September 07, 2011

Artist of The Day : Vashti Bunyan

Vashti Bunyan was born in London in 1945 to John and Helen Bunyan. Although said to be descended from The Pilgrim's Progress author John Bunyan, this is a claim she has herself denied. In the early 1960s, she studied at The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at Oxford University, but was expelled for failing to turn up to classes. At 18, she travelled to New York and discovered the music of Bob Dylan through his The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan album and decided to become a full-time musician. Returning to London she was discovered by Rolling Stones' manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, and, in June 1965, under his direction, she released her first single, the Jagger and Richards penned "Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind" (their own version later turning up on the outtakes compilation Metamorphosis), on Decca Records. Released using simply the name Vashti, it was backed with her own song "I Want to Be Alone". The single and her follow-up "Train Song", released on Columbia in May 1966, produced by Canadian Peter Snell, received little attention. Her only other performance of this time to find release was her distinctive vocal on "The Coldest Night of the Year" with Twice as Much (which eventually turned up on their second and final LP, That's All, appearing on Oldham's Immediate Records in 1968).
After recording further songs for Immediate Records, which remain unreleased, and making a brief appearance in the 1967 documentary 
Tonite Let's All Make Love in London, performing her song "Winter Is Blue", she decided to travel with her boyfriend Robert Lewis by horse and cart to the Hebridean Islands to join a commune planned by a friend, fellow folk singer Donovan ("from South London up to the Hebrides. Initially to Skye but we carried on to the Outer Hebrides."). During the trip she began writing the songs that eventually became her first album, Just Another Diamond Day.
During a break from her trip at Christmas 1968, she met Joe Boyd through a friend and he offered to record an album of her travelling songs for his Witchseason Productions. A year later Vashti returned to London and recorded her first LP with assistance from Simon Nicol and Dave Swarbrick of Fairport ConventionRobin Williamson of The Incredible String Band and string arranger Robert Kirby, today best known for his work on Nick Drake's first two albums. The album appeared on Philips Records to warm reviews in December 1970, but struggled to find an audience. Disappointed, she left the music industry and moved to The Incredible String Band's Glen Row cottages, then Ireland. Much of the ensuing 30 years were spent raising her three children and tending animals. In this time, entirely unknown to her, the original album slowly became one of the most sought-after records of its time. It has sold on eBay for as much as $2000.
In 2000, Just Another Diamond Day was re-released on CD (with bonus tracks), assuring her influence over a new generation of folk artists such as Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. In 2001, Banhart wrote to her asking for her advice, beginning her connection with many of the contemporary performers who cite her work. In 2002, she was invited by Piano Magic musician Glen Johnson to sing guest vocals on his song "Crown of the Lost", her first recording in over 30 years. Since then, she has appeared on releases by Devendra Banhart and Animal Collective and, in 2005, she recorded and released her second album, Lookaftering on Fat Cat Records, some 35 years after her first. The album was produced by composer Max Richter and featured many of her contemporary followers including Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Adem, Kevin Barker of Currituck Co, Otto Hauser of Espers and Adam Pierce of Mice Parade. It was well received by critics and fans alike.
During the autumn of 2006, Bunyan assembled an ad hoc band and embarked on a brief North American tour, with performances in both Canada and the US. She performed songs from both of her solo albums, as well as some of the rare material from the unreleased Oldham sessions.
Her music reached a much wider audience when "Just Another Diamond Day" was used in a TV advert for a mobile phone company.
In 2007, she collaborated with Scottish novelist Rodge Glass on the song "The Fire" for the compilation album Ballads of the Book. The album was devised by Roddy Woomble of Idlewild, as a way to combine Scottish writers with Scottish singers, though in this case Bunyan must have been included by virtue of living in Edinburgh.
October 2007 saw the release of a compilation album of her mid-1960s singles and unreleased demos recorded at the time entitled Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind - Singles and Demos 1964 to 1967.
2007 also saw Vashti provide vocals on three songs for former Jack frontman Anthony Reynolds' debut solo album British Ballads. Bunyan sang with Reynolds on the songs "Country Girl", "Just So You Know" and "Song Of Leaving".
In January 2008, Vashti said she was recording a new album. "I’m supposed to be writing just now. I have one complete song and a whole lot of fragments. I’m supposed to have them finished by May and there’s no way. I’m hoping, and the plan is, I’ll be working with Andy Cabic of Vetiver."
In June 2008, Vashti appeared at London's Royal Festival Hall with The Heritage Orchestra as part of Massive Attack's Meltdown, in a live performance of VangelisBlade Runner soundtrack, singing "Rachael's Song" as sung by Mary Hopkin on the original recorded soundtrack.
In July 2008, Reebok used Bunyan's "Train Song" in an NFL gear advertisement. Samsung used the same song in "Smart TV" commercials in 2011.
On 25 October 2008, Vashti Bunyan: From Here To Before, a feature documentary directed by Kieran Evans had its world premieres at the Times BFI London Film Festival. The film retraces Bunyan’s journey across the British Isles and sets it against the backdrop of her first high-profile London concert. It uses her trip through Britain as its main narrative structure, accompanying her as she retraces her extraordinary journey. The album provides the soundtrack to that journey, just as it did the first time.
She is name-checked in the Half Man Half Biscuit song "Totnes Bickering Fair", from the album CSI:Ambleside.
Bunyan's cover of the late John Martyn's "Head and Heart" will appear on an upcoming tribute album, titled "Johnny Boy Would Love This. A Tribute to John Martyn."

Studio albums
Just Another Diamond Day (Philips 1970)
Lookaftering (Fat Cat Records 2005)
Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind – Singles and Demos 1964 to 1967 (Fat Cat Records/Spinney Records 2007)
"Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind" / "I Want To Be Alone" (Decca, 1965) (as Vashti)
"Train Song" / "Love Song" (Columbia (EMI), 1966) (as Vashti)