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Malcolm Middleton’s living the Fife life

Living the Fife life (in Anstruther)

By • Feb 8th, 2019 • Category: Feature

My call takes Malcolm Middleton by surprise – he’s engrossed, selecting Hallowe’en costumes.

“For my son,” he points out. And no, he’s not in a shop, forced to go online for his fancy dress needs, now he lives in Fife’s relatively remote East Neuk.

The Anstruther and Cellardyke coast sounds quite the alternative artist hub, with even Phill Jupitus moving in of late, while Middleton has been mistaken in the street for ginger-bearded folkie James Yorkston, who he’ll bump into on the school run, along with King Creosote, who appears on Middleton’s new LP.

“There might be a big scene going on I’m not aware of,” he jokes, “as I’m pretty antisocial.”

Are his new surroundings not helping him shake off his ‘miserablist’ reputation?

“I’ve lived in the East Neuk since 2012,” he points out, adding, tongue-in-cheek: ”Can’t you tell the songs are gradually getting happier?”

“Visit Anstruther, you won’t feel any better,” he offers as a slogan which may not be picked up by the local tourist board. “No, I do love living by the sea,” he adds. That’s miles better.

So does the new record again touch on his state of mind? Why ‘Bananas’?

“Why not?” he retorts. “It’s my seventh album, what am I going to call it… and who cares?

“Bananas also can mean ‘crazy’ sometimes,” he continues, “so it sums up some of the stuff on the record – it’s a bit light but also can get a bit dark.”

The album’s cover harks back to a classic, Warhol-designed sleeve. “It’s twice as good as the Velvet Underground,” he laughs, before confiding the real answer. “A year or so ago I started sketching. You don’t find new things that make you happy very often,” he adds wryly.

“One of the first few things I drew were these two bananas and I was happy with it so I thought… ‘album cover!’”

Which makes for a good-sized canvas for this artwork, having previously worked with Turner Prize nominee David Shrigley on ‘Words and Music’, also released in a 12” sleeve.

“I know not everyone’s got a record player, but this album it was all about making a thing that sounds good and looks good.”

And it does indeed sound great, falling somewhere between his acoustic work and the beats-heavy ‘Summer of 13’ – and quite far removed from his Human Don’t Be Angry instrumental project which he promises more from, hopefully next year.

He may also work again with Arab Strap cohort Aidan Moffat – the two are sending each other ideas, with “tentative plans” for a record, though not necessarily under the Strap banner. “Maybe ‘Middleton and Moffat’” he offers. Not the other way round? “I’m sure Aidan would think so…” he pauses. “It should probably be alphabetical, though…”

The usually scatological Strap lyricist triumphantly declared his own recent release with RM Hubbert as being ‘swear free’. However, Middleton’s ‘Bananas’ contains just three songs suitable for the airwaves.

“Aidan was never the clean cut one,” he laughs. “I wasn’t wanting to make a grand album to get played everywhere, it was just the way it came out.”

At this point we’re interrupted by the doorbell – a delivery – and then it’s time for one last question – who is he going as?

“I’m not dressing up,” he insists with comic exasperation in his voice – his wife being unable to persuade him beyond taxi duties. It transpires that his guising days are over. “My earliest memory of Hallowe’en is winning first prize when my mum made me into a ketchup bottle from crepe paper… I lunged to pick up my prize and ripped the costume to pieces!”

So that’s it – he’s quit when he was ahead?

He ponders. “I could put my hat on and go as James Yorkston…”

n ‘Bananas is out now – more at malcolmmiddleton.com

This article originally appeared in the St. Andrews Citizen.

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