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imp: James Yorkston & The Big Eyes Family Players @ The Tunnels, 15th October


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Thursday 15th October 2009

The Tunnels, Carnegies Brae, Aberdeen, AB10 1BF. Phone (01224) 211121

Doors 8pm

Tickets 10+bf in adv / 12 on door

Available from One-Up Records, Belmont Street, Aberdeen. Phone (01224) 642662 or http://www.ticketweb.co.uk





James Yorkston is a member of the Fence Collective and has released 6 albums on Domino Records, his most recent being Folk Songs a collaboration with The Big Eyes Family Players

A lithe and intelligent series of traditional songs done anew, it flits between gorgeous and solemn, stunning and subtle, worthy and light, and is, all round, a delight. A quiet, subtle, wonderful triumph of an album. Sunday Herald

For me, listening to James Yorkstons music is like coming across the interesting-looking person on the fringes of a party. Before you know it, youve spent the evening listening to their compelling tale. Theres a quiet confidence in his craft; his singing, the words and instrumentation all blend seamlessly. Philip Selway, Radiohead

Yorkston has reached a state of grace that writers can spend for ever trying to attain: songs that sound not so much written as carefully retrieved from your own subconcious, played with an intuition bordering on telepathy. What more could you ask for? - Pete Paphides, The Times



The Big Eyes Family Players started out as 'Big Eyes' in 2000. They are an ever-changing instrumental classical/acoustic/folk group and have released 6 albums since 2000 (4 as Big Eyes). They have a new album due for release on Pickled Egg in late 2009, entitled 'Warm Room'.

Big Eyes were also a perennial favourite of John Peel and played with Daniel Johnston at his first UK gig in 2002. Somewhat randomly, the Paul Smith fashion house produced a range of Big Eyes Family Players t-shirts for their Japanese stores in 2008. The group are led by James Green and have previously featured Jeremy Barnes (A Hawk & A Hacksaw), Rachel Grimes (Rachel's), Terry Edwards (Tindersticks/Gallon Drunk) and James William Hindle in their line-up over the years, as well as many others.



While reading 20th Century Music at University, Mary heard her first English folksong on a friends mixtape, in between Frank Zappa and Penderecki. The song was The Snow It Melts the Soonest, the singer was Anne Briggs. It was the sheer exoticism of this sound mixed with the raw symbolism of its traditional text that became the starting point for her own songwriting. Throw into the mix a background in chamber composition and an ear for the more uncanny use of familiar sounds and youll get some idea of her debut album My Mothers Children, which was released in 2008 to the delight of reviewers across the board, and landed in Mojos top 5 folk albums of the year. The songs have been described as: brilliant and peculiar, terrifying and gorgeous, old and fresh, epic and tiny and the feel of the album even inspired comparisons to Sylvia Plath and T.S.Eliot.



David A Jaycock has released 2 albums thus far, on Early Winter Recordings (The Improvised Killing of Uncle Faustus and Other Mythologies) and Red Deer (Coleopterous Cuckoos Collude), and a single on Great Pop Supplement. He plays strange acoustic music, with a nod to all kinds of classical and avant-garde influences. Frances Morgan of Plan B described his music as having 'an edge of thoroughly chilling British oddness'.

He has played extensively in the UK, and in 2008 at the Green Man Festival. He has been a member of Big Eyes/Big Eyes Family Players since 2003.


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Here's an insight from James into the new album...

Most of these songs were learned from recordings from the 1960s folk revival, a fair few from Anne Briggs but thats quite fitting, as it was her wonderful singing that originally rekindled my thoughts on traditional music, after a well-spent youth making as much noise as I could. - James Yorkston

Hills Of Greenmoor I first heard this being sang by Anne Briggs on her album Sing a song for you where her vocal line dances around a wonderful bouzouki part. Its a Northern Irish song, I think, concerning the hunting of the hare, sang from the point of view of both the hunters and the hunted.

Just As The Tide Was Flowing I first heard this song via a version by Shirley and Dolly CollinsI chose it for this album as it seems quite at odds with my understanding of the folk tradition. The song is very fragile and brief. It doesnt tell you very much, but instead just leaves you with feelings of longing and sadness and resignation. I didnt want to copy the S&DC version, but somehow capture the essence of its fragility and intimacy. James Green.

