The Pictish Trail is a man of unexpected talents. The energy behind Fence Records, the success of the label often obscures his own work. A natural comic, his easy-going charm is matched by tender, often heartbreaking material. Bashful, downplaying his own ability he might just have made his best record to date.
Oh, and he’s not folk. Not really.
Traipsing down to the Dalston Victoria, it’s slightly surreal to find the Fife wordsmith performing in one of East London’s real up and coming venues. Essentially the back room of a traditional boozer, the stage is high enough to keep the band in focus, close enough to allow a real sense of intimacy to blossom.
Withered Hand are on first and – if the last remaining snippets which we were able to catch were anything to go by – then the Edinburgh collective are on typically inspiring form.
Eagleowl have played both support and backing band to The Pictish Trail on this tour, and their brand of idiosyncratic indie rock takes a little getting used to. Of course, the self-deprecating charm does help while their slowly evolving brand of songcraft really gets under your skin. Dark without drifting into noir territories, there’s a subtle, graceful charm.
Which leads us to The Pictish Trail. Real name Johnny Lynch, the songwriter has been making music for almost a decade and conspiring behind the Fence veil for just as long. But new album ‘Secret Soundz Vol. 2’ could well be his finest collection yet, and Lynch is clearly in a buoyant mood when he takes the stage.
Echoing a familiar Scottish greeting, he leers at the crowd: “Ye dancing?” To be met swiftly with an unexpected chorus of: “Ye askin?” Clearly, Glasgow isn’t as far away as we thought.
Opening with a number of soft ballads, Lynch is backed only with an acoustic guitar and the occasional flourish of samples. Allowing his voice free reign, it’s clear what a moving singer The Pictish Trail can be; soothing in part, hoarse in others it’s the perfect foil for some of the bracingly autobiographical material on his new album.
The introduction of Eagleowl allows the songwriter to hit a new gear, however. A supple, liquid ensemble the band expand on the material – managing to both flesh out Lynch’s songcraft and allow the singer more space to breath. It’s here that Johnny Lynch’s influences become most apparent. Retreating to acoustic for an encore of sorts, Eagleowl return for an epic tear through ‘Master & Servants’ by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy.
Because, of course, The Pictish Trail isn’t folk. Not really. It’s an apt choice – the autobiographical material on ‘Secret Soundz Vol. 2’ echoes the approach of American artists such as Will Oldham, Bill Callahan et al but filters this through a Scottish mindset. Screaming out the lyrics, you still get the impression that Johnny Lynch is teasing us, poking fun at our expense.
But then as we said: he’s a man of unexpected talents.
Words by Robin Murray
I've Been Set Upon (solo acoustic)
Going Down To The Water (solo acoustic)
Winter Home Disco
I Don't Know Where To Begin
I Will Pour It Down
The Handstand Crowd
Words Fail Me Now
The Lighthouse (solo acoustic)
Master & Everyone (Bonnie 'Prince' Billy cover)