The Story of Vashti Bunyan
British singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan’s success story is an unusual one. Like many of her singer-songwriter contemporaries of the 1960s, her discovery came after playing live at intimate, local gigs. The man who discovered her, being The Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Oldham, who then invited her to record an already-written song in a studio; this song being written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Sounds like an immediate set up for a successful career, right? Not so much, in Vashti Bunyan’s case. While critically acclaimed, the single didn’t make much impact on the charts and what followed were a few years of recording to no result and no audience. Her next release was in 1970 and was actually her debut album, Just Another Diamond Day – a free-spirited, whimsical folk album composed of songs inspired by nature, with minimal arrangements of just her lovely voice and her skillfully gentle guitar picking, sometimes accompanied by a piano line or a light string arrangement. The result sounded entirely fitting for the era, yet, it followed the same fate as her first single, critically praised and commercially unsuccessful. Frustrated with it all, Vashti Bunyan gave up on music and moved to the Scottish countryside (very appropriate move, if you listen to the album).
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the genre known as freak-folk came to be. Freak-folk incorporates elements of 1960s folk, psychedelia and the hippie spirit of that decade, but in a more avant-garde form. A part of this movement was discovering the obscure folk records of the era as inspiration and, through this, Just Another Diamond Day had found its day. Her record was re-released to massive acclaim and received much attention from mainstream publications and emerging freak-folk artists of the time. Her brilliance re-discovered and Vashti herself hadn’t even realized it until a random Internet search demonstrated her newfound popularity. Appreciating the recognition she had now been receiving, Vashti Bunyan decided to pick up her guitar and begin writing new music. Working with Independent record label Fat Cat (a label that was home to a chunk of artists that outwardly expressed the influence of Just Another Diamond Day had on them), she released her second album, Lookaftering, in 2005 – 35 years after her first album! Once again, another release of hers accompanied by such high praise, but this time the success was felt and she continued on with her musical career, touring in support of it and re-releasing the ‘lost’ demos of her musical past.
** Author note: Back in around 2006/2007, David Byrne of the Talking Heads hosted an event at Carnegie Hall, arranging it so that his favourite artists of the moment would be heard in such a large space. Vashti Bunyan was one of the artists he invited to play and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for her show. The performance was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen and with the acoustics of the venue and the audience remaining silent throughout the duration, it was pretty much perfect.
Vashti Bunyan – Where I Like to Stand (1970)