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Scottish Singer, Songwriter and Author James Yorkston Chats To Skiddle
What should we expect from James Yorkston's gig this week? "A fully-clothed male singing songs both happy and sad in a carefree fashion. Probably be wearing a hat". Sounds good to us...
Date published: 15th Feb 2011
Jasmine Phull talks to the wandering Scot James Yorkston as he talks Fife, X-Factor and the perils of Spotify.
You don’t often hear of musicians who pen books, unless it’s the autobiography of a drug-fuelled past riddled with scandalous affairs and rock-star form - ghost written by another. So when you do, a furrowed brow comes all too naturally. But thankfully you can unwrinkle that nose, because James Yorkston is none of the above.
His tale ‘It’s Lovely to Be Here’ follows the journey of a wandering Scotsman on the road and on the stage. It’s full of prose and comedy, very much like his music. In fact this interview is very much like his diary-like release. It’s honest, self-effacing, a little bit cheeky and driven by one thing: music. Because struggle separates the men: ‘those who are happy driving for 200 miles to play shows to 155 people, turn around and drive 200 miles home again’ from the mice: those ‘who are happier having real lives and real jobs’. Or is it the other way round?
Your book ‘It’s Lovely to Be Here’ recently came out. What was your main goal when penning the diary-like release and did that change as you progressed?
My main goal was to finish the book, have fun writing it and hopefully for it to be entertaining to read. The goal never really changed. If anything, it got more focused. If it was ever proving a chore, or coming out dull, I’d leave it for a week or so until my batteries had recharged.
Would you do another?
I doubt I’d write another tour diary, no. Unless I suddenly started touring completely different countries – Asia, say, or Eastern Europe.
You’ve had nine releases and most have come out through Domino. What is it about the label that seems to fit with you?
They give me money to make records! I like that in them. No, in all seriousness, they let me get on with what I want to get on with, so long as I’m not taking the piss. A good label to be on. I recommend them to you all.
How did your home county of Fife foster your passion for music? What was the music scene like when you were growing up?
Not sure if it fostered it, but I guess Fife made music a precious thing, simply by its lack of availability. I had to travel for an hour or so to get to a decent record shop and for an hour more to see any decent music, so perhaps, yes, perhaps it did foster my passion for music, by making it unavailable and therefore longed for. The scene wasn’t great, really, until Fence came along. Before Fence it was disjointed, lots of crappo student bands playing Brown-Eyed Girl. No real focus.
How do you handle being on stage? Is it something you can ever get used to?
I’m ok now. Used to be nervous, not so much now. I do like to interact with the audience, yes.
How was the journey from the ‘beginning’ to ‘now’. Was it a natural progression; as simple as getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’ or was there hardship?
No, I struggled! Said ‘struggle’ does tend to put off all but the most committed, so perhaps the struggle is important in that it separates the people who are doing music because they enjoyed The Commitments but in real life are happier having real lives and real jobs from the people who are happy driving for 200 miles to play shows to 155 people, turn around and drive 200 miles home again, collapse into bed and do it all again next day.
The first album you bought?
20 Rock ‘n’ Roll Greatest Hits – Roy Orbison, Bill Haley, Bill Justis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc. A great record and one I still listen to.
Is there something that’s missing in the music industry scene that was there 10-15 years ago?
CD sales! CD sales have dropped so dramatically across the board. I was speaking to a man in the know yesterday and he told me that CDs are selling less than one twentieth of what they were fifteen years ago. You can maybe imagine, that as someone who makes his living selling said CDs, it makes it a lot harder to make a living as a musician. The money you get from iTunes / Spotify etc is so tiny it’s hardly worth bothering with. 100000 plays on Spotify gives you 2p or something daft.
Is there something in the music industry now that didn’t used to be there?
Yes, but I’m not sure what it is. A worry that everyone is going to go out of business except that X-Factor guy?
Your favourite track?
'The Briefing of Henry Chicken' by Pictish Trail
Which do you prefer: studio or stage time? Why?
I love them both equally. If I haven’t done one for a long time, that’s the one I want to do next. Music is good.
What should the crowd expect from your gigs?
A fully-clothed male singing songs both happy and sad in a carefree fashion. Probably be wearing a hat, maybe reading from a book.
One great - recently deceased - artist?
Bob Marley. His early music was amazing. The Lee Perry tracks are superb. Mr Brown a particular favourite. Oh – recently deceased? Erm – I liked the guy who played Father Ted. When he died I felt sad.