There’s something a wee bit strange about seeing a gig in a church. I grew up in a church-heavy town, and they make me think of boiled sweets and bibles and dusty Sunday afternoons. Seeing a folk gig in this kind of environment, I thought, might take the fun and passion out of the music and turn it into a bunch of old hymns.
I needn’t have worried, though. The atmosphere was convivial from the start; there was no bar, but the crowd wandered in clutching bottles of wine and beer, and as the hall filled out the atmosphere of gloomy churchiness disappeared.
The support act, The Waterson Family, leavened it even more by starting into a gorgeous cover of “Flight of the Pelican” by folk legend Lal Waterson. They played a solid set of sweet old-fashioned folk, enlivened with jazzy, music-hall vocals, but it all felt a bit disposable. Yorkston’s arrival on stage offered more substantial fare.
“This chary weather…these sun-locked days…”
Swoony, word-drunk songs about life and love are the norm on his albums, and he started with one of the best in the lovely Queen of Spain. Then he stopped and began to talk. Singer-songwriters are traditionally known as a dour, moody breed, but I’d have bought a ticket just to listen to James Yorkston chat. He’d have been a stand-up comedian in another life; he banters with the crowd, he reads extracts from his upcoming book, one involving an obscene anecdote about Adrian Crowley.
And of course the music is beautiful- he sings Shipwreckers to an audience absolutely hushed, as his shadow dances along the back wall. He sings Tortoise Regrets Hare a capella, almost spoken word, emphasizing the lyricism of his songwriting. And then he finishes and smiles and the crowd smile back. This is what’s most refreshing about James Yorkston- his songs are sad, but he doesn’t wallow- he knows the next laugh is always coming, and soon.