Celtic Connections: James Yorkston, The Pictish Trail, Withered Hand at Mitchell Library, 28/1/16

Tonight’s Celtic Connections show sees three excellent Scottish songwriters – James Yorkston, The Pictish Trail aka Johnny Lynch and Withered Hand aka Dan Wilson – come together in harmony.

Rather than play their sets one after the other, the three songwriters sit onstage together, adding extra instrumentation to one another’s songs and bantering away amiably.

 

There’s an immense amount of pleasure to be had in their easy camaraderie and the contrasting styles onstage: Yorkston is the most talkative; technically gifted and more traditional in his approach to folk music, weaving tales of shipwrecks and lighthouses over adeptly fingerpicked guitar, Lynch is warm and avuncular and the most left-field leaping off into abstract folktronica, while Wilson is appealingly clumsy, fidgeting awkwardly but professing that he is having a great time.

The set meanders all over the place as the trio take turns to take the lead, but this is all part of the charm.

Yorkston’s ‘Shipwreckers’ is a dark ballad written during a stay in Cork, but the seriousness is undercut by a comedic riff from Lynch about meeting Cliff Richard on a train that almost reduces Yorkston to tears of laughter, while Wilson’s ‘California’ is a strange tale of cough syrup abuse with a catchy Teenage Fanclub-esque guitar figure

‘Believe Me I Know’ was Lynch’s contribution to Jo Mango’s recent collaboration EP, a rumination on the environmental impact of a life on the road from the ex-Fence records boss, who has since relocated to Eigg.

Amidst these reflections on the more challenging aspects of human nature, there’s plenty of fun though.

It might not all be “constant bangers” as Lynch jokingly suggests, but there’s plenty to like in his experimental folktronica, Yorkston’s ambitious harmonies and Wilson’s “religious song about masturbating on a futon”.

Such is their amity that Lynch feels comfortable dropping a verse from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air into Yorkston’s ‘The Lighthouse’, while in the second half of the set Wilson is cajoled into doing the robot.

Describing one track as being inspired by the movie Fargo, you’re never quite sure to what extent, Lynch, the joker, is taking the piss, but just when you think the whole thing might deteriorate into silliness he busts out a stirring solo cover of David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ that beautifully captures the romantic sentiment of the original.

Three original characters, one perfect venue and a spirit of good natured collaboration; Celtic Connections carries on being full of treasures.

Words: Max Sefton

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