If words like 'fusion' and 'experimental' fill you with creeping dread, then you clearly haven't seen Yorkston/Thorne/Khan live. On paper, the prospect of melding folk, jazz and Indian music is a potentially trippy prospect. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Whatever the idea might seem like in theory, in reality, these are three wise men, bearing gifts.
Support came from Bath singer/songwriter Obviously Kirsty, who gave us songs from her forthcoming album, Pension Plans. Compassionate, curiously unpredictable and acutely observational, her self-confessed 'songs about old ladies' quickly caught the audience's imagination. With Kate Nash's inflections and Lucy Spraggan's empathy, we were treated to tales such as a 90-year-old skinny dipper at a public beach and of "Ada" who absconds from her care home to go dancing.
When Yorkston/Thorne/Khan (guitar/double bass/sarangi) took to the stage, it was evident straightaway how much their sound is suited to an intimate atmosphere (like a cafe or vaulted cellar bar; I don't mean a bedroom - definitely with clothes on too). While the songs were in progress, they all appeared enraptured and intense, frequently with closed eyes. Everyone sang at different times, James Yorkston gently, with his folky Fife heritage at the fore, Jon Thorne with an understated Robert-Wyatt-meets-Tom-Waits husk and Suhail Yusuf Khan in mellifluous, yet sonorous Hindi. Between songs, you could tell that the unlikely trio is one that enjoys playing together, having formed out of a chance backstage meeting between Yorkston and Khan that led to improvised collaboration between the two that very day. Yorkston clowned with the crowd, announcing after song one, "We are ZZ Top, from Albuquerque". Thorne was the wry absurdist, like a modern-day Python, as well as the principal butt of Yorkston's jests. Khan sat at his sarangi, cross-legged in yogic bliss, usually with a fond smile of polite disapproval directed at his madcap colleagues.
Songs from brand-new album "Neuk Wight Delhi All-Stars" sat comfortably alongside ones from 2016's "Everything Sacred". "Blues Jumped the Goose" opened powerfully, followed up by "Blues You Sang", showcasing the tender harmonies of Yorkston and Thorne, juxtaposed with the first real blast of Khan's captivating voice. Their more melancholic songs' topics ranged from tributes to lost friends, to lamenting lost selves. "Broken Waves" mourned James Yorkston's former bandmate, Doogie Paul, who died aged only 40 in 2012 ('I am speechless and I am terrified,/ But I have one last chance to tell you/ I will remember you). Jon Thorne's plaintive vocals on "Everything Sacred" were introduced with 'If this song doesn't bring you down, nothing will' and his delivery of 'You're just a bloke,/ With a load on his mind,/ And nobody cares and nobody worries' on "Just A Bloke", was subtle yet charismatic musical jaywalking.
"Sufi Song" was underpinned by the notion that the poet is the embodiment of God within the self, a happy and enlightened state, from which peace and love emanates. It was hypnotic, with the sonic instrumental barrage and the swell of Khan's voice making it build to a mighty crescendo. The amalgamation of a traditional Scottish song and an Indian wedding greeting gave us more goodwill in the segued songs "Wedding Song" and "False True Piya".
It was only before their penultimate song that they revealed that they almost hadn't made the gig in time, having had to deal with the implications of a break-in to their van in London the night before. In now-typical Yorkston fashion, he managed to dismiss it drolly, announcing that Jon Thorne had lost his 'best wig', whilst Suhail Khan had lost his virginity to the burglar. They had one more song in them, "One More Day", with the refrain 'I have never yearned to see you more' ending on a quiet, lovingly wistful note. Yorkston/Thorne/Khan aren't really experimental any more. The great minds have tested their hypothesis and found that it works a bloody treat. Genius!
'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.
The two awards have made for a great 72nd birthday present for the country music icon.