Music Interviews

Interview: James Yorkston



Edinburgh-based singer/songwriter James Yorkston’s music leans towards acoustic folk that has something of a timeless quality to it.

Yorkston is supported by his group The Athletes and their second full-length album, Just Beyond The River – produced by label-mate Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) – is just about to be released.

musicOMH caught up with Yorkston on one of his frequent trips to London to discuss his influences…

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James Yorkston was introduced to music at the age of eight, so was it what he always wanted to do?

“Absolutely – I always wanted to be involved in music. My first contact was through what my parents played – Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison. I grew up with a guy who’s one of my best friends, and he bought a banjo. We started copying the music we heard from his dad’s rock ‘n’ roll collection.”

As far as musical influences go, Yorkston immediately mentions Anna Briggs:

“She has a great way of expressing things, very pure and simple. I try and enter that purity in my music. I’m also heavily into Nick Drake, Lal Watson and Jacques Brel. I don’t try to copy them but I think what they do is brilliant.”

“I’d say it’s good singer / songwriter stuff with traditional influences.”
– Acoustic folkie James Yorkston describes his own music in rather, erm, general terms.

When asked to describe his own music Yorkston starts off easily enough but then gets more complex.

“I’d say it’s good singer / songwriter stuff with traditional influences. Not Scottish influences as such, but from stuff like Planxty, a traditional Irish band. I also take a lot from Madagascan music, and especially D’Gary – probably more him than anything else actually.”

Both of Yorkston’s albums – Moving Up Country and Just Beyond The River – have featured his cohorts The Athletes, and where the latter was produced by Four Tet, the former was recorded with the help of Cocteau Twins producer Simon Raymonde. Regarding future collaborations, Yorkston says:

“I’d like to do an album with King Creosote – he’s an incredibly talented guy. Mind you, I’m not really one for trying to work with my idols, as I’m not really sure as to what I could do for their music. I couldn’t really add anything to Michael Hurley for instance, but I know Creosote would add a lot to my music.”

“I hated the mud and the crowds.”
– James Yorkston on visiting Glastonbury. At last – someone tells the truth!

James was scheduled to appear on the T On The Fringe bill in Edinburgh recently, but when asked about T In The Park, he emphatically states:

“I’m not interested in that at all. I don’t like festivals, although having said that I went to Glastonbury this year but I hated the mud and the crowds.”

Yorkston comes across as very much a man for the smaller, intimate venues, and this is reflected by his tour schedule in October and November. He is particularly looking forward to the Ireland dates, where he declares to “feeling really comfortable – the audiences are really friendly.”

He’s also had a track (St Patrick) used in the recent Fabriclive compilation from Aim, proclaiming himself…

“… absolutely comfortable rubbing shoulders with rap and hip hop. Aim was maybe going to do a remix of the tune, but ended up putting it in just as it was. I’ve not heard the compilation yet – in fact I’m going to buy it today! St Patrick comes across as representing my music. If you like that then Just Beyond The River will definitely appeal.”

“I like playing live but it has to be… to people who have the right approach towards the music.”
– James Yorkston evidently likes to choose his audiences, not the other way round.

Although Yorkston is now with the indie favourite record label Domino, he is still “very much in touch” with Fence music, the label that gave him the platform he needed.

“I’ve just played a five day music festival with The Concretes, which was very exciting. I like playing live but it has to be in the right environment, to people who have the right approach towards the music.”

The new album promises more of the same, and James pronounces himself to be “very happy” with the style he’s arrived at, seeing no reason to change it.

These are exciting times then for Yorkston, who looks forward to a busy autumn and his album. If all goes to plan, it should be a winter of content for the Scotsman and his followers.


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More on James Yorkston
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James Yorkston – The Cellardyke Recording And Wassailing Society
James Yorkston – I Was A Cat From A Book
James Yorkston & The Big Eyes Family Players – Folk Songs
James Yorkston @ St Giles-in-the-fields, London