By Robert Freeman
September 24, 2012
Permanently becaptacled James Yorkston writes interesting and strange songs that weave the personal with the anecdotal, oral tradition*, and so-called ‘tall tales.’ Yorkston is a product of his environment, fashioning beautiful pop music out of the landscape of the sea, the mist and the tides. As a live act he succeeds in balancing the sombre and personal with an irreverence and humour that is truly endearing.
Yorkston has been known to wrong-foot interviewers by claiming roots in Scottish punk (pre-Fence) but to be fair watching him live one is reminded of the kind of gestures and onstage presence of a much more aggressive artist. Ditching support band The Atheletes due to ‘unsavoury reasons’ (awkward), Yorkston is supported tonight by live stalwarts and co-recorders (Emma, Sarah and John ‘with the big teeth’). Although down on the old Queen Liz tonight, the band acts as a harness to his ramshackle, folk(ish) back catalogue. Drums are beat-perfect with scalpel precision, the harmonies float around the hall and a violin rasps and scrapes against Yorkston’s delicate vocals. When he’s not nodding back and forth, guitar in hand, Yorkston walks around like a happy cat, treading back and forth and bobbing up and down on his heels.
Despite at times seeming to act as a disparate bunch, eyes clouding, staring at the floor and jamming (if one can refer to a violin/cello combo as ‘jamming’**) at different speeds, the band’s reins are never loosened. Each instrument dances round the other, and it is partly this mixture of chord and dischord, fast/slow, up/down that is so well suited to Yorkston and his canon (six albums and a decade in, we can call it a ‘canon’).
It’s not the Hebridean stories from the sea (“your cat [...] climbed up and slept on my chest, she rose and she fell with my breathing like a sea bird riding a wave”) that causes the sniffles from the audience though, and Emma Smith’s violin soaring over Yorkston’s delicate voice and careful finger-picking, he could be singing about a three for two offer in the Co-Op and there’d still be tears***. We are treated to several bangers from the previous albums – an acoustic ‘Steady As She Goes’, ‘Us Late Travellers’ and a breathy (sinister) rendition of ‘Tortoise Regrets Hare’. The band finish where he began with a cracking rendition of ‘Moving Up Country’, before exiting stage left.* Don’t call him ‘folk,’ though. He’ll deck you. ** One can. *** ‘Woozy with a 2-4-1 four-pack of Blackthorn’? Argh. Help.