With hindsight, the most endearing qualities of James Yorkston’s music have always hinted at a literary future. His songwriting is graceful, patient and precise. His best work is at once powerful and serene. He calls on a range of traditional influences, from folk music to literature, but rarely sounds anything but original. So whilst there are plenty of potentially great writers within the Domino stable, it’s no surprise that Yorkston’s debut is the first release on their Domino Press. From the outset, it’s clear that he has accepted the opportunity with both hands: It’s Lovely To Be Here, is a charming and witty account of life on the road.
Publishing a touring diary is a brave move. The arts pages are littered with harrowing tales of isolation and frustration. Touring is rarely painted in a flattering light: often either descending into debauchery or disconcerting monotony. Yorkston avoids old clichés by accepting touring for what it is. Instead of getting bogged down in boredom, he reflects on and subsequently relates the humdrum and minutiae of everyday life, much like a Kurt Wagner song. The book is laced with observational humour and a dry, sardonic wit. He can at times be abrasive and dour and his writing is often ‘matter-of-fact’, but it’s never whiney or melodramatic. He drinks heavily whilst on tour, but that isn’t the overriding theme. What we have, is one man’s search for routine and normality in the most transient existence known to man, which turns out to be more interesting than you might think.
The chapters aren’t chronological. Yorkston flits between time spent from 2004-2009 in Ireland, London, North America and Europe, but patterns emerge across locations and in the end, you get the impression that he is waging personal battles all over the world. The reader becomes engrossed in his quest for decent vegan food, his valium-fuelled struggle with aerophobia, his discomfort with being labeled a ‘folk musician’. There is nothing revelatory here; this isn’t designed to impact à la Kurt Cobain’s Journals, but it seems all the realer for that. Yorkston is a musician – a writer – we can relate to. Over the course of the extracts, we can sense small changes in character, depicted in the occasional stylistic shift in prose, or through anecdotal evidence (a fine example being his warming relationship with American touring partners).
The Fence Collective alumnus comes across as amiable and thoughtful. His musings on literature project an intelligent, well-read figure, whilst some of his deeds betray altruism in contrast to the dour Scottishness portrayed in others. From his careful consideration of cassettes and demos thrust into his hands after chance encounters with barmen, to him taking a photographer shopping for a gift after a particularly long and arduous graveyard shoot in Berlin; there’s a warmth to Yorkston that not even corrosive life in motion can erode.
For Yorkston’s fans, this book is essential reading. His accounts of various gigs across the world offer interesting insights to his own version of his performances; quite possibly at odds with your own. For the casual listener, even, this will make for an interesting, light read. James Yorkston should be commended for having the bravery to explore territory that in the wrong hands, would undoubtedly leave the read cold: a sterling effort.
Written for The Line of Best Fit