If you want an insight into James Yorkston’s new album The Year of the Leopard, it’s perhaps best to start with the title track. “The line ‘It won’t be so easy, this year of the leopard’ was partly inspired by a book called The Leopard by Guiseppe Di Lampedusa.” Yorkston explains. “The main character is a guy who’s struggling to come to terms with the world as it changes around him. Then in my home village Kingsbarns, in Fife, somebody let a puma loose which reminded me of the book as I thought the puma must be feeling out of place as well, and that also inspired the song”.
Perhaps intent on recording a soothing antidote to such displaced feelings, Yorkston teamed up with producer Paul Webb (aka Rustin Man) after hearing his acclaimed collaboration with Beth Gibbons, Out of Season. “I really liked that record, it wasn’t too new and spangly and shiny, or too old fashioned, so it was just what I was looking to do really. We used old valve microphones and recorded everything onto tape – some of it was bounced back & forth about four times just to get that warm feel.”
It is an enchantingly warm and intimate record, but Yorkston says it is less autobiographical than 2004’s Just Beyond the River. “The last record was really personal, I wanted to make this one more abstract and take a step back from that. There’s a song on the last album called Hermitage which people used to call out for at gigs, but I couldn’t play it live because the lyrics are way too raw. If you’re trying to do that within a relationship you just end up digging deeper into the angst which is a pretty miserable thing to do – and it could get you into a lot of trouble!”
Despite this, Yorkston’s lyrics are no less insightful or resonant. Summer Song deals poetically with long-term commitment whilst As I Awoke, which features Fence songstress HMS Ginafore, is a heartbreaking take on infidelity. Although Yorkston is signed to Domino Records his Fife connections mean, like Ginafore, he remains an integral part of the Fence Collective. “It’s just like asking my mates. I also had King Creosote and the Lone Pigeon on my first record- I’d be foolish not to.”
Which brings us to Yorkston’s backing band the Athletes who aren’t credited this time round, although Athletes Reuben and Doogie (who have both also been absorbed into the Fence family) do play on some of the tracks. “We didn’t fall out, we’re still good friends. When we finished touring the last album I had two new songs and I didn’t feel I could ask the band to go and rehearse just those songs, it would have just made it awkward, so they got involved later on. This one is definitely a James Yorkston album- all the arrangements are mine, I did most of the work!” And who could begrudge him that, given the beguiling result, which offers some peaceful respite from that ferocious animal, the modern world.
Published in the Skinny Magazine, 2006