There is a copy of singer James Yorkston’s book, It’s Lovely To Be Here: The Touring Diaries of a Scottish Gent, in our house. I know because I bought it as a birthday present for my flat mate, who says it’s very good. Unfortunately I haven’t borrowed it yet, mainly because my mighty pyramid of to-read books is so enormous it hurts my brain. Still, that didn’t stop me going to see Mr Yorkston talking about it with Ian Rankin at the book festival over the weekend.
It was a great event, the atmosphere was very friendly and there was cheery banter aplenty. After a brief overview of his new guitar (made from Tazmanian blackwood, spruce and Brazilian Rosewood), Rankin began by asking about Yorkston’s background.
He grew up in Fife and attended Madras college in St Andrews, a few years below Kenny (King Creosote) Anderson and amongst such luminaries as KT Tunstall and Steve Mason from The Beta Band. Listening to him describe his early years “dancing with my across the road neighbour, Vic Galloway (a BBC Scotland presenter and DJ) like dafties on the lawn,” it strikes me the East Neuk is overdue an Almost Famous style look at the music scene – there are so many artists compressed into that area it’s a bit ridiculous.
Apparently Yorkston wrote his first song at the age of 8, him on electric guitar and Galloway on banjo. “It went, baa baa goes the cow, moo moo goes the sheep, woof woof goes the hippopotamus and they all went to sleep.”
I felt exactly like Cameron Crowe as I typed that up, seriously. This could work.
“The Pictish Trail moved to Fife because of the Beta Band connection,” Yorkston continues, “and a lot of other people move there because of the music. I was recently outbid for a house in Cellardyke, and it turned out the people that got it were James Yorkston fans.”
Why don’t you have a nickname, asks Rankin. Everyone else in the Fence Collective does – The Pictish Trail is really called Johnny, King Creosote is Kenny… Why aren’t you King Peatbog Warrior or something?
The story, alas, is simply that Yorkston was a middle name, and because there was already a James Wright on his lawyer’s files he switched to avoid confusion. It seems this is the sort of straightforward response you might expect if you’ve read the book, which Rankin describes as a sort of anti-rock volume.
“It’s all about trying to find a Vegan meal in Dublin after 10 o’clock at night and stuff like that,” he says. “How did it come about?”
“I was asked to contribute to Loops, a book that Domino did with Faber. I was told I’d get £1 a word and that I could do up to 9,000 words, so you know, I went for it… it actually turned out to be 10p a word but that was still pretty good. And I loved the process; it was so different to writing songs, which is a lot more about compressing things. I loved the freedom it gave me.”
He went on to play a couple of brand new songs on the new guitar, one of which I think he said was called Keep Myself Out Of The Blues, but I didn’t catch the name of the other. There should hopefully be a new album next year so we’ll find out then…
When the questions are opened up the questions are mainly about touring. Yorkston admits he was terrible on the John Martyn tour in 2001 (“but I realised that although I was pretty bad, the world was going to keep on turning,”), that the worst vegan meal he ever had was somewhere near Gateshead, and that he did once get to the point where he wanted to pack in touring – and that an enforced year at home looking after his very ill daughter was what it took to get him back into it.
One audience member wants to know if he’s ever considered writing a novel, especially since he enjoyed writing his first book so much.
“You don’t want to do that,” says Rankin cheerfully.
“I’ve written a number of short stories,” Yorkston replies, “one is a number, right? No, I’ve done three, and I think you need ten for a book. I’ve sent them to my literary agent – I had to get an agent for the first book – and she says they’re good, so I’m hoping for a book of short stories. I was talking to an author in St Andrews about it and he told me I should write factual books because that’s where the money is, but I thought fuck that…”
“The trouble with short stories is that they aren’t necessarily the best way to get your stuff to an audience anymore,” Rankin suggests. “There used to be a much bigger audience for them on Radio 4 but that seems to be going now.”
“Actually I’m writing a novel about a detective,” Yorkston says, “called… Jeebus.”
That leaves the Fence biography wide open, then. Book fourteen sorted.