I’d caught the tail end of it on television at Christmas and had been immediately drawn in by the fascinating archive images and graceful soundtrack. But that didn’t prepare me for what I encountered.
It's is a brilliant collaboration between New Zealander, Virginia Heath, and Fifer Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote. Seeing it on a bigger screen with the music live was an experience apart. The way the images are woven together to tell a story of Scotland is extraordinarily skilful. Here is life from so many angles. Rural and urban. Coastal and mountainous. Work and play. Laughter and tears. Old and young. In the factory and on the land.
Musically it is quite sublime. King Creosote’s voice has a pitch that creates the perfect accompaniment to the film combined with stunning vocal backing and musicianship. The way the rhythm of the music transposes the images is nothing short of genius. And it’s at its most powerful when the music gives way to the sounds in the images and vice versa. Sounds of industrial might and laughter in the streets. Life was tough but people made hay while the sun shone.
Here is a Scotland that worked hard and played hard. A Scotland you couldn’t imagine leaving and yet that’s just what some people are pictured doing as they set out for another life in America. These are iconic images of a Scotland from not so long ago but which seem far removed from today.
You’ll have gathered by now that I quite liked it. It was one of those occasions when you run out of superlatives. I wasn’t alone. For the first part of the performance the audience was silent. But as it wore on, people felt the need to spontaneously applaud. And at the end as certain a standing ovation as you’re likely to experience erupted. Confident and prolonged, it met with modesty from the performers, visibly moved by the experience.
Artistic endeavour and collaboration doesn’t get much better than this. Social realism collides with romanticism and the effect is profound. So profound in fact that some people have assumed that it must have a meaning and purpose directly linked to the recent independence debate. Just before I entered the auditorium I bumped into a friend who said he’d just heard that King Creosote was in fact a No voter. He was surprised. Others have expressed that very sentiment directly to the artist. He has reported that on one occasion in Fife he was approached by a man who said the revelation that the artist might have voted No had shattered his interpretation of the meaning of one of the songs, venturing to ask, ‘How could you?’
I was at the event with my partner and two friends. Like the members of King Creosote's band, we were both Yes and No voters, each with our own hinterland of Scotland and Scottishness. Unlike my friends while I’d visited Scotland as a child, I didn’t grow up here so the images were mostly an evocation of imagination rather than experience. But for me at least it was hard not to reflect on being Scottish, on being a part of the love that was being sent as well as received.
Its retrospective gaze was unquestionably nostalgic. But its spirit was somehow life affirming, about now as well as then. It was impossible not to feel a certain pride that this was about a place you came from, and from a time that resonated personally however distantly. And it was almost impossible to imagine that one half of the artistic collaboration was from a faraway place. Such was the intensity of the emotion that seemed ingrained in the production.
From Scotland With Love speaks to the distinctiveness of a particular set of life experiences at a particular period in Scotland’s history. But to reduce it to a statement about independence or otherwise misses the mark by a country mile. It is far from didactic. Rather it reels you in and allows you to play with whatever version of Scotland’s past or present you choose. It’s a beautiful garment you can wear regardless of political allegiance.
That’s its gift. A gift crafted in the present and rooted in the past. It really does come with love. And whatever you feel about Scotland’s future, if you’re Scottish you’ll be sure to love it back.