LOST friends feature on The Route To The Harmonium, the new album from Fife folksman James Yorkston.

His first solo record since 2014, its colourful artwork – by fellow Fifer Jonny Hannah – bursts with life; a hint at some of the themes on this very personal, highly inventive and often thrilling record.

Over the past four years, Yorkston worked on the record in the loft of his Cellardyke home in the East Neuk of Fife. Once used to repair fisherman’s nets, it’s now full of recording kit and guitars, Dulcitones, harmoniums, autoharps and other exotic instruments Yorkston has collected over his career, which stretches back to the mid-1990s.

The place is also full of memories of those no longer here, such as Doogie Paul, the double bassist of Yorkston’s band The Athletes, who died in 2012.

Paul makes an appearance on My Mouth Is Not A Bible and Yorkston Athletic, two of the record’s trio of spoken word tracks. The other is The Irish Wars Of Independence, a blooming song-poem haunted by another departed friend.

“I visited him in his last days at hospital,” says Yorkston of his Irish pal. “Like with Doogie, he knew he knew he was dying. As well as them, since 2014 three of my friends committed suicide. A lot of the album is me trying to come to terms with this and how I could have somehow helped.”

That’s most evident on the tumultuous, fuzzy My Mouth Is Not A Bible and on album closer A Footnote To An Epitaph, an uplifting piano track where Yorkston sings of how “When I think of you, I think of you happy”.

“And I do, I really do,” he says. “That song is me speaking to them, me speaking to myself and me speaking to my children, saying to them: ‘Don’t worry, I am not going to do that’. It seemed that while some people were clinging on to life, some people were pushing off, basically.”

“When you have friends who take their lives, and others are taken from you by physical illness, it does become quite strange, especially when they are the same age as you. That was something to explore – I don’t mean in an artistic way, I mean as a human being.”

The National:

Yorkston's former bandmate Doogie Paul died in 2012

As well as remembering those he’s shared some of his 47 years with, The Route To The Harmonium is just as much about those who are left behind; those who he shares his life with now.

Previous to this record was 2016’s Everything Sacred and 2017’s Neuk Wight Delhi All-Stars, two albums with jazz double bassist Jon Thorne and Suhail Yusuf Khan, a young master of classical Hindustani music. Yorkston first met Khan in Edinburgh in 2011.

“I wasn’t in the mood for doing shows at all at the time,” says Yorkston, who starts a tour of Ireland this week with Thorne and Khan. “I’d had to take a couple of years off because one of my children was very sick. I hadn’t taken the guitar out of its box in months. But I met Suhail backstage and he was such an open-minded guy with such a love of music. We started jamming backstage, and I thought: ‘This is where the love is, where the music is’.”

As his child’s health improved, Yorkston says he “started finding music again, and hasn’t let go of it since”. Working collaboratively as Yorkston/Thorne/Khan (YTK) meant he was “totally in the mood” for the solo Route To The Harmonium, an album Yorkston’s long-term producer David Wrench (Caribou, Frank Ocean, David Byrne) recently described as “easily one of his finest records”.

The past couple of years have been particularly productive. As well as making his literary debut with 2016 novel Three Craws, Yorkston hosts Tae Sup Wi’ A Fifer, a regular club night at Kirkcaldy’s Adam Smith Theatre. All feed into one another, he says.

“As an artist, you have to keep things fresh and the only way I can do what I do with the books, with my music, with YTK and the club, is to do it as me. That’s the best thing I can do. With all these people peeling off, with one of my children’s illness, it shows me how lucky I am to be doing this for a living, and not to take it lightly.”

April 1, Perth Theatre; May 2 Summerhall, Edinburgh; May 3 Oran Mor, Glasgow; May 4, Airdrie (TBC); May 22 Johnstone Library; May 23 Irvine, Harbour Arts Centre; May 23 Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine; May 24 Tolbooth, Stirling.

The Route To The Harmonium is out on February 22 on Domino www.jamesyorkston.co.uk www.taesup.co.uk