XOYO’s relatively modest dimensions provide an ideal platform for James Yuill to work his magic, the new Old Street gig venue reporting a healthy audience for a singer-songwriter who does rather more than sing and play his guitar.
In fact Yuill is almost a walking nightclub, often kicking off songs with his acoustic guitar before moving on to virtuoso turns on keyboard, laptop, drums or effects – and all this in the process of offering his characteristically understated but nonetheless emotive vocals. The flexibility of his songs is beautifully revealed here in 12″ versions, spun out to six or seven minutes so that it we sit in front of an open fire one minute, then get hurled into the seething mass of a peak time Pacha dancefloor the next. That this often takes place in the course of the same song says much for Yuills ability to work a crowd, to know when to step on the accelerator or when to stand back and contemplate his existence.
As a result of this No Pins Allowed and If You Need Me are transformed from energetic radio songs to full on potential club anthems, the latter nodding firmly towards Daft Punk, while Sing Me A Song gains a riff Pete Tong would walk over hot coals to play. Yuills demeanour doesn’t change, amiably talking to the audience between songs, while his carefully studied approach means he stays in control of the mix at all times, the soft-centred vocals charming his audience.
Where the songwriting works so beautifully is in the way it combines forthright observations and vulnerability, often in the same sentence, so that they are often softly sung the lyrics penetrate the surface of even the most hard hearted listener. Warmest of all is This Sweet Love, the reverie casting a glow through the crowd. No Surprise runs it close, offering solace with its simple but effective line, “if you need me, I will be right here”.
Many a dreamy eye can be seen through the audience, and looking further down often reveals a pair of dancing feet, Yuill’s firmly planted drum beat teaming up with a well conceived light show to bring home the club sensibility of these songs. With natural charm at his disposal, he proves easy to like – a modern songwriter and performer in every sense, but one who cleverly evades categorisation. He deserves to be held in high regard.