Sunday, December 27, 2009
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 great.you 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.