James Yorkston

TrackAlbum
Tender To The BluesMoving Up Country
Moving Up CountryMoving Up Country
Lowlands AwayJust Beyond The River
Us Late TravellersThe Year Of The Leopard
Steady As She GoesThe Year Of The Leopard
Queen Of SpainWhen The Haar Rolls In
Kath With RhodesI Was A Cat From A Book
This Line SaysI Was A Cat From A Book
Feathers Are FallingThe Cellardyke Recording And Wassailing Society
EmbersThe Cellardyke Recording And Wassailing Society

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Contributor: David Tanner

James Yorkston has been releasing music for around 15 years now, originally via the Fence Collective coming out of the same Fife music scene that also gave us The Beta Band, KT Tunstall, King Creosote and The Pictish Trail, though signing to Domino Records for major releases.

Most of the Fence material is nigh on impossible to obtain unless you bought it at the time, so I’m restricting myself to the Domino releases which are all widely available.

James Yorkston is usually described as a folk singer, however it’s not quite as simple as that. His songs are infused with traditional music from all over Britain and Ireland and specifically his local Fife landscape. But his producers include Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, Rustin’ Man (Paul Webb, ex-Talk Talk bassist), Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) and Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins). So lush musical textures coupled to poetical lyrics are very important in his work and push the boundaries of folk songs, especially when mixed with his love of Planxty on the one hand, and Can and Faust on the other!

“Yorkston’s influences are extensive and, at present, his sound resembles a union between Krautrock pioneers Can and legendarily hirsute folk trailblazers Planxty. Two of the greatest bands of all time. ‘I spent a lot of time in Ireland as a kid and when you’d go to the pub, music would be playing. So it reminds me of my childhood, it’s like an atmosphere, a time travel. And that’s what has fired my exploration of folk and traditional music from Britain and Ireland. There’s a correlation between the drone of Krautrock and the drone of a lot of traditional music. For me, it’s all music.'” Colm McAuliffe interview with James Yorkston for DIY magazine

Much of his music has a melancholy edge to it, with few uptempo numbers in his repertoire and his last album in particular was strewn with songs about the death of a friend, the double bass player with James Yorkston & the Athletes, Doogie Paul.

In March 2011, The Domino Press published Yorkston’s debut book, “It’s Lovely To Be Here: The Touring Diaries of a Scottish Gent”, a hilarious account of solo touring and the never-ending search for a vegan meal in a strange town.

The first James Yorkston & the Athletes album, Moving Up Country (2002), was recorded in none too ideal conditions in a freezing cottage near Hawick in the Scottish borders, but it set the template for all future Yorkston recordings.

Tender To The Blues starts out with washes of ambient keyboard sounds before an acoustic guitar and accordion sketch out the song’s chord sequence and James sings about a failed relationship:

But I’m no fool, my heart is just exposed
I’m just weathering the flows
And I’m not the man you thought, I suppose
you leave me tender to the blues

Moving Up Country, Roaring The Gospel is the first song I ever heard by Yorkston so it will always be a favourite of mine, with its mournful harmonica refrain and boozy lyrics.

Lowlands Away featured on Fearsome Fairytale Lovers, a bonus EP issued with the second Domino album Just Beyond The River. It’s a version of an old folk song covered by many other artists.

Steady As She Goes, from The Year Of The Leopard (2006), is a lovely tale of a summer romance:

Your sister was always trouble,
your sister she was not shy at all

Us Late Travellers is a beautiful song, possibly my favourite of all his songs; a song that’s barely there as it drifts by.

From the wonderful When The Haar Rolls In (2008), I’m picking Queen Of Spain, with its superb backing vocals and violin from Emma Smith, a regular collaborator and a highlight of this butterfly tale.

the changing of the hour brought winter ever closer
we set ourselves adrift we say goodbye to summer

On Kath With Rhodes, from I Was A Cat From A Book (2012), James himself plays some atmospheric Fender Rhodes in a duet with the always excellent Kathryn Williams.

Also from this album, This Line Says, and a spooky string arrangement gives this track an edgy claustrophobic feel.

Feathers Are Falling and Embers are from the latest album, The Cellardyke Recording And Wassailing Society, and are both about Doogie Paul, Yorkston’s friend and musical colleague, who died of cancer in 2012 aged 40. Almost unbearably poignant songs, beautiful lyrics and tunes, with Embers being a stunning duet with Johnny Lynch, aka The Pictish Trail.

James Yorkston official website

James Yorkston on Domino Records

Fence Collective on BBC TV’s Culture Show

Moving Up Country (on YouTube)

Queen Of Spain (on YouTube)

Feathers Are Falling (on YouTube)

Embers (on YouTube)

James Yorkston biography (iTunes)

David Tanner hails originally from South Wales and spent 40 years working as a librarian – the last 30 in Yorkshire – and is now happily retired in France. There are not many music genres he doesn’t like and he’s never stopped seeking out good music. Always another unknown band around the corner! He writes about music and random culture at Other Formats Are Available.

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