Scottish folk songwriter, DIY record label founder and organiser of the rather splendid Howling' Fling Festival, Johnny Lynch used to hate London. But that's all changed now and he's preparing to trek from his home on the tiny island of Eigg in the Inner Hebrides to the capital to perform with Sweet Baboo on 4 December. We asked the Moshi Moshi-signed artist to tell us about his favourite places for getting a taste of Scotland, so far from home. This was his response:
When I step off the train onto the platform at King's Cross, guitar case in one hand, unsturdy trolley bag in the other, with an overpacked rucksack heaving down on my shoulders, I am filled with an irrepressible surge of dread. I love London, but its hustle and bustle are always quite intimidating. Upon arrival, this sense of unease is usually compounded while waiting in the taxi rank, by the aggravating squawk of an American tourist: “OHHH MY GAWWWD, are you in a band? Do you play The Beatles?”
(This happens alarmingly often, dear reader).
There’s no getting away from it — London is the centre of all things 'music industry'. As a musician, and someone who runs a record label (yes, even a small DIY one), every so often, I have to be here. There’s no escaping it. I used to utterly loathe the place... but now I’m a bit more familiar with it, and I know where I need to go in order to feel at home.
Home, normally, is a static caravan on the Isle of Eigg, a small island located in the Inner Hebrides. I’ve lived there for almost five years now. It’s great. With a population of about 87 people, Eigg is quite different from London, as I’m sure you can imagine. However, I’m a cosmopolitan crofter. I’ve been to Dundee. I know what a city looks and smells like.
In fact, if I’m in London, and I ever get a hankering for the feel of Dundee on a Saturday night, easyHotel on Old Street fulfils most of my needs. Basic accommodation at Scottish prices. Plus, there's the lingering aroma of fried meat, spilling out from the bevy of kebab shops in the vicinity. I’m sold. Genuinely, easyHotel is one of the only reasons I can afford to come to London, and so I’m truly grateful for it. They’re always very friendly there, too.
In terms of gigs, I used to play regularly at The Luminaire in Kilburn, because the owner, Andy Inglis — a fellow Scot, from Grangemouth — would supply an (un)healthy amount of Tunnocks Tea Cakes on the rider. What a lovely man. Sadly, I must have eaten them out of business, as it closed almost four years ago, its windows boarded up with the shiny wrappers. Gasp. These days I play in places like the Purcell Rooms at the Southbank Centre, because it has good air conditioning, clean toilets and lots of space to move around. Like Scotland.
Like all Scots, I enjoy a good curry. And by ‘enjoy’ I mean ‘wolf’. There’s no better wolfing-ground than down at Rasa on Church Street in Stoke Newington. They have so many pickles and chutneys and other tangy accompaniments — for someone with a sweet tooth like me, it is food bliss. I’m having to mop my drool-sodden beard just thinking about it. Aaahh-wooooooh!
Er... I know he’s not Scottish, but Sam Smith makes great beer. I’m not talking about Sam Smith the chubby pop star. I mean Samuel Smith the brewer, and there’s a good Sam Smith's pub called The Angel, on St Giles High Street. I once saw Ade Edmonson drinking lager in there with Phill Jupitus, years ago. True story. The Angel reminds me of Scotland, cos Ade Edmondson came to Eigg to film a TV show last year, and I told him that true story about seeing him drinking lager in there with Phill Jupitus. He looked at me, and then turned his head towards the heavens, and smiled. I think he likes to reminisce about drinking lager. As do I.
OK, that was another tenuous Scottish link. I’m struggling to think of Scottish places in London. Actually, I’m struggling to think of Scottish activities I enjoy doing. Drinking whisky? It turns me into a lunatic. Playing the bagpipes? No thanks. Tossing the caber? Well, I’ll do that in the privacy of my easyHotel room if it’s all the same to you. I don’t really have any Scottish friends in London, any more. Everyone left with Gordon Brown, and then the place got riotously expensive. OH, LONDON.
I guess, for the most part, I’m happy with London not being Scotland. I met my partner in London, and now she’s a farmer on Eigg. We come down to London a couple of times a year, together, for all the spoils that the big city offers. Great coffee from Albion in Shoreditch, scoffing mixed Menemen at Café Z Bar in Dalston, scouring the best selection of records in the world from Rough Trade East, and gorging on tasty bits of pig's ballsack at St John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields. Actually, that place probably nicked the idea of eating off-cuts of animal genitalia from one of our haggis recipes, so I guess that is quite a Scottish activity.
Pictish Trail & Sweet Baboo, 4 December, 7.45pm, Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall, tickets are £13.50, available from the website.