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James Yorkston is a leading light of new British folk music, or “nu-folk”, to use the faintly absurd label attached to it.
Edinburgh- based, he grew up in Fife in Scotland and is a member of a loosely knit group of nu- folkies, the Fence Collective, who perform under strange names such as King Creosote and are centred on a coastal town in Fife.
If the idea of a Scottish folk collective conjures images of earnest, unsmiling musicians playing music as musty as their corduroys, Yorkston’s appearance at this fancy-dress-themed concert will have come as a shock.
Clad in a garish orientalist ensemble meant to resemble that of Fu Manchu, he looked like a glam rocker doing panto, not a singer/songwriter whose music tends towards understatement and melancholy.
The dissonance between his attire and his music soon faded, however. There was nothing flashy about the songs – Yorkston’s acoustic guitar-playing was undemonstrative and the fiddler, accordionist and bass player who accompanied him were seldom foregrounded – but they possessed a quiet, insistent power.
His recent album The Year of the Leopard is preoccupied with images of summer: its melodies are as languid as a long Scottish summer’s day, yet tinged with regret too.
On these and tracks from earlier albums, Yorkston’s vocals were as restrained as his guitar-picking: it was telling that his voice was stretched out of shape when attempting the livelier vocals of a traditional folk song.
The charm of Yorkston’s music is its unfussy yet entrancing nature. That’s its drawback too: the lack of variation became wearying during a two- hour set, and I began to yearn for greater input from the fiddler and the accordionist.
Perhaps a smidgen of the flamboyance of Yorkston’s outfit would have helped. The songs were hypnotic but they had a soporific side too. ★★★☆☆