A new venture for Domino Records sees the venerable old indie branching out into the world of book publishing. Far from a step into the complete unknown however, Domino's first book comes from the perennially underrated singer-songwriter, James Yorkston. Although this is the first book by either, party the project had precedent in the joint publication (with Faber) of Loops, a journal as 'a space for artists to publish tour diaries, non-sequiturs and think-pieces and an opportunity for writers to stretch out and go off-map to share their thoughts and ideas.'
One 'artist' was, of course, Yorkston; his contribution, a diary of his 2004 tour of Ireland, forming the first chapter of this book. Subsequently having penned further pieces he approached Faber tentatively: 'This may be the last thing you want to hear but I’ve written some more'. This self-deprecation is typical of Yorkston's sense of humour and being of the natural, as opposed to fishing-for-compliments, variety never wears thin despite its constant presence. The decision to write the 'diaries' in proper prose has also reaped dividends, for Yorkston has an evocative, but never precious, way with words. It is in his descriptions of people whom he encounters that he most excels as a writer such as his New York hotel neighbours: 'Herman Munster (without the make-up) looking man with a pet brick (really) to one side and a very small transsexual – I'm guessing – dressed as Marilyn Monroe to the other'.
Without delving into travel guide territory, Yorkston typically gives his tuppence worth on each city, but in pragmatic terms. He bemoans the transition of the Dublin he knew as a child into 'another shiny city with identikit shops and identikit silver cars...' which '...makes travelling less interesting', but acknowledges the consolation of a 'suspiciously scented Subway sandwich or, some Marks & Spencer drawers' in each town.
I doubt anybody expects the touring diaries of a 40-year-old married-with-kid 'folk musician' to involve leaving a trail of havoc in his wake, although naturally alcohol - mainly wheat beer and malt whisky - plays a supporting role. On the hand other this is no woe-is-me diary of a lonesome traveller. Through his travels, alone or in company, and with the other usual baggage that goes with tours such (press interviews, radio sessions etc.) Yorkston fills us in on the details in a manner that is often matter-of-fact, but coloured with his dry sense of humour, observational insight and, most importantly of all, honesty.
It remains a light and enjoyable read throughout, because even when we see Yorkston's less virtuous side, we can laugh as we recognise traits which many of us have, especially exacerbated when travelling. There are times when he comes across as antisociable, such as when a friendly older passenger on a flight to Norway takes Yorkston's statement that he's no celebrity as accusation that he was only speaking to him because he thought he might be famous, bringing their conversation to an abrupt end. For Yorkston this is 'Job done. Albeit unintentionally'. Then there's James Yorkston the Complete Misanthrope, declaring the entire clientèle of a busy pre-Christmas London pub as '...a bunch of wanks'.
However, there are also moments of mundane joy, be it a post-gig drink in Boston with strangers from Tyneside or the two man tour of Ireland with Adrian Crowley in a car that looks like a gold Postman Pat van. Oddly, apart from the aforementioned Crowley, Yorkston tends to avoid naming acts he shares a bill. This is a shame from a purely nosy standpoint as it'd be nice to know who the American tourmates who played 'relaxed funky pop with a Robert Smith vocal' are. (Disclaimer: I did do a brief, none too probing Google search in vain). Perhaps Yorkston has just forgotten who they were, as a times he casts himself as lost lamb amidst all the bluster and skewed routines of touring, with a propensity for forgetting the names of acquaintances and sleeping in before interviews and radio sessions. The real constants throughout his tours, however, are the valium popping that makes air travel that bit more bearable and the search for vegan food in every town, which in themselves provide a inner structure of sorts in the absence of chronology.
Although unlikely to be challenging the likes of Keith Richards in best-sellers charts, it will come as no surprise for those fully familiar with the subtlety and honesty of his musical output that James Yorkston's writings provide more insight and humour in their coverage of five tours than most musicians could manage in a whole ghost-written life story.
8Neil Ashman's Score