Tuesday, December 8, 2015
Coast to Coast
At the De La Warr Pavilion last night, on a mild but typically breezy winter evening, the air of the eastern seaboard of the British Isles washed in to meet the southern coast of England. Record shop and music promoters, Music’s Not Dead, treated Bexhill to their final gig of the year with Fife’s James Yorkston, and his moving modern folk and self-deprecating anecdotes, supported by Lincolnshire’s Elle Osborne and her more traditional songs.
Osborne and Yorkston are both products of collectives: Osborne is part of the Nest Collective, a London-based network promoting musicians and events formed in response to the resurgence in folk music in the early part of the 21st century. Yorkston was a one-time member of the Fence Collective, the name given to musicians who were associated with Fence Records, an independent record label based in the coastal town of Anstruther and Cellardyke. A stellar roster of musicians were connected to Fence: KT Tunstall, Rozi Plain, The Pictish Trail and King Creosote who, in his more prosaic identity of Kenny Anderson, founded the label in 1997.
Fence Records no longer exists, but many of the acts can be found on other independent labels, primarily Lost Map and Domino. It is Domino Records that have released most of Yorkston’s albums and caused him to wear his “funky dude jumper”, last night. So named by his youngest child, it chimed with an early meeting Yorkston had with a Domino exec who wrote down a single word on her pad: “funky.” When he saw “Domino x 4” on last night’s guest list (they weren’t there), he felt there was only one garment to wear.
If that anecdote seems digressive, it is because it is typical of Yorkston’s rambling between-songs stories. There are tales of agoraphobia, recurring smoke alarms and a farcical episode, involving a painted-shut window and a pigeon in a Birmingham hotel room, that is worthy of inclusion in Lucky Jim. It almost seems as if there are as many stories as songs; but when he is singing, it is with all the poignancy and tenderness of the music I have been listening to for the past year on 2014’s The Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society album.
The beautiful Broken Wave (A Blues For Doogie), about the death of a friend and musician, is followed by Fellow Man, a song that Yorkston says began as advice to his son - “my fear is I may transfer my fears to you” - but ended up somewhere else - “I’m full of love for my fellow man.” Yorkston says that he would like to write songs about the terrible mess of the world but feels that others seem to do it so much better. As an example, he then performs a heartrending version of Eric Bogle’s anti-war ballad, The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.
Earlier in the evening, Elle Osborne had opened her set with an arrangement of another heart-breaking song, the traditional ballad, Annachie Gordon. Osborne was born to the folk tradition: her ancestors were fishing folk from Yorkshire and Suffolk who latterly congregated on Humberside and, when the fishing industry declined in the 1970s, came ashore and became folk singers. She taught herself to play the fiddle, growing up on Lincolnshire’s North Sea coast steeped in folk music. Everything sung by the people is folk music, she told us - football chants, hymns, carols – and, as if to underline the point, she sang a festive folk song, In The Bleak Midwinter, which the audience joined in with.