James Yorkston, Luminaire, London

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

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. ★★★☆☆

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.