Why I Love: Skinny Lister on James Yorkston

Shanty punk is the term they use to tag Skinny Lister. Whatever you want to call it, an evening at a Skinny Lister gig is nothing less than a joyous celebration with copious amounts of rum passed around the front rows and beyond in a stone flagon. Their second album, Down On Deptford Broadway, is about to celebrate its fifth anniversary with a nice re-issue on Xtra Mile Records (our review here). We’ve been fans since they trod the boards at Bury Met in 2012 and we’re delighted that Daniel Heptinstall from the band has taken time to write about why he loves James Yorkston.

James Yorkston

It must’ve been 2007, I was doing some part-time temp work in an office and, following a brief conversation about music, one of the guys that worked there gave me a bunch of albums as mp3’s he thought I might like to ‘check out’. I stuck ‘em on my mp3 player (it was 2007!) and I absorbed myself in these new tunes on my tedious Hammersmith to Greenwich commute home.

There were a couple of Iron & Wine albums and a few other things I now fail to recall. Anyway – without being familiar with any of these new artists who had found their way into my ears – it was one singer-songwriter bloke with a Scottish lilt that I was particularly drawn to. His name was James Yorkston. 

Over the previous couple of years I’d heard the name but not the music. The two albums of his that featured were Moving Up Country and The Year Of The Leopard. Yorkston’s first and third albums respectively – both released on Domino Records.

Looking back – I think part of the initial draw for me was the fact that an indie band that I was part of at that time was spluttering to its natural end, and I was on the lookout for new inspirations and ideas for whatever musical project might take me forward. I’d grown less enamoured with electric guitar riff posturing and was being irresistibly drawn to a more acoustic, intimate and folky sound. So this was right up my street, and kind of gently nudged me in a direction that would eventually lead to the genesis of Skinny Lister.

There were many elements to Yorkston’s sound that appealed to me. Fundamentally – the sound and arrangements were very organic – acoustic guitar, violin, double bass, mandolins, auto-harp, harmonium, woodwind etc… which, in the context of that time, I found very refreshing. This palette, along with the great storytelling-style songwriting, and almost conversational ‘in your ear’ vocal delivery, makes the records feel very intimate. The richly detailed lyrics paint original, vivid and beautiful pictures – check out Steady As She Goes as an example. And for sheer simple beauty have a listen to I Awoke – both from The Year Of The Leopard

Having been captured by these offerings, it was his next album 2008’s When The Haar Rolls In that for me represented a high water mark for JY.  Songs such as the title track and The Capture Of The Horse brought a real widescreen feel and swell of emotion to Yorkston’s sound, and I found it impossible not to be drawn into it’s dramatic brooding landscapes and cast of colourful characters. You can hear the rural influence of these tracks on some of those early gentle Skinny Lister recordings such as Colours and Plough & Orion – both from our first album Forge & Flagon.

The way he utilises the male and female vocal is also echoed in a number of our tracks – again – Colours comes to mind. Obviously, other influences played their role in Skinny’s development – especially as we moved into the punkier and more urban territory of our second album Down On Deptford Broadway. But tracks Bonny Away and Dreich from DODB were both a continuation of more pastoral stuff, which has always remained a crucial element of the Skinny sound.

Beyond the listening – it was also scrutiny of the liner notes (yes – I was enough of a fan to attend live shows and actually buy the CD’s!) that had an influence on Skinny Lister. They led us to producer David Wrench at Bryn Derwen Studio to record our first album Forge & Flagon. Also – Barny who mixed When The Haar Rolls In would produce and mix our fourth album The Story Is…

So yeah – that’s my unashamed love letter to the music of James Yorkston. Music that always warmly invites you to climb inside and turn it up!

Our thanks to Dan for his contribution.

Rather than opt for one of the more obvious Skinny Lister tracks, listen to Dan doing The Story Is on his own with just piano:

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Read more from the Why I Love archive here.

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