Vashti Bunyan's 'Day' Has Come Again
Friday, February 9, 2007
John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress," the classic 17th-century allegory of man's religious journey in search of salvation, follows pilgrim Christian as he travels an obstacle-filled road to reach the Celestial City.
Vashti Bunyan's two albums, 1970's "Just Another Diamond Day" and 2005's "Lookaftering," trace another journey, some traveled in a horse-drawn wagon along a road filled with modern obstacles.
Although "The Pilgrim's Progress" is one of the most famous and best-selling books of all time, "Just Another Diamond Day" was barely noticed on release, condemned to obscurity, only to be declared a lost masterpiece when it was reissued on CD in 2000. It's a pastoral gem, psychedelic folk somehow sweetly innocent and un-self-conscious, full of lily ponds, fireflies, glowworms, laughing streams and rainbow rivers, "the land of peat and seabirds and silver sand." It sounds as if it were recorded at a campfire deep in the woods, Bunyan's soft strum wrapped in feather-light arrangements, her whispered vocals at the edge of evanescence.
It's the sound of dusk and dawn.
It's also a sound that no one heard in 1970: Perhaps 100 copies sold back then.
"Indifference is the coldest hand / It is the wave that clears the sand / of castles built by baby hands / before the gulls come in to land."
Those words, from a recent Bunyan song, "Turning Backs," go a long way to explaining the 35-year gap between albums. Except they're less about Bunyan than about a friend whose sad and quiet songs went similarly unattended in that era.
"When I was writing that song, I wasn't really thinking so much of me as I was thinking about Nick Drake and the indifference to his wonderful, luminous, magical music, which was so profound at the time," explains Bunyan, who will perform Friday at the Rock and Roll Hotel. "I think I expected people to be indifferent to me, but I didn't expect them to be indifferent to him."
Drake killed himself in 1974. Bunyan, now 60, simply disappeared for three decades. Ironically, that's what she was on her way to doing before"Just Another Diamond Day."
London bred (and a direct descendant of John Bunyan), Bunyan had been asked to leave Oxford's Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in 1964 when she refused to choose between art and music. She was playing quiet love songs in Soho clubs when she caught the ear and, thanks to her pristine Nico/Marianne Faithfull-like beauty, the eye of Rolling Stone manager Andrew Loog Oldham. Hoping to replicate his success of a year earlier with Faithfull's "As Tears Go By," Oldham gave Bunyan a Jagger-Richards song, "Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind," but the pop-ish, string-fueled single went nowhere, and a trio of follow-ups never made it to release.
"The myth is that I was this little folk singer that Andrew Oldham got a hold of and tried to make into a pop singer," Bunyan recalls. "I wanted desperately to be a pop singer."
Bunyan simply wasn't built for swinging London in the '60s. "I really wasn't the right kind of material at all," she laughs.