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James Yorkston

Born 1971 in Kingsbarns, Fife, JAMES YORKSTON began his musical explorations at the tender age of eight when he made his own entertainment with a pal named Mike. Influenced by the songwriting talents of such eclectic artists as ANNE BRIGGS, DICK GAUGHAN and The BHUNDU BOYS, James flitted to Edinburgh with his girlfriend (when they were seventeen). He remained a vital part of the city’s thriving folk music scene supporting such acts as BERT JANSCH and JOHN MARTYN (the latter eventually invited him on a 30-date support tour) as well as bassist for the city’s noisekins HUCKLEBERRY.
YORKSTON eventually left the group (“I was going deaf…”, he once commented) to pursue his own adventures in Hi-Fi; a demo tape was passed through industry hands until it finally landed on the desk of seminal Radio One DJ John Peel. The man played selected tracks from the tape live on air, which resulted in Bad Jazz issuing the single `Moving Up Country, Roaring The Gospel’ (split with Scottish cult hero LONE PIGEON) to critical acclaim in 2001.
Folky and very hushed, YORKSTON had a lot in common with fellow Scots APPENDIX OUT (aka ALASDAIR ROBERTS); backing band members Faisal, Reuben, Doogie Paul, Sun-Li and Holly exemplifying the WILL OLDHAM/PALACE factor. A proper signing with Domino was on the cards, with himself and his/The Athletes issuing seminal `The Lang Toun’ single in 2002, complete with a complementary remix by none other than Keiran Hebden (of FOUR TET).
`St. Patrick’ was issued months later as a warm-up to his debut set MOVING UP COUNTRY (2002) {*7}, a placid and very emotive introduction. Contained within were the aforementioned singles as well as a few surprises that thwarted the notion that YORKSTON was just another “Scottish folk singer”; the record also featured Fence Collective alumni LONE PIGEON and co-producer KING CREOSOTE/Kenny Anderson.
Tours supporting LAMBCHOP, The DIVINE COMEDY and GEMMA HAYES were rounded off by album number two. Produced by the aforementioned Hebden, JUST BEYOND THE RIVER (2004) {*7} was another critical success for the group, the fragility and tenderness on the likes of `Heron’, `Hermitage’ and the excellent `Hotel’ offset with two trad ballads `Edward’ and `The Snow It Melts The Soonest’.
Credited to JAMES YORKSTON solo, THE YEAR OF THE LEOPARD (2006) {*7} was his warmest offering to date, `Steady As She Goes’ and `Summer Song’ probably the best on show; WHEN THE HAAR ROLLS IN (2008) {*7} now rooted in tradition, comprising the excellent LAL WATERSON dirge `Midnight Feast’. Teaming up with Sheffield collective The BIG EYES FAMILY PLAYERS, FOLK SONGS (2009) {*6} was an interesting addition to YORKSTON’s musical CV, this time around he gets to grips with an entire set of sourced material from `Hills Of Greenmoor’ to `Little Musgrave’ and `Low Down In The Broom’.
On the back of a book, “It’s Lovely To Be Here: The Touring Diaries Of A Scottish Gent” (published by Domino Press in 2011), and a union with The FRUIT TREE FOUNDATION, James’s first album for three years, I WAS A CAT FROM A BOOK (2012) {*7}, was released. Boasting players, Jon Thorne on double bass and The CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA’s Luke Flowers, plus chanteuses Kathryn Williams (for `Kath With Rhodes’) and Jill O’Sullivan (for `Just As Scared’), the brooding YORKSTON sounds like a pensive GORKY’S ZYGOTIC MYNCI doing NICK DRAKE. Whether it was down to ambience of the familiar Bryn Derwen Studios in Wales or his daughter’s recent illness, the man from Fife stirred up a thoughtful and graceful set of songs; stay to the end for `I Can Take All This’. Sadly, a couple of months later, the Athletes’ double-bassist Doogie Paul died from cancer; he was only 40.
On the back of a set released a year earlier (`My Yoke Is Heavy: The Songs Of Daniel Johnson’), 2014’s THE CELLARDYKE RECORDING AND WASSAILING SOCIETY {*8} brought together Fence Collective alumni The PICTISH TRAIL and other Fife worthies, including KT TUNSTALL on harmonies; HOT CHIP’s Alexis Taylor was at the controls. At times narrative-like-COHEN (example `The Blues You Sang’, `Guy Fawkes’ Signature’ and opener `Fellow Man’), others exercising a degree of contemplation (`Feathers Are Falling’ and `Great Ghosts’ standing out from the pack), YORKSTON deserved to be taken outside his Scottish comfort zone. America, are you listening?
A demos LP, THE DEMONSTRATIONS OF THE CRAWS (2015) {*6}, was probably not the catalyst, that would surely come within time.
An artist held in high esteem by his contemporaries such as ALASDAIR ROBERTS, ROBIN WILLIAMSON and the author Ian Rankin, James adopted a World Music/roots approach on the collaborative YORKSTON/THORNE/KHAN album, EVERYTHING SACRED (2016) {*8}. Jon Thorne, a long-time bassist with Manchester’s LAMB and Suhail Yusuf Khan, a sarangi player and vocalist with New Delhi’s ADVAITA, the heavenly triumvirate pulled off something akin to “a meeting-by-the-river” of The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND and V.M. BHATT (examples `Song For Thirza’ and epic star track `Knochentanz’); another Scots twist arriving in the shape of IVOR CUTLER’s semi-comical `Little Black Buzzer’.
© MC Strong 2003-2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Aug2013-Jan2016

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