An Evening with James Yorkston, The Pictish Trail and Withered Hand



Mitchell Library

28th January

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Three chairs from the Mitchell Library offices/canteen and three upright guitars upon a stage where a thick air conditioning fog clouded the room for tonight’s performance by three of Scotland’s most vital singer/songwriters.

James Yorkston, a vital cog in Fife’s Fence Collective which has bestowed the likes of KT Tunstall and the Beta Band among others, was joined by fellow Fence veterans, the sensational Johnny Lynch aka The Pictish Trail, and east-coast troubadour Dan Willson aka Withered Hand. Tonight’s performance involved all three artists sat on stage together chewing the fat between delivering their songs and generally poking fun at one another. It was a camaraderie that warmed the audience quickly to their hosts, especially after being blown in by Storm Gertrude.

Opening, Willson’s “Life Of Doubt” was assisted by Yorkston on harmonica as the sell-out crowd dashed in to take their seats. A gentle beginning to proceedings followed Yorkston’s ‘When The Haar Rolls In’ single “Tortoise Regrets Hare” and the beautiful Lynch track “I Don’t Know Where To Begin” letting the audience get a feel for what lay ahead of them. In signature-bobble hat, the Pictish Trail’s playful manner entirely warps the seriousness of each performer’s songs, and the laughter which accompanies each joke or tale prevents the night from becoming stifled or overly-heavy. While Willson and Yorkston opt for some of their earliest work (“Cornflake” / “Shipwreckers”) at the beginning of the gig, Lynch introduces new song “Believe Me, I Know” which was co-written with Glasgow musician Jo Mango and released only a fortnight ago as a nod to his carbon footprint on the music circuit.

Not to be outdone, Willson’s “California” is a stunning ode to “cough medicine abuse” and at times leans into sounding like the Blue Oyster Cult at their apex. Willson only appear on my radar last summer during a Neu! Reekie! tour which visited a church in Helensburgh and despite a fairly-late start to music (Willson only began playing guitar aged 30), he has flourished to become one of BBC Radio 6’s favourite psych-folk acts. Spending around 90% of the gig perched on the very last few centimetres of his seat, it was clear that Willson hugely enjoyed the repertoire between his fellow performers, and revelled in playing the “straight man” during periods of the gig.

As competent as Willson was strumming his guitar, it was Lynch who bolstered energy levels, often dipping into electronic accompaniments which were prevalent on his side-project Silver Columns back in 2010. Fulfilling his “George Michael dreams”, the Pictish Trail used his full smorgasbord of musical adeptness to deliver “Fargo”, a quite brilliant synth-fuelled, electronic bass-packed punch of a song accompanied by Yorkston running his bow on the nyckelharpa and Willson gently strumming underneath. After such haunting contemporary song, Willson showed off his dry wit on the piercing “Religious Songs” – perhaps the only song you will ever hear which references masturbating on a futon. Another huge highlight followed in the shape of Yorkston’s “Broken Wave (A Blues For Doogie)” which was dedicated to Yorkston’s former bassist Doogie Paul who passed away in 2012.  This was a quite beautiful number which, for all the tomfoolery and drinking on stage, could be seen to be most heartfelt and sincere in lyrics such as:

Withered Hand.JPG“I promise I will remember you

as a man full of life

and not this broken wave”.

As familiarised as fans of Yorkston may be with his dabbling in electronic producers such as Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) on 2004 album ‘Just Beyond The River’ and Hot Chip frontman Alexis Taylor on 2014’s ‘The Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society’, it was still somewhat bewildering to hear his song “The Queen of Spain” being melded in with Lynch’s “Fresh Prince of Kingsbarns” and some robot-dancing by Willson. It was a moment of great fun which again made fun of the intensity of each songwriters’ supposed personalities, and demonstrated the good-natured humour of these three talents.

The penultimate song of the night was provided by Lynch, a cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, which was requested by Lynch “not to be sang along to as it puts me off”. The audience obliged by leaving the man from the Isle of Eigg to deliver a wonderful acoustic version on Yorkston’s guitar after accidentally damaging his own minutes earlier.  It was left to Willson to close the evening with lead single “Horseshoe” from his most recent album ‘New Gods’, which includes the poetic line “Please don’t put a shadow on her lung”.

The three friends exited the stage leaving their Glasgow audience to face the storm battering the walls of the library and the numerous cancellations on the rail network home, and if Yorkston got his way, a few woolly hats and t-shirts from the merchandise stall to wrap up in. 

Reviewer : Stephen Watt


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