Craig, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. You have a new Randan Discotheque single out, perhaps you could tell us a little about it?
Sure, it’s a double a-side 7” single, with “Ring the Bell” and “National Geographic (2012)”, and it’s a very limited edition of 20, plus a digital download. It also comes with a limited edition riso print, with the song lyrics
I’ve noticed the lyrics aren’t so clear on the print, is that deliberate?
So people have to listen harder.
Why is it released in such low numbers?
Well, after I/we made “Sonderweg” our last full length album I became a little despondent about the amount of time and effort, not to mention money that went into it, without much reward. I pressed 300 copies of it, and I still have at least two-thirds of them left. I wanted to release something that wasn’t going to end up losing me more money.
Have you lost a lot of money?
I wouldn’t say a lot, but I’ve never really made much from Randan Discotheque. With Sonderweg, there was the recording studio, mastering, pressing, promotion etc, not to mention the time I spent on videos and design. I decided I would try a crowd funded approach for the next thing I released. Thanks to the generosity of some friends, fans and family, I was able to raise enough to make a very short run of vinyl. I thought that if I could get them produced for a reasonable amount, and get the money up front, I would maybe end up at least breaking even, and not have boxes of left over vinyl sitting around. I wanted to make something quickly, with music I was still in the process of writing, and hopefully give the funders a sense of helping me along with the creative process. Each of the records is hand painted, and has a personalised message on the back. I felt it was more important to make a personal connection with a few people, than no connection with a lot of people.
That sounds a bit pompous, and an excuse for not having a lot of fans.
Perhaps you’re right.
Tell me a bit about that creative process
The songs were both sketchily written a couple of years ago, but I’ve developed a way of writing now whereby if I have an idea, but the circumstances aren’t right for recording it yet, I can hold off until the time is right. A kind of tantric-writing. Both these songs were written during a week in Kilconquhar in Fife, and I waited until I knew I was going to release something before actually recording and producing them, which is done in my living room
Tantric writing? That sounds like bollocks. What are the songs about?
National Geographic (2012) is a kind of revisiting of the approach I had to the single “Daily Record May 18th 1993” – I subscribe to National Geographic, and sometimes find it hard to retain any knowledge I have gained from reading it. There is too much stuff going on everywhere, and I end up not taking anything in. The song is a list of some of the subjects along the spines of the magazine from 2012. “Ring the Bell” came about during a walk in Elie & Earlsferry, and visiting the ‘Lady Tower’ by the beach there. Apparently Lady Jane Anstruther had the tower built as a kind of changing room when she went swimming. She would have her maids ring a bell so anyone else on the beach would have to leave. I started humming the tune when I first visited, and it developed from there. She had her portrait painted by Joshua Reynolds.
Is it historically accurate?
I have no idea – I imagined Lady Jane as a very sexually confident woman who would go skinny dipping, and maybe had a certain hold over men, including Reynolds, and the locals. There’s a lot of not very subtle innuendo in the song, and ‘ringing a bell’ is an example of that.
You don’t seem to have done a lot of promoting, or gigging in advance of this release, is that deliberate?
I haven’t played a gig in 4 years or so. Although I enjoy it a lot, circumstances change, and its not really something that is practical at the moment. Jobs, life, health, other projects, things happen. Promotion in general makes me feel a little sick. When we were gigging and getting a bit of press and radio play in the past, I thought perhaps this could be a career, but then it kind of petered out, and promotion was depressing. I thought it would be much better to just record as and when I wanted.
Have you done any promotion?
I’ve posted it on facebook and twitter.
That’s not very much
No. I reckon a few people will see it and then it’ll disappear without a trace, much like a lot of creative endeavour nowadays. I’ll send some emails out too.
To friends and family, and people who already know you?
That’s not going to get you much attention.
Or sales. The thing with facebook etc is, you can have 100’s of friends, but very few of them are likely to even see your posts and videos, unless you start ‘boosting’ or ‘promoting’ them. I can’t be arsed with that. And even then, some of them don’t like what you do, and then the ones that do sometimes forget, and then others don’t think anything.
How do you expect anyone new to hear your music?
I’ve no idea, I don’t know if I do.
That sounds a bit pathetic, shouldn’t you put more effort in? You can’t rely on friends to support your creative work?
No, you can’t. I realise that. I think I just want to make something, and move on to the next thing.
What about people who work really hard to build a fanbase, go on tour, to reach the people that are looking for that particular thing? It sounds a little like your making it for yourself, a little self centred and egotistical?
Yes, it is. Most creative work is though isn’t it?
Not everything is
Well, everything I do seems to be. Musicians, artists, most of them have big ego’s or pretend they don’t.
Really? What about Moondog?
Yeah, ok, maybe not, but I’ve never met him because he’s dead. He might have had a massive ego for all you know.
