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Music | Interview: Yorkston / Thorne / Khan

Imagine if there was a guitar player, who with some charm of northern lyricism, meets a sarangi player. You get the eclectic mix, but wonder further to hear the soft tones of a double bass threading underneath instead catching your attention more than either the guitar or sarangi.  A sound like that does exist and it’s called ‘Sufi Song’ by the unlikely trio of Yorkston / Thorne / Khan.

Having seen the poster and presumed it a triple headline show, it is in fact the group name given to James Yorkston’s partnership with Advaita’s Suhail Yusuf Khan and Lamb’s Jon Thorne. Beginning at a chance meeting for a TED Talks event, Yorkston and Khan struck up an impromptu jamming session while waiting backstage; “Suhail and I did then did maybe half-a-dozen shows as a duo and they were amazing fun, very punk-rock, but we both felt there was space for someone else. The instrument wasn’t really an issue, it was more getting someone who’d have the suitable personality and attitude to music. We toyed with tuba players, a pianist, a spoons player, but finally we asked Jon Thorne. Jon happened to be a double bass player, but it was his extensive jazz improvising background that appealed to me.”

Once Jon Thorne arrived, it was a musical relationship that might have begged the question of how to mix a guitar, sarangi, and double bass. But both were adamant it would, “I wanted someone who wouldn’t cease up if Suhail and I went into an atonal rhythmic section, someone who would and could keep on playing and adding, leading at times. So, we called the act Yorkston Thorne Khan and we set the stage up with Jon plumb centre, encouraging him forwards, to use his undoubted bass skills as a lead instrument – he’s an equal third of the trio and he’s blossomed into his role. He also sings and brings his own songs along, it’s working very well.”

Embarking on a tour with Irish shows at The Workman’s Club, Dublin and Kilkenny Arts Festival to name a few, will showcase their debut album, “Everything Sacred”, featuring Irish songwriter Lisa O’Neill. The process of writing their long player had a number of superlatives, but for James it was a range of things; “spontaneous, fun, exploratory, carefree, full of ideas, good food, fine wines, haunted studios, Lisa O’ Neill’s wit,” and much more.

Musically, you can find influences of Charles Mingus, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Faust, Ivor Cutler or “the good stuff, you know?” as James refers too. “That’s what we go for. We leave the bad stuff to the more successful musicians, for them to sculpt into popular hits.”

James will be familiar with venues like Cleere’s in Kilkenny, as he will be with the country too, following a childhood regularly spent here, “I’m one of those guys who spent so much time in Ireland during my upbringing that I consider Ireland a second home.’ he adds, “I can’t wait to return, of course. I have so many memories and those, combined with the ever-changing and inspiring music Yorkston Thorne Khan make mean I’m looking forward to the Irish shows very much. The only downside will be that as ever, I will miss my children.”

Yorkston / Thorne / Khan play The Workman’s Club, Dublin on 7 August 2016.

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