Sunday, May 27, 2007

James Yorkston & The Athletes/ Martin Carthy @ The Union Chapel, 24 May 2007


James Yorkston doesn’t play gospel music. At least not the last time I heard. But his new album is called Roaring the Gospel, and this gig by James and his sometime backing band The Athletes at The Union Chapel in Islington was advertised under the same title. Cue a misunderstanding about the word 'gospel'. It turned out that the older couple behind my friend and I had thought that it was a gospel concert! Maybe it’s a fair assumption to make. The gig was in a church after all. But put two and two together and there’s a potential recipe for disappointment.


Before we found this out, we had been treated to a set by English folk legend Martin Carthy. If any of the many indie kids in the audience thought that James Yorkston was folk music, Carthy is the real deal. I mean, his songs are hundreds of years old. He doesn’t even write his own songs (actually, he ‘fesses up to have written two – one of which is a 25-year old song about The Falklands War which he played as his last number). Rather he’s a collector, performer, and perhaps most importantly a preserver of centuries of English folk tradition. Although modern folk has a definite pop sensibility (a few verses, chorus, about four minutes long) these songs don’t. They have about 42 verses and you have to actually listen to the lyrics as Martin sings them. It’s storytelling really. I had to teach myself to listen a bit differently to him, and it was worth it. A musical education, if anything.


Last time I saw James Yorkston he was alone on stage with his acoustic guitar and harmonica and it was magical. Tonight he’s accompanied by regular Athletes Reuben Taylor on accordion and keyboards and Doogie Paul on double bass. He also has unusual extras in the shape of a violin and a clarinet player. James’ songs actually don’t need filling out – they sound wonderful enough stripped down on their own. But fleshed out with other instruments, they still sound wonderful. Just different.

It’s a bit of a greatest hits set. There’s no new stuff. Everything he plays has been released before. Yorkston has selected in almost equal measure, highlights from across his three excellent albums, plus a few rarities. Which is fitting because Roaring the Gospel is a collection of said rarities. The best of these is his pre-encore closer The Lang Toun – his first limited release on Domino, and a full 10 minutes of folk-blues workout which I haven’t heard him play in years. It’s great and it comes at the end of an amazing gig in which James and the band have clearly enjoyed themselves playing to a capacity crowd. And even although he apologises to his mum that his banter’s not up to the usual standard, he’s still on form, with his dry wit shining through. He even fits a few lines of Amy Winehouse’s Rehab into the closing bars of The Lang Toun.

With such a strong back catalogue, brilliant musicians and such a beautiful venue (surely much better than the “black hole with chewing gum on the walls” they had played the previous night in Newcastle), the evening’s greatness was inevitable. I loved it and my friend (who wasn't so familiar with James Yorkston) loved it. And the gospel-confused couple behind us? It might not what they were expecting, but they totally loved it too.

Download: James Yorkston – Woozy With Cider (Jon Hopkins remix)

This is one of many versions and remixes of this track. I heard it played live for the first time on Thursday, and it was a lot of fun, mainly because James kept forgetting the words and ad libbing, with wry references to both the recent out-of-date-food-in-supermarkets scandal and his own refusal to have his songs in a butter ad (he’s a vegan).

Download: James Yorkston & The Athletes – The Lang Toun

This original and best.

Download: J Wright Presents – Moving Up Country, Roaring the Gospel
Download: J Wright Presents – Are You Coming Home Tonight?

This was Yorkston’s alter ego before he signed to Domino and started using his own name. It’s the original version of the track which gave its name to both his first and forthcoming albums. Plus the b-side from the Bad Jazz 7 inch.

See more of my photos at my Flickr.


2 comments:

mld said...

I really regret not getting tickets for this... stupid stupid mistake!! I've become marginally obsessed with the "Woozy With Cider" track and its many remixes.

eddyb said...

Yeah it was a great gig, his music really suited the chapel venue. Thanks for introducing me to James Yorkston!