"Here's the next number," announces James Yorkston, studying a piece of paper: "Three hundred and fifty-eight." Few singers would draw the raffle mid-set, but it's entirely in character for a performer whose unassuming, natural rapport is at the heart of his appeal.
A member of the Fence Collective, a loose association of Scottish singer-songwriters based in Fife - among them King Creosote, Lone Pigeon and Pip Dylan - Yorkston is used to entertaining raucous but reverential pub audiences at their regular "Sunday Socials".
Today, performing solo with his acoustic guitar instead of his usual backing group, The Athletes, he's a long way from home. But his easy manner at the mic makes it seem as if we've all been transported from this smoky club in Kilburn to the Ship Tavern in Anstruther.
The burly Yorkston looks like the strong silent type. He certainly seems a man of few words from the biography on his website; it reads, in its entirety: "James is originally from Fife, but now lives in Edinburgh." But onstage, he's a genial, laid-back conversationalist with a deadpan wit - "I'm not going to call this my pre-raffle-ite number" - who reveals himself in his haunting, Celtic-flavoured songs. They eschew the storytelling style for a spare poetry, evoking romances set against a rugged backdrop of untamed nature .
Yorkston displays his spellbinding voice - rough at the edges, tender at the core - and a talent for picking out delicate melodies. The sea is a recurring image, as in "Shipwreckers", "Surf Song" and "Thar She Blows" by fellow Fence Collectivist HMS Ginafore, a tale of "lovers on the quay [who] place salty kisses where tears used to be".
His wit emerges in songs like "6.30 Is Just Way Too Early" and "Never Leave Home". There's a jauntiness to "I Spy Dogs" and a relaxed, almost jazzy mood to "Moving Up Country, Roaring the Gospel", the single that brought him to attention (under the pseudonym J Wright Presents) in 2000.
Having made his live debut by bluffing his way into a support slot with the legendary Bert Jansch, his career took off when he sent a copy of the demo to John Peel, who played it immediately, resulting in a record deal with Bad Jazz (prior to a move to Domino), and another to John Martyn, who offered him a support slot on his next nationwide tour.
With American troub-adours such as Bright Eyes and Devendra Banhart giving a contemporary twist to folk, it's good that the British Isles has found a distinctive voice of its own.Reuse content