Prince Phillip in a Yoda mask and Yorkston’s female band members relabelled ‘ye pair e cunts’ is just some of the chat we get between songs at James Yorkston’s first major London gig since the release of I Am a Cat From a Book.
‘It’s a term of endearment in Scotland’, the Fife folky says, trying to squirm away from the dagger stares of Emma Smith and Sarah Scutt, who regularly appear by his side on violin and clarinet respectively. Emma’s playing is superb, as always; a mix of breathy bows, screechy squeals and beautiful arrangements, but Sarah is without clarinet tonight. It is missed – it always brings that little something special and different to Yorkston’s songs. Instead, she is taking most of the female vocals and, while a little quiet on some, her sweet tones partner with Yorkston’s voice wonderfully, especially towards the end of the set.
A James Yorkston gig is always a thing of beauty, whether in sticky-floored dive or picturesque church. Tonight, it’s in Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s Southbank, a venue with the stamp of ‘quality music for people who take folk seriously but never dance’ on it.
The sound inside is impeccable, as expected, and showcases Yorkston’s band perfectly. Yorkston always has fine taste in musicians and, tonight, Cinematic Orchestra percussionist Luke Flowers joins his troupe of ‘charming bozos’ along with Jon Thorne on double bass and John Ellis on piano. His drumming is just amazing, slicing jazz fills and even a solo into the soft and winding melodies. Yorkston always manages to tip his songs, lovely in the first place, that little bit further with his band and arrangements.
Tonight, the band play pretty much every song from the new album and more.
Opener ‘Catch’ is heart-breakingly fragile with the bass smoothly booming behind Yorskton’s acoustic picking while ‘Border Song’ verges on the raucous with its more manic vocals. ‘This Line Says’ and ‘The Fire and the Flame’ are dark and desperate - probably the two song that best represent the more solemn and melancholic tone of this album, influenced by Yorkston’s young daughter during a serious illness. ‘It’s not exactly first date music’, he says with a sly chuckle.
But ‘Just as Scared’ is sweet and light, the duo of Yorkston and Scutt’s vocals shining in their differences and ‘A Short Blues’ is just beautiful.
However, it’s not all about the new album. It’s lovely to hear where it all began with ‘Moving Up Country’, from Yorkston’s debut of the same name, reissued earlier this year to mark its tenth anniversary. And Yorkston delights his crowd with a dip into more of the back catalogue, including an almost forgotten, a capalla and charming version of ‘Tortoise Regrets Hare’ and a blinding ‘Midnight Feast’ from 2008’s When the Haar Rolls In. It just reminds us Yorkston fans how amazing that album is, the songs, maybe, just possibly, overshadowing his newest ones.
Words by Gemma Hampson