Wassailing with James Yorkston

James Yorkston. Photo:- Steve Gullick

James Yorkston. Photo:- Steve Gullick

SCOTTISH SINGER-songwriter James Yorkston makes a welcome return to the Róisín Dubh on Sunday September 21 at 9pm, arriving on the crest of a wave, following rave reviews for his latest album, The Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society.

The album is full of intimate, reflective, and moving songs on life, love, loss, family and friendship as well as evoking the seaside village of Cellardyke where Yorkston lives. It is undoubtedly one of Yorkston’s finest albums to date.

“I’m pretty happy with it,” he admits over a morning phone call. “It’s a good feeling when you’re eight albums in, that you can still feel you’re producing something worthwhile and still got something new to say, and can do new things.”

Before chatting further about the album I venture to ask James where he stands on the imminent Scottish referendum.

“I’m voting for independence,” he replies. “I’ll be in Ireland when the vote is on so I’ve just sent in my postal vote now. There’s a whole heap of reasons why, but dissatisfaction with Westminster and the political elite, is the main one. To see the way the NHS is being slowly sold off to people who are paying the politicians, it’s really sad and just shows that you cannot trust these people.”

The album, which also features KT Tunstall and The Pictish Trail, is produced by Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip ), and it is the first time Yorkston has not self- or co-produced one of his own releases.

“One reason was that I just didn’t have the time to produce the record myself,” he explains. “The ones I’ve done myself have taken a long, long, time in my wee studio building the songs, arranging all the parts, playing most of the parts, they take ages. The other one was that I just thought maybe after all this time, keeping a strong hold on my records, trying not to let them be steered into funk-metal or whatever, maybe I should let somebody else go ahead with it.

“I’ve always liked what Alexis does and I’ve always liked him as a person so he was an ideal choice. He’s not just interested in dance music, he’s interested in music from all over. I knew he wasn’t going to turn it into a Pet Shop Boys record, though I love the Pet Shop Boys and if he had them there I wouldn’t have minded!”

One of the album’s stand-out tracks is ‘Broken Wave (a blues for Doogie )’, a beautiful elegy for Yorkston’s longtime friend and double bassist Doogie Paul who passed away from cancer in 2012. Paul’s presence informs several other songs on the album.

“Doogie started playing with me about six months before my first album, Moving Up Country, was recorded,” Yorkston reflects. “We played all over Ireland together, including numerous times in Galway, and all over the UK and Europe. I make a living from my music and can support my family and I’m forever grateful for that, but pretty much when you’re touring at this level you’re stuck together in a wee van and you get to know people pretty well! Unless you’re a musician it’s kind of impossible to understand how you’d do something this daft for a living.

“I had that massive long bond with Doogie, playing with him for 12/13 years, touring with him, drinking with him, fighting with him, arguing with him. With ‘Broken Wave’ we knew he was on the way out, it was written the last time I saw him alive which was the afternoon before he died. I’d been in touch with him a lot throughout, because my family has been touched by cancer so I knew the language. When he’d mention the names of his drugs I knew what he was talking about and could talk to him about all that. It was very sad to see him go.”

While ‘Broken Wave’ captures the sorrow of loss, ‘Fellow Man’ and ‘King Of The Moles’ express the joys of kinship and contentment.

“That’s not just because of Doogie,” Yorkston observes, “but some other things that happened here really made me aware that you have to take those moments in life when you can be happy. You have to live life with a slightly more relaxed heart and more optimism because we’ll all be gone a long time so that’s why those more optimistic songs made it on, trying to think of the positives and of the future rather than live in the past.”

With 16 songs, CRAWS clocks in at about an hour, making it Yorkston’s longest album yet.

“I had written 10 or 12 songs in the space of three weeks before I went into the studio then I suddenly wrote a lot more,” Yorkston explains. “I sent them down to Alexis and he said ‘These are amazing, we’ve got to do these’.

“When I presented Domino with the album there were initially nine songs on it and they said ‘This is great James’ and I said ‘Well I’ve got some B-sides and stuff if you want to do some EPs’. I sent them the other seven songs and they said ‘These are the best! We can’t be putting these on an EP.’

“All of my albums have been about 45 minutes and I just thought ‘Why not have one that’s longer, no harm will come of it.’ I like to start each new project with a clean slate. I didn’t want any songs hanging around as if they weren’t good enough for CRAW but they’d do for the next, I didn’t want anything like that.”

The album concludes with a cover of ‘You and Your Sister’ by Big Star’s Chris Bell. Yorkston reveals that he first came to the song via a Scottish connection.

“I was brought up in a small, isolated, community and when people got records you’d listen to them over and over and over,” he says. “One record we had was by This Mortal Coil and it had a cover of ‘You and Your Sister’ I always loved, I listened to it and listened to it in my teens. When we were mixing CRAWS, there’s only so much for me to do at that stage, there’s a lot of technical stuff I don’t need to be there for. So I was in another part of the studio, there was a grand piano there, and I started playing and just started singing that song. I thought it sounded really nice so I put my phone on top of the piano and recorded it on my phone.

“When I sent the seven final tracks to Domino that was one of them and Mark, the head of Domino, said ‘This is great, you’ve got to put this on, it sounds amazing.’ I was happy to put it on, it reminds me of bootleg demos, like Lal Waterson she did a great version of the song and I’ve always loved that so I thought if it’s good enough for her then it’s good enough for me.”

Tickets are available at www.roisindubh.net, the Ticket Desk at OMG Zhivago, Shop Street, and The Róisín Dubh.

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