Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the pastfew years, you’ll know, ad nauseam, that after anunsuccessful career in late ’60s folk-pop and despitebeing championed by everyone from Andrew LoogOldham to Robert Kirby and theIncredible String Band, Vashti Bunyan retiredfrom the music industry in 1970.
While she lived in blissful hippiedom on the Isleof Skye, across various seas her one and only albumJust Another Diamond Day was slowly influencingan entire generation of singer-songwriters fromDevandra Banhart to Joanne Newsom whosegentle, pop-tinged and string-drenched melodies wouldspawn entire genres of nu folk, folktronica, twistedfolk … even the Magic Numbers owe somethingof a debt to her.
When her new century musical progeny sought her outand welcomed her back into a mainstream ready toappreciate her, it seemed the music industry wentwild. A female Nick Drake, alive and well andonly too eager to give us new tunes, she was afolk-pop phoenix risen from the ashes of theHaight-Ashbury via Canterbury dream.
All well and good but, on the back of oneunsuccessful 1970 album and a few equally unsuccessful1960s singles, can she possibly warrant a 25-track,double CD package of singles, outtakes, demos andrarities? Remarkably, the answer is a resounding yes.
From CD 1′s polished singles, released by Decca andColumbia and shelved by Immediate, through hi-qualityunreleased demo tapes found in an attic by her brotherJohn to the sparse, pared down acoustic demos thatappear on CD 2, you may find it genuinely difficult tounderstand how, even when they had Bob Dylan todistract them, the counter-culture hippies of fourdecades ago could have tossed this music aside.
There are some genuinely amazing songs here, notleast Girl’s Song In Winter and 17 Pink SugarElephants. Their titles alone conjure up the scene.They also highlight perhaps the most important qualityof Bunyan’s work – there is a coldness about her musicwhich is diametrically opposed to the summer sunshinethat is meant to shine over folk.
Listen to the pained, spoken Leave Me at thebeginning of the song of the same name, for a start.There is a creeping frost in Bunyan’s music, a blackdog of the soul at a time when youth culture was aboutto explode in a rainbow soaked psychedelic wonderland.And then remember that CD 2′s demos were recorded in1964 – 18 months before Rubber Soul wasreleased. She had tuned in and dropped out yearsbefore the phrase even existed.
Keep that in your mind as you listen to this music.It look the record buying public the best part of 20years to understand Nick Drake, and Vashti Bunyan hada 10-year head start on him. She was singing to peoplewho had only just realised it was okay to have hairthat covered their ears, and she was singing from themidnight of a winter that was at least ten years away.
Of course they had no chance of understanding her.Andrew Loog Oldham did, but he saw the potential inthe Rolling Stones before anyone else did, too.Song titles such as Coldest Night of the Year, Don’tBelieve, Go Before The Dawn and Girl’s Song In Winterwere not made for the summer of love and certainly notfor the spring leading into it. Just thank acombination of fate and the musical visionaries oftoday that they were kept on ice long enough not tomelt away completely.