Martinmas Time Another Anne Briggs one, from her Classic Anne Briggs CD, which I borrowed from the library purely because she looked so bonny on the cover. There are dozens of versions of this song, with varying lyrics and such, but Anne Briggs version tops all Ive heard, for the simplicity and beauty in her voice. Aside from this version, of course. I think James Green stole the bass line he plays from the great German band Can.

Mary Connaught & James ODonnell This is an Irish song, which I half-learned from Peter Kennedys collection. Im no music reader, so I wrote a new melody and arrangement. No harm done. I love the lyric and the story behind it a shipwreck produced plentiful wood and the local church decided to collect it all and build a chapel where Mary Connaughts house stood. She objected, quite reasonably, so wrote this song about it to spread the word of her unfortunate situation and view of the church.

Thorneymoor Woods Another poachers song and another one I learned from the singing of Anne Briggs. I first recorded this for Radio 3s Late Junction programme, with Chris Thile on mandolin. That version was like a bluegrass breakdown this one is more, erm, sedate. I suppose Im duty bound to say this versions better Theres a great version, Thorneymoor Park, by Jasper Smith, which is worth hearing.

I Went To Visit The Roses A second Irish one from Peter Kennedys collection. Again, I was initially drawn by the lyric so built a melody around it. There are alternative lyrics where the hero is seen as not quite so polite, but this was the first one I came across, so it made sense to stick to it. The harmonium in the middle sections was recorded on an old English instrument with Mouse Proof pedals, which I found in the street in Edinburgh. It takes a fair bit of fit-blawin mouse proof or not, its bellows are holier than thou.

Pandeirada de Entrimo I first heard this performed by Andrew Cronshaw on his Earthed In Cloud Valley album. I attempted this tune once before, as an ending to my debut single The Lang Toun, but I cut it short before the refrain kicks in. Here it is in all its glory. A Galician tune, from North-West Spain.

Little Musgrave - A much loved song that dates back (at least) to the 16thC. I cant remember if it was Nic Jones version I heard first or Christy Moores, but Christys is after Nics anyhow, so I guess its fairly irrelevant. I love this song, but those two and many other towering versions exist, so the only way I felt comfortable was to mess with the melody a bit. That doesnt bother me one bit though. This song exists in so many different formats as it is; different titles, lyrics, melodies plots even one more wont cause any harm.

Rufford Park Poachers Learned from a Nic Jones CD on one of the many long train journeys I undertake for shows and such. His version is all sinister guitar and menace but theres no way I could replicate his guitar work or the menace (!) - So I changed the melody a wee bit and came up with this. Pip Dylans pedal steel is eeking away in the background. At first when I asked Pip to play on this, I sent him a copy of the demo and he wrote back asking me when Id started writing songs in Olde English.

Sovay This famous old song has been sung by almost everyone, yourself included no doubt, but thats no surprise, its a great wee tale. My particular favourites are by Brass Monkey and Julie Murphy, but I doubt Ive heard one tenth of the versions. As a song, Sovay exists in many different forms titles (The Female Highwayman), Sovays name (Sylvie, Sally, etc), but its the same basic premise. She dresses up as a highwayman and robs her own man, who proceeds to become a tad embarrassed. Ach well.

Low Down In The Broom I learned this song from Eliza Carthy & Nancy Kerrs Shape of Scrape album where I also got I Know My Love, a song I played many moons ago with my band. This song was a bit of an afterthought, really we had a spare day so rattled it off quickly. During its recording, it became known as Johnny Cash, which wasnt a reference to its ability to make us money or worldwide fame, more to its bassline.

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And here's a nice review from Uncut.

James Yorkston And The Athletes - James Yorkston and The Big Eyes Family Players - Folk Songs - Review - Uncut.co.uk

The Fence Collective: it sounds like a committee of concerned property owners rather than a hotbed of cultural activism, but the micro label from Fife has left quite a mark on modern music since its inception a dozen years ago. The credo adopted by Fence founder Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote, was straight from the punk handbook We write our own songs, we release our own records, we stage our own gigs but as important has been the sense of family and mutual support that Fence has generated.

That spirit has nurtured new talent take a bow KT Tunstall rescued the bruised career of the Beta Band, and coaxed James Yorkston to grow from journeyman rocker into a songwriter of rare poetic grace.

