A Scottish folk singer with a literary bent and unconventional approach, singer, songwriter, and author James Yorkston emerged out of Fife's burgeoning indie scene in the early 2000s as part of the Fence Collective, an eclectic but like-minded creative alliance that also included King Creosote, the Beta Band, and KT Tunstall among its ranks.
Early appearances supporting U.K. folk icons like Bert Jansch and John Martyn led to a long-running contract with Domino, for which he produced career standouts like 2004's Just Beyond the River and 2008's When the Haar Rolls In. The following decade, Yorkston's output became increasingly more cerebral in tone, with unique releases like 2014's Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society and a pair of minimalist trio albums he recorded with English bassist Jon Thorne and Indian sarangi player Suhail Yusuf Khan. Having already published a touring memoir, he branched out into fiction writing with his 2016 debut novel, 3 Craws, before returning to the studio for 2019's exploratory The Route to the Harmonium.
Born in Kingsbarns, a small village in Fife, Yorkston began playing music at a young age, eventually moving to Edinburgh with his girlfriend at the age of 17. Around this time, he became involved with a garage rock and punk band called Huckleberry, with whom he recorded a handful of records. In 1996, he performed his first acoustic solo show after a friend working in a record shop picked him as an opening act for Bert Jansch in Edinburgh. Although still passionate about the punk scene, he ultimately chose the folk route and, following Huckleberry's demise in the late '90s, returned to Fife and became involved with the Fence Collective, founded by Kenny Anderson of King Creosote.
In 2000, under the name "J. Wright Presents," Yorkston recorded a demo tape at home and sent it to John Peel, who quickly championed the song on his program. Yorkston also sent a tape to John Martyn, requesting an opening slot on his Edinburgh show. Martyn invited Yorkston to be his opening act for all 30 dates. "Moving Up Country" was released as a single in 2001 on Bad Jazz Records. Following a split single with the Lone Pigeon and the St. Patrick EP, he delivered his debut album, Moving Up Country, under the name James Yorkston & the Athletes in the summer of 2002 via Domino. The Someplace Simple EP appeared in December 2003. In February 2004, Yorkston and his group hit the studio with producer Kieran Hebden of Four Tet. The results were released in late 2004 as Just Beyond the River on Domino. The following year, the Spanish label Houston Records issued the EP Hoopoe, which included five new songs, and in 2007, Yorkston's third full-length, The Year of the Leopard, came out in the U.S. (it had already hit British shelves the previous fall). Arriving in 2008, When the Haar Rolls In was a confident follow-up, and Yorkston joined forces with Sheffield's Big Eyes Family Players in 2009 to produce an album of traditional material simply titled Folk Songs.
Yorkston's canon has always betrayed a literary slant and, fittingly, he published the memoir, It's Lovely to Be Here: The Touring Diaries of a Scottish Gent, in 2011. The following year saw the release of I Was a Cat from a Book, his first album of self-penned material in four years, and The Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society -- recorded in London with Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip on production duties -- arrived in summer 2014. A limited-edition collection of Yorkston's demos from the Cellardyke sessions was released by Domino under the title The Demonstrations of the Craws in 2015. In addition to writing his debut novel, he also began working with jazz bassist Jon Thorne and Indian sarangi player Suhail Yusuf Khan, and this newly minted trio recorded an experimental folk album called Everything Sacred under the name Yorkston/Thorne/Khan. Both that album and his novel, Three Craws, arrived in early 2016. A year later, Yorkston/Thorne/Khan delivered their follow-up LP, Neuk Wight Delhi All-Stars. Yorkston spent time touring the album's over the next year, before settling back into his own writing process. For his ninth album, and his first solo release since 2015, Yorkston retreated to the small village of Cellardyke on the East coast of Scotland with producer David Wrench. The resulting release, Route to the Harmonium, which found Yorkston musing on life and death, was issued at the beginning of 2019. ~ Jason MacNeil, Rovi