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Yorkston Thorne Ghatak |  Ken Hunt/Swing 51 Archives

Yorkston Thorne Ghatak

Yorkston Thorne Ghatak 

18 May 2022

Kings Place, London

Between January 2016 and January 2020 the parent trio of Yorkston Thorne Khan made three albums. In YTK order, that means Scottish vocalist, guitar and nyckelharpa player, and resident banter merchant James Yorkston, English bass player and singer Jon Thorne, and Indian sarangi player and vocalist Suhail Yusuf Khan. In March 2020 they started the tour to support Navarasa: Nine Emotions. On 11 March 2020, they performed at Kings Place right at the beginning of that tour. Afterwards, all three, independently, voiced a sense of impending doom about the tour’s fate. Lockdown ended it soon afterwards.

Ticking down to the start of their 2022 tour, in late April, different coloured shit hit the fan. It became apparent Khan’s visa wasn’t going to get sorted in time. Or as explained Yorkston to the audience, ‘We were in T-rubble.’ Sarangi is not an easy instrument to follow. YT’s elegant solution was to find a vocalist. Into the deep end dived the London-based Hindustani vocalist Ranjana Ghatak. A vocalist to be reckoned with, her credentials include time teaching at the Ali Akbar College of Music in Marin County, California. That she was invited to live in Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s modest home speaks volumes.

With two days’ rehearsal under their belt, Kings Place, no pressure, saw their public debut, the first date on an eleven-date England and Scotland tour, plus them as the inaugural event for the ‘Songlines Encounters Festival’. That’s how come Songlines’ editor Alex Petropoulos introduced them and launched the festival. The bedding-in opener was a way-over-yonder-in-a-minor-key number. Things tightened with Yorkston’s ‘The Blues You Sang’, off YTK’s debut Neuk Wight Delhi All-Stars. (For the uninitiated: (East) Neuk, (the Isle of) Wight and Delhi being their places of residence.) The lyrics in the booklet say, ‘And the blues you sang meant it all to me/As I could see they meant it all to you/Ah the blues you sang…’ Up to then Ghatak had been playing Indian hand-harmonium. The ‘…sang' ‘cued’ her improvised vocal part. (Maybe in the moment riffing off with a spot of spontaneous composition, my review notes have ‘birds sang’ and 'words you sang'…)

In the lead-up to the tour Ghatak listened to the YTK recordings. She transcribed lyrics and checked with Suhail Yusuf Khan about the words he’d sung. She also brought some provisions of her own to the party. One was ‘Surya Prayer’, a traditional Sanskrit śloka (a verse form) prayer, set to music by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Only post-concert did I begin to realise with its themes of sun and blossoming, it has lyrical seams which surfaced elsewhere in the repertoire. Incidentally, ‘Surya Prayer’ ends her 2020 album The Butterfly Effect. For anyone seeking to suss out why Ranjana Ghatak was recruited as their travelling companion it offers ample pointers. 

One highlight must stand for all. In July 2017 YTK were on the Scotland bill of the Rudolstadt Festival. Casting around for a Robert Burns poem to perform they settled on one of the Scottish Pushkin’s more enigmatic pieces. Yorkston had ‘Now Westlin Winds’ from Dick Gaughan’s masterful 1987 Handful of Earth. (It was one of the tracks played as people found their seats beforehand.) The poem concerns the natural world and romantic love but begins with the slaughter of the Glorious Twelfth or whichever ‘slaughterin’ guns' were in vogue. Khan brought an opening song which begins by talking about mustard greens (sarson) flowering to the embryonic ‘Westlin Winds’. Thorne slid in a tasteful bass part of the sort the Jacques Loussier Trio’s bassist Pierre Michelot used to play in their early Play Bach period. Ghatak, the matchmaker – the literal meaning of her surname – rose to the occasion. I have the utmost envy of anyone who gets to catch ‘Westlin Winds’ when it is deeply bedded in…


Photos:  Ken Hunt/Swing 51 Archives