At the end of my first year at uni, I applied for the position of music editor of my student newspaper, the Glasgow University Guardian, but didn’t get it. Undeterred, I tried again the following year, this time striding into the interview with a jotter full of ambitious ideas that I vowed to turn into reality if they offered me the job. It did the trick.
One of my proposals was to persuade a band to write a fortnightly diary for every edition of the coming year’s newspaper, so I invited Belle & Sebastian to take on the responsibility and they agreed to do it (and so began my adherence to the “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” maxim).
The various members of the group took it in turns, submitting their eloquent wordsmithery by email, fax or handwritten letter, with NME even deeming some of the musings newsworthy.
Despite the year-long undertaking coming to an end, frontman Stuart Murdoch has continued to publish his diaries on the Belle & Sebastian website to this day, with his entries from 2002-2006 being collated into his recently-released book, The Celestial Café.
Since I’m hardly in a position to discuss the merits of purchasing it with any impartiality, I’m instead going to offer my thoughts on It’s Lovely to Be Here by James Yorkston, a book by another Scottish musician. Honestly, they’re like buses.
There’s no chance of this being adapted into a Hollywood road movie, revelling as it does in the mundane minutiae of life as a touring solo musician. “The most memorable thing I do all day… is go to the hotel shop and buy some deodorant. This is the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, being lived to the full.”
Immodesty is a trait that doesn’t sit easily with Scottish people. As a race, we are far more likely to relate to people who are self-deprecating rather than those who’ve not only got it, but dare flaunt it. In that respect, Yorkston is your stereotypical Scot, while also being fond of the whisky and curt with strangers who ask too many questions.
One young American lad who spots Yorkston holding his guitar and asks if he’s in a band is dismissed with a churlish, “Are you on a train?”, while his chat-stopping stock reply to inquisitive taxi drivers is, “I play slow music to a select audience. You’ll not have heard of me.”
It’s Lovely to Be Here is the first ever book from The Domino Press, the new publishing imprint from Domino Records, who have been releasing Yorkston’s music since 2002. The diaries take in his jaunts around the UK, Ireland, Europe and North America, and offers unfeasibly detailed descriptions of awkward conversations and vegan sandwich fillings.
In truth, nothing much out of the ordinary occurs. On the rare occasion something does, for instance when Yorkston spots a guy spying on him showering in a Vermont motel room, he describes the incident and reflects upon it in just a single paragraph. He also resists opportunities to namedrop, instead teasing the reader when regaling encounters with the “worldwide hit guy” or “the visitor is a remixer of some renown”.
Yorkston is in much more comfortable ground eking humour out of his own misfortune: “I had told a table of folk who were sitting right by the stage and who had chatted all the way through the first song to ‘Fuck off to McDonalds’ if they weren’t going to listen. They duly departed. Later that night, my cousin Sean said the classic good news/bad news couplet to me – the good news, apparently, was there was a table of A&R folk down to see me play. The bad news? You guessed it.”
At one gig, he ends up having a barney with a journalist over labelmates Franz Ferdinand, while his appearance on a Swiss radio session is summed up thus: “He [the DJ] plays a couple of tracks from When The Haar Rolls In which I guess I’m here to promote. ‘Ah yes, it’s a great album and I love Switzerland.’ There. Consider it promoted.”
Indie snobbery towards popular culture is reliably all present and correct:
“Maid In Manhattan turns out to be a beautiful film… my heart is warmed.”
“I read a bit of Rolling Stone. This is pretty good. There’s an article with Elton John interviewing Bono – two of my favourite people, talking to each other – wow!”
While there’s no denying the book is dripping with Scottish sarcasm at times, Yorkston saves the best till last, with the epilogue finding our troubadour finally back home in Cellardyke, pushing his baby girl along the sea-front. It’s unexpectedly and genuinely moving.
It’s Lovely to Be Here – The Touring Diaries Of A Scottish Gent is available to buy on Amazon. Right-click here to download an excerpt of Yorkston reading from the book.
James Yorkston and The Athletes – Surf Song