Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Return Of Vashti Bunyan

The story of Vashti Bunyan must be one of the most romantic in the history of music.I had never heard of her until a few weeks ago when i stumbled across her name on Youtube when i was looking for something else.It was her name that first intrigued me,it was so unusual,it was like a mixture of Russian and English and i immediately thought of John Bunyan who wrote Pilgrims Progress.The song she was singing in the youtube clip was called 'I Want To Be Alone',it wasn't that can see it here if you want-

She was very beautiful though and reminded me of Marianne Faithful and the announcer said that she was discovered by the Rolling Stones,so why had i never heard of her?.My curiousity made me look up Vashti Bunyan on Wikipedia and i learned more about this enigmatic girl.It told me that Vashti was born in London in 1945. In the early 1960s, she studied Fine Art and Drawing at Ruskin College Oxford but was expelled because she couldn't decide between art and music. At 18, she travelled to New York and discovered the music of Bob Dylan and decided to become a full-time musician. Returning to London she was discovered by the Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, and, in June 1965, she released her first single, written by Mick and Keef 'Somethings Just Stick In Your Mind', it was backed with her own song 'I Want to Be Alone' which is the song i heard on youtube.

Her early records all flopped and then Vashti turned her back on the city and decided to travel with her boyfriend Robert in a gypsy caravan pulled by a horse called Bess and with a dog called Blue to the Isle Of Skye to join a commune planned by a friend, fellow folk singer Donavon.The epic journey was to take 2 years,stopping along the way to doing casual work and odd jobs to get some money and the occasional gig. During the trip she began writing the songs that eventually became her first album 'Just Another Diamond Day'.At this point i got really interested because her story reminded me of another singer who i have written about previously called Anne Briggs.Also i have always been interested in people who have a brief flirtation with fame and then disappear such as Karen Dalton,Jonathan Kelly and The Trees (see stories below).Reading on i discovered that in 1968 Vashti met the producer Joe Boyd who i have always admired through his work with Fairport Convention and others and in 1969 Vashti made her first album which featured Simon Nicol and Dave Swarbrick from Fairport and also Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band who i also really like.'The Hangmans Beautiful Daughter', by the ISB is a favourite of mine.The album came out in December 1970 and despite warm reviews it disappeared without trace and so did Vashti.She moved to the Outer Hebrides and then Ireland and spent the next 3 decades in total obscurity, raising her family and looking after animals.
30 long years went by and as the years turned into decades word about her album slowly aquired mythic proportions amongst serious music collectors and gradually the few copies in existance became some of the most sought after items in music.Vashti was totally oblivious to the fact that her work was aquiring a cult following.One copy apparently sold on Ebay for $2,000.Her music reached the ears of a new wave of folk singers such as Devendra Banhart and Joanne Newsom and in 2000 her album was re-released and this time it was noticed by the public and it was acclaimed as a work of genius.Suddenly Vashti had become the god mother of a new genre known as Freak Folk

I had read enough now!.I knew i wouldn't be satisfied until i owned this album..A quick look on ebay and 3 days later the cd plopped onto the carpet through my letterbox.As soon as the opening eponymous song began i knew that i was in the prescence of something rare and precious .As Richard Thompson might say this record is a fine as a beeswing.Vashti's voice is so delicate you feel you could almost blow it away.There is no percussion on this record just tasteful guitar accompanies some tracks and there is some flute,whistle,piano,harp,banjo,mandolin and strings but any more instruments would be intrusive as this album is so intimate you can almost hear Vashti breathing inbetween the lines of the songs.The lyrics have a childlike simplicity and are like nature poems.I think John Clare or William Blake would enjoy this album.I can understand some people wouldn't like the album.If you like rap or heavy metal i dare say you would hate it but if like me you like folky records like Fairport, Nick Drake,String Band,Donavon etc then i think you will love it.The song i am listening to at this very moment 'Come Wind Come Rain' Clippity clops along just like the gypsy caravan,you almost feel like you are on it.

Unlike Annie Briggs who i mentioned earlier who has shown no interest in recording or performing again Vashti seems to welcome her new fame and finally got to record the album that was planned as the follow-up to Diamond Day.It is called 'Lookaftering' and after a 35 year gap since her first album this one was also hailed as a classic.I haven't heard it yet though but i will.Also in 2008 a documentary film was made which retraced Vashti's journey from London to the North of Scotland.It was called 'From Here To Before' and i'll have to watch that if i get the chance.So there you go,that is my story of the return of Vashti Bunyan. Wouldn't it be great if she was on at Glastonbury next year.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Melanie Safka In Frome

I discovered the music of Melanie in the early 1970's when i was at Teacher Training College in North Wales and i immediately fell in love with her and her message of peace.I bought all her albums,Candles In The Rain,Leftover Wine,Live At Carnegie Hall, Gather Me,Garden In The City,Four Sides Of Melanie,Madrugada,The Good Book and others that i can't remember off-hand.She was prolific in the 70's and all her albums were brilliant.What a great songwriter she is. I never did see her though.She was on at Glastonbury in the early 1980's and i was really looking forward to seeing her but i drank so much cider i collapsed in a heap somewhere and missed her.

Decades went by and i don't know why but i just lost interest in Melanie and my vinyl albums gradually disappeared into the mists of time.Then a couple of weeks ago i saw a poster on a wall in Westbury which said that Melanie was appearing at The Cheese And Grain in Frome and i decided i should start my summer of music by seeing Melanie.I went with Kim and My friend Fred who told me that Melanie had been sampled by a Hip-Hop band who he liked called The Cunnin'Lynguists which is a very unfortunate name but a great record (I wonder if Melanie has heard it).

