers of two red-hot bands”. Yet in broad terms it’s a book which capably mixes history, intimacy and a rich sense of place, and one which appeals beyond these artists’ existing fanbases.

Vic Galloway is at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Tuesday 20 August at 8.30pm