The 39-year-old Yorkston has been a name to watch and drop ever since his 2002 debut, Moving Up Country, but on last years (fifth) album, When The Haar Rolls In, he raised his game, creating a gentle song suite that slipped between acoustic folk-rap and Brittenesque evocations of landscape, notably on the title track. Clearly sensing the record was a personal landmark, Yorkston and Domino released it in multiple formats, including deluxe editions with other people singing Yorkstons songs and an album of remixes, all of which reflects another virtue laid down by Fence; playful profligacy.

So its no shock to find Yorkston parking his customary band, The Athletes, for a strategic alliance with a group led by James Green, the Leeds musician with whom Yorkston shares a passion for 70s Krautrockers. This time, too, his attention is entirely on other peoples songs, principally the canon laid down by 60s folkies like Dolly and Shirley Collins, Anne Briggs and Nic Jones, though with forays into Ireland and Galicia.

In some ways Folk Songs completes a 2001 project, an album of traditional material that Yorkston recorded but shelved, its contents dribbling out on subsequent albums and EPs. Here he tackles a new set of vintage material, led by a trio of songs he first encountered via English singer Anne Briggs. Its Briggs, young-tearaway-turned-middle-aged hideaway, who above all awoke Yorkstons folkie within, after he had borrowed her eponymous album from the library purely because she looked so bonny on the cover.

Being inspired by a larkish solo voice like Briggs clearly poses problems for a self-styled gruff Scot of limited vocal range. Yorkston has circumvented his limitations by singing within his comfort zone, and framing his vocals with clever arrangements. Hes also borrowed something from Bert Jansch, another supporter; Yorkston isnt as intense as Bert (few are), but he has the same mournful intimacy. When these guys tell a tale, you tune in. Though its antique songs in play here, Yorkston uses much the same techniques he applies to his own songs. On the poachers ballad Thorneymoor Woods he builds a wash of sound that strays progressively from the straight-ahead start until the piece is adrift in a gently bleeping sea of psych-folk.

Instrumental excitation versus his quiet, lyrical burr is a trick Yorkstons grown adept at employing. The opening Hills Of Greenmoor, another Briggs favourite, has stately string choruses set against a thrumming James Green bassline borrowed from Cans cookbook. Mary Connaught & James ODonnell is given a racy, Poguesish treatment and Low Down In The Broom, handed on by Eliza Carthy, is taken at full gallop. There are also times when Yorkston is happy to leave well alone. Just As The Tide Was Flowing, come down via the Collins sisters, is left fragile and brief, and Sovay, the story of a highwaywoman who holds up her sweetheart, is slow and mournful.

The LP flows easily through history. Wherever you land, theres sure to be unexpected instrumentation going on; a murmur of pedal steel on Rufford Park Poachers, a tangle of harp on Low Down In The Broom. Yorkston may have set aside his personal muse for a moment, but Folk Songs is still part of his rich re-imagining of our heritage.


UNCUT: What is the magic behind Fife and the Fence Collective?

JAMES YORKSTON: It was making music with the certainty that no-one was going to buy it. So there was no pressure, we could just follow our muse.

The Haar Rolls In marked a step-up in your output.

All the records are pretty good! Ill admit that Haar is my favourite, though.

Youre playing with a new band on this one.

James Green gave me a copy of his CD and I really wanted to work with him. Big Eyes are an amazing group who do lush, melodic pieces, almost soundscapes. That had some influence on how Folk Songs sounds, though to be honest, Ive been playing these songs for years and had the arrangements ready, so James was a little boxed-in.

I dont know much about Scotland but Im amazed at the rejuvenation of English folk scene.

The musicians up here are very young, teenagers, and Im talking about the real traditional people. Its all a long way from that indie rock scene.

How come this record has so many English songs?

Im not sure. I used to regard English folk as staid, but hearing Anne Briggs really opened it up for me, and through her I discovered Martin Carthy, the Watersons and the rest.

Its still thought eccentric in some quarters to sing songs of such antiquity. Are they relevant?

These songs have endured for a reason. Its the cruddy stuff that dies out.

What else are you up to?

Issue 1 of Loops, a collaborative journal between Faber and Domino, includes one of my tour diaries. And Ive just done a version of Nottamun Town for a b-side. I see it as a nonsense song, in the best meaning of that term.


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