JAMES YORKSTON

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  • Charlie McKeon
  • The Matt Barton Band
Mellowtone @ The Magnet 15/12/16

A set of songs about life in the city start the evening off, as THE MATT BARTON BAND open up with a healthy brace of Northern folk pop songs, loaded to the brim with characters and dryly-observed wit. It’s a counterpoint that contrasts well with both the night’s headliner and CHARLIE MCKEON, who brings a gentle approach to his main support slot. Based around some of the best folk guitar to be found anywhere in the city, McKeon’s set varies between traditional Appalachian ballads – such as the much-covered Americana standard John Hardy – and his own quirky folk offerings like I’m Going To Join An Army.

Poor JAMES YORKSTON. After having his last show for Mellowtone in Leaf disturbed and disrupted by a particularly loud open mic night a couple of years back, they’d promised him, and him them, that this appearance at The Magnet as part of his Christmas tour would make up for it. But as he takes to the stage in front of a crowd seated around candlelit tables on the Magnet dancefloor, it becomes clear that he thought he’d spend the next hour and a half struggling to find his voice, and reaching to find that warm and natural burr with which we’re all so familiar. One thing Yorkston’s writing depends on is the space and silences he creates as part of the rich and instinctive storytelling style. Regardless, stoicism would be the order of this particularly pleasant performance, and he pulls himself through with typical and strong sense of warm Caledonian humour, and the sheer strength of his intuitive songwriting.

He really needn’t have worried. The entire room is enveloped in the very palm of his hand throughout, hanging on every word, every gentle fingerpicked guitar melody, every lyrical twist, and even every cough. If anything, the slight (and in truth, it was really only slight) crack in the vocal only serves to add depth and drama to these beguiling songs of love, life and longing. The audience sits almost hypnotic in attention, drawn in by the tales held in old favourites such as Shipwreckers, or Broken Wave, a haunting depiction of the pain in the loss of a close friend, in Yorkston’s case that of Doogie Paul, his best mate and bass player. Anyone who’s experienced such a visceral, burning, and all-encompassing pain can relate: the ‘if only’s, the need for more time, and the dreadful and absolute finality of the goodbye. The room is left stunned by its beauty, and his devoted and distraught performance, as the song’s final notes seem to hang in the air long after they’ve faded into a deep silence.

We find in James Yorkston, on that cold winter’s evening, the warm charm, and self-deprecating humour of a performer, wide-eyed with wonder and appreciation at the reception he receives from a dedicated and committed roomful of music lovers, more family than fans, guests at a party more than mere gig lovers, such is the intimacy of the songs, the room, and the many happy moments he brings.

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