How are sales going?
Well, up to now, I made 20 copies, and kept one to myself, 12 went to funders, and 3 have been sold. There’s 4 left.
So you haven’t even managed to sell those?
No, not yet.
Do you ever think to yourself “maybe the reason I don’t sell is because I don’t do promotion or gigs”?
Yes, maybe. This is promotion though?
An interview with yourself, by yourself, is promotion?
I think so. We’re always told “you’ve got to do it yourself, no-ones going to do it for you”
I guess so. Ok, have you ever thought the reason you don’t sell much is because the music just isn’t very good?
You’ve never thought that?
No, I have absolutely never thought that.
Never ever ever?
No, not once ever. I’m surprised you keep pushing the point.
Have you ever thought about just giving it up?
Yes, I have. But I realise now that it does me more harm to not indulge myself in this way, than if I do. Like masturbation.
Your’re saying Randan Discotheque is like masturbation?
You don’t think it’s possible for music to be more than that? Something that moves people?
Yes absolutely, music can change your life.
What music changed your life?
I would say “Graceland” by Paul Simon. I first heard it when I must have been 5 or 6, and my parents had a tape of the album. I was interested in the rhythms, and the complexity of the words. The images that were conjured up listening to it are still with me now. As I got older, I began to understand more about what was being sung, and then older still to understand more about the conditions the record was made in, with the South African musicians, and the zydeco etc – it retained my interest, and it still does. I like singing “Joseph’s face was as black as the night, and the pale yellow moon shone in his eyes”. The image in my brain when I sing it, is the same as when I heard it as a boy. It wasn’t religious or anything – just a simple image of dark skin with yellow moonlight. I always skip through “Homeless” though.
So what are your plans now?
I have about two albums of ideas sketched out, I’m just waiting for the right moment to develop them.
When can we expect that then?
I have no idea, I was 9 months late with this release, so it may be a while, but I hope not.
Well, thanks for the interview, it was moderately interesting. I wish you the best of luck for the future.
And I to you.
“Ring the Bell/National Geographic (2012)” is available now on limited edition 7” single, and digital download from Randan Discotheque’s bandcamp page
At the end of a wee cul de sac, in the north of Kincardine, there is a small kirkyard accessible by key (or over a wall) which contains hundreds of beautifully carved 18th century gravestones. I’ve never seen such a huge amount of variety and imagery in one graveyard. Here are some images, though I could have put more up, plus a wee bit about each one – I am indebted to the work and website of the Kincardine Local History Group, who seem to have done a lot of work to help ensure these excellent examples of craftsmanship and memento mori are still in pretty good shape after more than 250 years. There are lots of skulls, hour-glasses, ships, tools etc and a lot of architectural settings – and a lot of things that I have no idea about.
Tulliallan Kirkyard – the actual Kirk is in good shape too, but locked up – dated 1675.
Spirals – Portable Compass – Hourglass – Skull – Crossbones
“Here lies the corps of THOMAS RANKINE overseer of Alloa Coal Work who died on the 10th of June 1805”
Memento Mori – Heart – Arches – Iron – Hourglass – Tailors Scissors – Crossbones – Skull
“1755 – IK * MC”
Crown – Skull – Hammer – Crossbones – Hourglass – Memento Mori
“Here lyeth GEORGE STEWART procrate betwixt JAMES STEWART and JEAN McCLAREN. He was born the 3rd day of March 1784. He died 25th February 1750” (Somehow seems to have been born after he died) – ‘Although my dust is all about thee…<unreadable>…touch’ ‘Yet in my flesh shall I my God behould’
(The crown and the hammer generally are meant to represent Hammermen, an incorporation which seems to include any trade that involves hammer on metal)
Spirals – Memento Mori – Skull – Crossbones – Hourglass – Ship
“1758 – AT * KD”
Single masted ship, Bowsprit with 2 foresails; Main sail with boom & gaff, Flag flying against wind
Winged Soul – Columns Supporting Pineapples – Strange Skull – 2 Hourglasses – Hammer – Pineapples – Chains – Leaves – Wedges
“Here lyes MARGRET RONAL spouse to JOHN DUNKESON, Quarie, who died the 10 of January 1724 hir age 38 years”
(Pineapples were sometimes used to indicate prosperity and eternal life)
Cornucopia – Hourglasses – Face – Spiral Columns – Angels with Trumpets (x2) – Skulls with Fruit & Leaves connected by Tongue – Shovel crossed with a Broom – Bones
“1728 – RB * MW”
(The shovel and broom represent a Maltster – basically involved in the making of beer)
Tailors Scissors – Iron
“1789 – AS * AM”
(Why is the upper part so blank?)
