James Yorkston’s joy at getting tae sup with great musicians

James Yorkston
James Yorkston

Fife folk singer James Yorkston is returning to Kirkcaldy with a new set of his gig nights – ‘Tae Sup Wi’ A Fifer’.

The hugely popular evenings have been a feature on the bill at the Adam Smith Theatre for the last three years, offering a varied and intriguing evening of music and spoken word, all chosen and curated by James himself.

The East Neuk native is as busy as ever. As well as working on a third novel he recently released two albums with musicians Jon Thorne and Suhail Yusuf Khan. Now working on new solo music with producer David Ranch, he said there was a big difference between the two.

“Working as a solo act everything goes on your shoulders and you have to take the highs and lows that come with it.

“Working as a trio you can come off stage and you’ve got someone to hug and you can talk about the gig. You’ve got people to laugh with at the airports and it’s more fun, less stressful and in a way it’s more rewarding.

“But somehow I always go back to the solo stuff.”

James will be back in the Lang Toun in May for the first of the three upcoming shows and said he had never expected it to be an ongoing event when he started in 2015.

“I didn’t know what it was going to be,” he admitted, “with the first lot I was just offered three shows and as a music fan it was an amazing thing.

“Growing up in the East Neuk of Fife there was never that much music coming through when I was young, so I now had the chance to bring in these people.

“For the very first lot of shows there was Dick Gaughan. I’d only ever seen him play once before, Sheena Wellington I knew from primary school and then there was Richard Dawson. It was just a chance to get to see them playing a show.”

James said that working as a touring musician means that you don’t always get the chance to see a show yourself.

“When you’re out playing the only music you get to see live are your support acts. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re not and sometimes you miss them altogether.

“As a musician I love music so these shows gave me a chance to sit down and enjoy the music.”

Perhaps the biggest name to come to one of the shows so far was Phil Selway, the drummer from Radiohead. James admits it was a real coup in booking him.

“He’s a nice guy. He is a fan of my music so that’s how I got to know him.

“We made contact and he supported me at some shows down in London and he’s just a very sweet guy.

“You could imagine that being one of the main members of the biggest band in the world could turn you into an eejit, but he’s not like that at all.

“I asked him if he would come to Kirkcaldy and he said he’d love to do it.”

This time around the name that most people would recognise is arguably comedian Phill Jupitus who James said was “totally up for doing the show” when asked.

“For me he’s a big name and a very amusing fellow and I’m over the moon that he’s doing ‘Tae Sup Wi’ A Fifer’, but the guy I’m most excited about is Michael Hurley.

“He’s one of my all-time favourite musicians.

“He was recording for Folkways Records in the late 1960s and I’ve been listening to his music for 20 years or so.

“He so rarely comes over to the UK and I’ve helped set up a tour for him and one of the reasons I was able to do that is ‘Tae Sup Wi’ A Fifer’, so I was able to offer him a reasonable fee.

“He’s in his 70s now and it’s a real chance for anyone who’s a fan of old-time Americana to hear a true original and a great songwriter.

“And I think that Michael being on the bill was one of the things that attracted Phill as well.

“He’s a massive music fan, it’s one of his passions, so when he saw who we had lined up he knew he was going to be on the bill alongside two great acts.”

James says he was also thrilled to secure Carl Stone, an experimental musician from America.

“He’s a very well respected Chicago musician who was doing sampling in the early 70s.

“He was forerunner of the whole electronica scene and we’re bringing in a surround sound system for him so that should be a really amazing show.

“He rarely plays the UK so this may be the only chance you’ll get to see him in Scotland for a long time.

“He had one show on down in London so I got in touch with his agent and said do you think he’d be interested in coming to Scotland and they said yeah.

“So I booked him thinking that everyone would know who Carl Stone is...and they don’t! But I’m delighted. Carl Stone – ya beauty!”

Putting together the shows requires a lot of hard work but James said that he still finds it “incredibly exciting” despite the dreaded admin involved.

“I mean, you do have to send off lots of emails and although Creative Scotland fund it, I can’t offer full band fees.

“When Linton Kwesi Johnson came up and did a talk. It was sold out and it was amazing, but there’s no way I could have afforded his band.

“So I have to try and get the spirit of the evening over to people and tell them that it’s one of the good shows on the circuit.

“As a touring musician myself I know that when you land at a good show, when you’re comfortable and treated well, when the rider’s all there, when the sound is good and you get a personal feeling, it’s really welcoming.

“So with ‘Tae Sup...’ I try to make it as welcoming and personable as I can and that means, when people like Linton come up, hopefully they’ll go away thinking, yeah, that was a really good show and as I was valued.”

As well as compering, James will also play some of his own songs, having left them out of the show for a while.

“At the beginning I used to play two or three songs at the start of the show, but then I thought that it was maybe a bit egotistical, so I stopped playing and then people came up and were asking why!

“So now I try and do two or three at the beginning as well as being the compere. I stand at the entrance and welcome everyone in, I introduce the acts during the show, then I hang around backstage making sure everyone’s cool and friendly.

“I sell their merchandise then I take them out for a meal.

“I do a bit of everything – it’s quite exhausting actually!”

Despite his tiring schedule, James says the highs are worth it.

“The reward for me is to be able to sit at the side of the stage, up close, and watch these incredible musicians.

“When you see someone who you usually associate with having a band, like Steve Mason or King Creosote, stripped down and just singing their songs with a guitar or accordion or whatever, for me as a music fan, that’s what I love.

“It’s the stripped down nature of things.”

• The first of the ‘Tae Sup Wi A Fifer’ shows on Friday, May 18 will kick off with Ian McMillan, writer, broadcaster and presenter of BBC Radio 3’s The Verb, along with folk singer Grace Petrie and one of the finest voices of the Scottish alt-folk and indie scene, Withered Hand AKA Dan Wilson.

Saturday, June 16 welcomes the hugely influential American alt-folk music legend Michael Hurley in a very rare UK appearance, who is joined by comedian, actor, performance poet, cartoonist and podcaster - not to mention ‘Never Mind The Buzzcocks’ team captain – Phill Jupitus, along with classically-trained Siobhan Wilson who combines indie pop with a tinge of folk.

The final night on Saturday, July 14 will present a rare show by one of the founders of experimental American music, Carl Stone, the folk-tinged electronic Scots act The Pictish Trail and traditional Irish singer and traveller Thomas McCarthy.

Tickets cost £15 from the Adam Smith Box Office, calling 01592-583302 or online at onfife.com.