Brian Ferguson: Sitting on Fence no longer an option

Cambo House. Picture: Contributed
Cambo House. Picture: Contributed
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A trail of fairy lights led the way through the woods – and the midges – to the grand 19th-century mansion house. Sir Peter Erskine’s Cambo House, outside St Andrews, is probably the grandest setting I’ve ever been to for a book launch.

But the set-up of the event inside the B-listed building’s courtyard was more akin to a mini-musical festival, with the beer, cider, hot food and home-baking stalls that had been set up, along with the makeshift performance area.

I’ve never been to any of the Fence Collective’s famous gatherings in Fife – or on the remote west-coast outpost of the island of Eigg – but I would imagine the vibe was not too far removed from the one conjured up on Saturday by some of its key protagonists, including King Creosote, James Yorkston, Gummi Bako and Withered Hand.

The occasion was the “official Fife launch” of broadcaster Vic Galloway’s new book, which traces the intertwining lives and musical exploits of a clutch of musicians who have emerged from the East Neuk of Fife over almost a quarter of a century.

I almost certainly would not have ended up there had it not been for a spur-of-the-moment purchase as the midnight hour arrived on my final visit to the Edinburgh International Book Festival site last month.

In need of a medicinal refreshment after filing a late-night report of the Iain Banks tribute, I arrived at the Spiegeltent just as the audience from the second of Galloway’s two events was departing.

Outside supping a pint was the instantly recognisable figure of King Creosote, aka Kenny Anderson, the pivotal player in the book, Songs in the Key of Fife, which I was persuaded to buy by the staff on the merchandise stall.

I was intrigued. Right in the middle of Edinburgh’s festivals, just five days before Galloway was due to launch his book in Charlotte Square, it emerged that Fence Records, the iconic label set up by Anderson, was being wound up by its director Johnny Lynch, who was taking several acts with him to a new outfit, which he would run from his caravan home on Eigg.

Several hours later Anderson, who had decided to leave the label at the end of last year, insisted it was not all over for Fence – and there would be a relaunch of the label in the new year. Many of Fence’s devoted followers left scratching their heads at the whole business.

To be fair to Galloway, who must have feared his book was in danger of being entirely overtaken by events at the 11th hour, he offers more than a few clues and warning signals of behind-the-scenes friction and impending rifts.

The whole book is a remarkable insight into the pitfalls of the music industry, even if that very phrase would have most of those involved running for cover in the sleepy fishing villages which provide the backdrop to Galloway’s stories.

Despite close friendships and a long association with many of the key players, Galloway does not pull his punches in revealing the impact of alcohol, drugs, mental health problems, sibling rivalries and the price of fame.

I’d go as far to say it’s essential reading for any young musician in Scotland thinking about trying to make a go of it – not least for the rude awakening it may offer before their dreams are shattered. But it also shows how success can be achieved against seemingly insurmountable odds.

In a no-doubt hastily written afterword, penned in July, Galloway says it now looks as if his book would prove to be a line in the sand and that Fence was being “disassembled and formed into separate pieces before our very eyes”, with Lynch heading off in one direction and Anderson remaining in Fife to plough another furrow entirely.

Galloway couldn’t have predicted it better if he’d had a crystal ball at his disposal.

It is clear the rift will take some time to heal. On Saturday, Anderson insisted: “Fence is not dead,” that Lynch had only taken around 10 per cent of Fence with him and virtually accused his long-time collaborator of setting up a “cheap publicity stunt” just before Galloway’s book came out.

But he also told the somewhat startled audience: “I love Johnny to bits, he has got a clutch of bands that want to go for it, they are going to do well and they’re going to do everything that I wasn’t able to do.”

It is little wonder that by the end of Galloway’s book he is already predicting either a second part – or a hugely extended second edition.