Edinburgh International Book Festival: Yorkston vs Rankin!
James Yorkston’s teaming with Ian Rankin has been a long time coming. “I was playing over in Belfast many moons ago when I got a call from my cousin Hamish telling me that he’d just read about me in one of Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels,” he says. “So, I went to the local Waterstones and bought the book in question – Fleshmarket Close. I wouldn’t say I was a major character in the book though and felt Hamish had misled me somewhat. I subsequently met Mr Rankin once or twice at Fence gigs and then when my book came out, he said some nice things about it here and there – so, he seemed like the obvious person to ask to talk to in Edinburgh. A local author who people have heard of who’s heard of me. Perfect.”
As collaborations go, it’s rather promising. Yorkston is not unfamiliar with collaborations, musically speaking. He says “The best ones are the unplanned and unexpected – I played a few songs recently with Suhail Yusuf Khan and that was amazing fun. I once saw Johnny Pictish Trail jamming in the street with Bobby McFerrin, which took me totally by surprise – Johnny was really really good though – totally holding his own with the mouth trumpet.” Don’t you wish you’d been there? You can’t be though, so come to this event instead. “I will have my guitar with me” Yorkston says, promisingly, “as I’m playing later that night [at Unbound, the Book Festival's free, late night fringe programme], but I guess this event will be me reading a wee bit, Ian telling me off for my hopeless grammar, me reading a bit more and then the audience asking Ian about his Rebus novels. I think my dad’s going to come along though so he’ll probably ask me if I can remember where I left the chainsaw after the last time I borrowed it.”
No offence to Mr Rankin, but It’s Lovely to Be Here is the book audience members should be asking about. I ask the obvious question, of whether there’s a relationship between writing song lyrics and prose. “I don’t think there’s any real relationship other than the fact I write lyrics regularly meant I wasn’t too scared to be putting words down onto paper. I think if I’d not been a lyricist, I may have needed a bit more than a nudge to write a tour diary.” Nonetheless, he says that “I found writing the tour diaries rather liberating though as I could natter on unendingly about the tiniest of details, whereas if I started doing that in my songs they may become even more soporific than they already are…”
There’s a similar type of self deprecating humour in the book. I ask if he had any models in mind for it, since tour diaries aren’t the best known literary form (when was the last time you saw a list of ‘the ten best tour diaries’?). And in fact, he says, “It seems strange to say it, considering I’ve just had a book ostensibly about music published, but I don’t really go for books about music. I have a reasonable number of old ballad books, but not really The Story Of The Doors or whatever. Although I did read an interesting Larry Adler biography gifted to me by my buddy Tom Unpoc once.” Not a lot to go on really. “So, my precursors or models – although that’s far too grand a description – were more travel books – which is how I see my book, in my little deluded ivory tower. Who? John Millington Synge, Norman Lewis, WG Sebald are the most obvious culprits, although I’m in no way comparing my work to theirs as they are really rather good indeed.” Best come to the event then, if you want to get a taste of how Yorkston’s work rates.