Features - Interviews

Wassailing Away: An Interview with James Yorkston

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Just before James Yorkston began his tour around Ireland to celebrate the release of his latest album The Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society, Deirdre O’Brien caught up with the softly spoken Scotsman to discuss everything from his very content life of simple domesticity to working with KT Tunstall and the recording process that lead to such an intimate sounding record.

The talent of James Yorkston really is something special to behold and the talent of the singer/songwriter/author/artist is so impressive; every album you listen to of his, every gig you attend feels like you’ve been made privy to a well kept secret that is always on the verge of being exposed on a grander scale.

My first experience of the singer’s talents was attending a gig of his in a small venue in Dublin several years ago and the awed silence of the crowd the whole way through, along with Yorkston’s kindness and likeability – at one point inviting a random member of the audience to duet with him – was something I remembered for a long time and is still one of my all time favourite gigs.

The strongest feeling you get from the whopping 16-track record is of unbelievable contentment; of a man who is happy with his lot and even manages to turn times of sadness into something optimistic.

Family life is clearly what inspired The Cellardyke Recording And Wassailing Society (CRAWS) as Yorkston tells me: “Life is my main influence and life at the moment is my family and living where I live and it’s always been my main influence. I’ve never been one to write about dragons!”

One of Yorkston’s greatest strengths lyrically is making poetry out of life’s simplicities which has always lended a raw and personal feeling to all of his records and this album is no exception, as Yorkston explains “I’ve never been that good with the political stuff. I tend to just stay close to home and things have been going on here and I tend to look forward to things with optimism and hope and that’s what I was trying to get across with the feel of this album; and also a very relaxed feeling too.”

The choice of recording studio which had one relatively small room that just seemed perfect; the people he chose to record the album with and the nature of that recording turned out to be a perfect combination. With such a small group of people recording this album over a very short time you feel in a way that you are listening to a session of music with a group of close friends – albeit a very well produced one. The team on board for CRAWS included The Pictish Trail, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor- who produced the record after Yorkston’s left all producing duties aside for the first time; and KT Tunstall who sings on 13 out of the 16 tracks.

When asked about his collaboration with Tunstall, Yorkston enthuses about the talent of the fellow Scot: “I wanted to work with KT for a long time. She probably would have been on it even more but she lost her voice four days.” Even at that though Tunstall’s voice is a very important part of what makes this record special throughout and their voices blend together perfectly, with KT’s sweet harmonies a perfect complement to Yorkston’s rawer vocal style.

It’s clear from both listening to the record and from how Yorkston speaks about the whole process that the recording of this album was an extremely intimate and enjoyable process, overflowing with talent. In fact, Yorkston tells me, “The plan was to have more of other people’s voices but it ended up being an embarrassment of riches because they all had such fantastic voices and there was also the problem of the fact that most of the songs were about narratives and if all of a sudden somebody else comes in and sings them it puts them in a completely different place. I think we covered as much as we could have done but I had hoped for more.”

If the result of CRAWS left Yorkston hoping for more I can only imagine what the musician has in store next and, since this is album number eight for him and he’s already setting up a home studio for demoing album number nine, I can only imagine what treats the Scottish singer has in store next.

James Yorkston is touring Ireland this week starting off on September 18 at Cork’s Cyprus Avenue, then on to Cleere’s of Kilkenny Friday September 19, Workman’s Club, Dublin Saturday September 20th and the Irish tour ends on Sunday September 21st at the Roisin Dubh Galway. If you get a chance, treat yourself to seeing Yorkston live. You won’t be disappointed. Deirdre O’Brien

The Cellardyke Recording And Wassailing Society is out now on CD and Vinyl through Domino Records.

is a freelance music writer from Dublin.