Sound & Vision with James Yorkston

Across a near 20 year career, Scottish singer/songwriter, James Yorkston, has – while never crossing over into the general public’s conscious – picked up a somewhat cult status. He’s revered by the likes of Jarvis Cocker, John Peel and Beth Orton. He’s worked worked with Simon Raymonde, Rustin Man, Alexis Taylor and Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet. His debut album even won Rough Trade’s Album of the Year in 2002.

Earlier this year, Yorkston released his latest solo LP, The Route To The Harmonium, and it’s fair to say it’s been an almost ever present on our turntables ever since. This week, he sets off a mammoth UK tour, and we caught up with the singer/songwriter to find out what provides his inspiration.

Here are James Yorkston’s Sound & Vision picks:

Three of my favourite albums:

Orchestra Baobab – Pirate’s Choice

Can – Tago Mago

Planxty – The Well Below the Valley

When I began my original band, James Yorkston and the Athletes, the idea was that we’d sound somewhere between these three bands. It kinda worked, on occasion, but probably only in my imagination. We got called ‘folk’, which surprised me. It still surprises me, to be honest. Folk, to me, means traditional folk music, not some guy with an acoustic guitar doing Erasure covers, which is what I was and pretty much still am.

A favourite book:

Secret Chambers and Hiding Places by Allan Pea. My youngest child has become obsessed by the thought of priest holes and this is a book we’ve been reading together. We have a first edition – from 1904. The book is written in quite a salacious way, not so much a historical tome, more a Penny Dreadful sort of thing, but my son loves reading about these poor souls who were hiding in cramped, damp cracks in the big ol’ houses of England. A fair few were left to die, mostly by starvation, as their hosts were taken away and questioned. These particularly unlucky fellows were only discovered later – sometimes centuries later, as the houses were being renovated, or collapsed. We’ve visited a few places, but there’s not so many in Scotland. Maybe this summer we’ll do a wee tour.

Two of my favourite films:

I don’t see too many films these days. We only have council tele and there’s no cinema of any great worth nearby. When I lived in Edinburgh it was different; there were two great wee places – The Cameo and The Filmhouse – right on my doorstep. I guess a favourite film from those days would be Breathless, or Le Petit Soldat – the obvious Jean-Luc Godard stuff. They were great films to watch on a Wednesday afternoon, wander in, completely unaware of what I was going to see, pay my £1 and sit down. Fine times.

A song that’s really important to me:

People have to stop using digital recording – layer upon layer upon layer, it just sounds awful, and it’s so uncomfortable to listen to. When something comes onto the radio with that horrible, clean digital sound it fair depresses me. Of course, when it’s used well, it’s unnoticeable and fine, but there are so many bands out there overloading their songs with flappy wee noises because they forgot to write a chorus. Stop it, bands. An important song? Karen by the Go-Betweens. I don’t know anything else by them, but this song is the King of the World.

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