Hourglass – Set Square – Dividers – Columns – Single Castle
“1794 – JC * MMcF”
“Here lyes the corps of JANET COPLAND who died December 8th day 1793 aged 22 years
Also J N COPLAND died Feby 4th day 1796 aged 2… years & JAMES COPLAND March 9th day 180”
(The castle is “part of the tree castles of the Mason’s Guild”)
Hourglass – Columns – Anchor – Skull
“1788 – AT * MM”
Spirals – Columns – Skull – Memento Mori – Share & Coulter – Crossbones – Hourglass
“Here lies the dust of MARGARET COPLAND who died … Feb 1811 aged 40 years
THOMAS GIBSON, Farmer, died 22 Nov 1912 aged 78 years
AGNES GIBSON his wife died 12th July 1922 aged 80 years”
(Share and Coulter are elements of a plough ie Farmer)
Hourglass – Woodcutter – Tree
“As the tree falls so must it ly”
“1787 – AW * AW”
(The woodcutter is striking in his relaxed, almost arrogant wood cutting style)
Spirals – Columns – Memento Mori
“1756 – RF * IB”
(Why is there nothing on it?)
Hourglass – Skull – Crossbones – Two Shipwrights Working using Dividers & Mallet
“1716 – ID”
(This is unusually figurative, showing people working, not just their tools – but why two people? Is that hair, or a strange hat?)
Heart – Crossbones – Single masted ship; Main mast with boom & gaff; 2 fore sails; Flag flying against the wind – Memento Mori – Hourglass
“Here lyeth the corps of JENNET WANAN who died the 28 day of April 1719 hir age 24 years”
“1728 – AC * JW * MS”
(The ship and waves are particularly animated here, and its an unusually big heart)
Winged Soul – Skull – Hourglass – Heart – Crossbones – Section of Rope – Rope Spinner
“1718 -GT * IK”
(Nice hexagonal badge and rope related emblems)
Flowers – Skeleton – Ship – Hourglass
“1732 – WW * ED”
(Apparently the flowers are garlic flowers. I find this one particularly intriuging – the KLHG describe this as a skull, with “3 Masted ship, upper sails and top gallant set, Main sails furled, 4 flags flying against the wind” – but to me, the skull seems attached to a skeleton (see closeup below), and appears to have 2 very saggy breats hanging down, which brings to mind a painting of a female death figure. Either way, skeleton or ship, it is a complex arrangement.)
Spirals – Columns – Anchor – Hourglass – Crossbones – Weavers Tools
“1767 – JD * MS * JD * KG”
(The weavers tools are a shuttle, carding comb and stretchers)
Heart – Compass – Skull – Crossbones – Anchor
“1764 – JG * TH”
Memento Mori – Crossbones – Hourglass – Heart attached to Spring Anchor – Flowers – Heart
“1737 – WS * MC”
Fife – “a beggar’s mantle fringed wi gowd”. Only, some of the fringing has worn away and become a bit tatty and unloved. Driving from the East Neuk to East Wemyss, the neglect is evident when passing through former industrial towns such as Leven, Buckhaven and Methil. There is an excess of pebble dash. That’s not to say they aren’t interesting. Further on, there is Coaltown of Wemyss, West Wemyss and Dysart. I’ve often thought of Fife as an area of quite extreme contrasts, which to me is of interest. East Wemyss has a touch of gold about it, down by the shore, in the midst of a pebble dash estate, there is a series of caves, some of which contain Pictish (apparently), Viking and Christian carvings. What is so frustrating about this place is the seeming lack of care with which the caves are protected. There is no information on what you are looking at, no signposts (other than info boards that sit in the middle of the car park) – a bit of funding from the Lottery seems to have provided a couple of benches. The paths are neglected, there is no signposting coming from the East – there is even a lack of interest from kids, as I saw very little evidence of fires, used condoms (that doesn’t rule out unprotected sex, see Fife’s teenage pregnancy rates) underage drinking, drug taking etc etc. Apparently, in the 80’s some kids from Buckhaven drove a car down to the caves and set it alight, which damaged some of the carvings. Anyway, I can’t tell you much about the carvings, which are from what period. There does seem to be some local groups set up to protect the caves (see here and here) and I am sure they do their best, but these caves should have some sort of visible support from Fife Council, or SNH or something. I have a suspicion that if the caves were placed in a more geographically ‘golden’ area of the Fife coast, there would be more made of them, but as it is, perhaps it is satisfyingly Fife for them to be where they are, and how they are. Oh yeah, Time Team visited in 2004, you can watch the episode here.
Hopetoun Tower, was erected in 1826 by the people of Cupar in memory of John Hope, 4th Earl of Hopetoun. There is a statue of John Hope outside the Royal Bank of Scotland building on St Andrews Square.
Some gravestones in St Fillan‘s church, which I used for some work in 2004. Even in 8 years, they’ve really weathered badly. Before long this kind of folk art from the 17th and 18th century will be gone.