Anyway, the three of us were standing ouside the venue having a chat and a van drew up and a hippy looking bloke dashed inside.This turned out to be Melanie's son Beau-Jarred who opened the show.He is a wizard on guitar and played some amazing pieces, some of which reminded you of Bach's baroque music.At other times he even played the guitar behind his head a la Jimi Hendrix.Then it was time for Melanie.It was great to finally see her after all these years.After a little chat with the audience she began with one of my favourites, CLOSE TO IT ALL and i was immediately taken back to that room at college when i first heard her.It was as if time didn't exist at all.The next song was one i didn't recognise or have forgotten called THE SUN AND THE MOON and i must admit that i got a bit irritated because i couldn't hear the words properly,i think the mixing desk had a few technical problems.As the evening went on though i forgot about the mixing problems.THE NICKEL SONG was next,one of her more commercial songs and i seem to remember having this on a single back in 71.Then she sang HI LILI HI LO which she told us came from a Danny Kaye film but i remember as a hit for Alan Price.Melanies version is great and was followed by what i think is a new song called FIRST THING I SEE which is supurb and shows Melanie still has retained her songwriting ability.This was proved by another excellent song called LITTLE BIT OF ME.

Melanie was ably supported on guitar by Beau-Jarred throughout who then produced an instument i had never seen before which sounds like an electric cello and sounds great and reminded me of Nick Drake.Melanie then sang another audience request I REALLY LOVED HAROLD.This was followed by another new (To me) song called MAKE IT WORK FOR ME.Then a classic,Melanie's stunning version of RUBY TUESDAY which i think is lyrically the Stones greatest song which Melanie manages to make even more meaningful and moving.LOVE DOESN'T HAVE TO HURT was followed by BRAND NEW KEY which i think is Melanie's biggest hit and is really good fun."We're in Wurzel country",said Melanie with a grin!.SMILE followed and is a song Melanie wrote in the aftermath of 9/11 and is a very profound song.BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE followed which is one of my personal favourites and shows that as a singer/songwriter Melanie is one of the all time greats.LAY DOWN/CANDLES IN THE RAIN was next just to underline what great inspirational songs she has written.It was almost the end but not before LOOK WHAT THEY DONE TO MY SONG MA one of her most famous songs.The evening ended with another song i didn't recognise called I'D LIKE TO LEAVE YOU WITH SOMETHING WARM.She did!

Afterwards Melanie patiently signed autographs and spoke to everyone who waited behind.That shows what a nice person she is.Also the concert was for charity in aid of SCOPE.One of the reasons i first liked Melanie all those years ago was that she was gorgeous and meeting her briefly after the gig i can confirm that she most certainly still is!


Melanie said she hated the picture of herself on this poster but she was still kind enough to sign it for me.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Trees and The Garden Of Jane Trelawney

Back in 1974 I was living in a little village called Summerhill, nr Wrexham in North Wales and worked at a place called 'The Metal Box Company'.My friend Dave worked there as well,we were quality control inspectors.We had to go on a weeks course to learn how to use all these instruments such as micrometers and we learned it all in about half a day.The lady teaching us couldn't believe it. Anyway,although the company was called 'Metal Box Company' what we actually made at this place was plastic bottles such as Fairy Liquid and Domestos. We had to do hourly checks on the bottles to make sure they were alright.We did this in about 2 minutes.This left Dave and I about 58 minutes in every hour to throw plastic bottles at each other and mess about generally.It was mad working there, we used to call it the 'Mental' Box Company.Everyone who worked there was mad. They were all bonkers.
Dave and I couldn't stand the sight of each other because we were living in the same house and working together.One day I kicked him in the leg and we walked to work 10 yards apart from then on.
To cut to the chase and get to the point of this story, Dave started going out with this girl called Sula who came from Dolgellau or somewhere up there near Snowdonia near the place where the Tipi people lived. She was a student at Wrexham Technical College, just up by the football ground.How she met Dave I don't know but she started coming round our house all the time. Sula bought this album round that she kept playing and I really liked it. I asked her what it was called and I thought she said,'The Garden Of Jane Trelawney'.
That name struck a chord with me because when I was a kid one of my favourite books was Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and one of the characters in it was Squire Trelawney who is in the very first chapter if I remember. I loved this album because it was in the folk/rock idiom that I liked.I was already a huge fan of Fairport Convention and this was more of the same.The band was called 'The Trees' and i think Sula actually knew them.The singer was Celia who was a great singer and she eventually married a famous DJ called Pete Drummond, anyway that's by the by.
I absolutely loved that album,it had songs such as 'Nothing Special','Silkie','She Moved Through The Fair','I Am A Road And I Know Where I'm Going To' and the whole album was great.
Sadly the days at Summerhill ended and I left, never to return.

Thirty two long years elapsed and back in spring of this year I was talking on the phone to a friend of mine, and we were talking about old rare albums and I said "Have you ever heard of an album called 'The Garden Of Jane Trelawney?".
"Heard of it?",said Kev,"I've got it,its brilliant,I'll make you a copy if you want".
A few days later I was listening to an album i loved but hadn't heard for 32 years and all the memories of the days in Summerhill came flooding back.When I looked at the cover I had a real shock though.The album wasn't called 'The Garden Of Jane Trelawney' at all,it was called 'The Garden Of Jane Delawney'.I don't care though, for me it will always be 'Jane Trelawney'.
That is not the end of the story though because a friend on the internet called Richard offered me a cd called BBC sessions by the Trees which I snatched up and also Richard sent me a cd of demo's by 'The Trees'.So now 32 years on I have 3 albums by the great but short lived Trees.

Seeing Van Morrison At Liverpool Feis 2018

Teena Lyle, Tony Fitzgibbon, Dana Masters, Paul Moran, Mez Clough, Van, Paul Moore, Jay Berliner, Dave Keary. It was Saturday morning ...