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Vashti Bunyan

Born Jennifer Vashti Bunyan, 1945, Newcastle, England, to parents John and Helen Bunyan, VASHTI BUNYAN might’ve been overlooked in the fickle folk-pop market but for a mighty TV ad for the T-Mobile phone company heralding her classic early-70s track, `Diamond Day’. She has since been tagged as the “Godmother of Freak Folk”, the inspiration for DEVENDRA BANHART, ADEM and others in the inner circle of the genre.
Her further education having been cut short after being expelled from the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at Oxford University (her time taken up by songwriting), Vashti decided music was her vocation, having discovered the “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” LP. Groomed as the next MARIANNE FAITHFULL or FRANCOISE HARDY, ‘Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham took her under his wing, convincing Jagger-Richards to surrender an easy-going outtake, `Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind’, for her debut Vashti-credited 45. However, this and a one-off for Columbia Records, `Train Song’ (produced by Peter Snell), failed to generate even the slightest interest in her tweeful, moody vocal cords; as a guest with psych-pop group Twice As Much, she featured on their second set, `That’s All’, in 1968, while a year previously Vashti (and her song, `Winter Is Blue’) turned up in the docu-film, Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London.
Finding solace in the Outer Hebrides in an arty commune set up by close friend DONOVAN, her singer-songwriter abilities began to filter through by the time she returned to a London studio in December 1969 to record the tracks. A chance meeting with folk music’s greatest producer, Joe Boyd, and with the assistance of string arranger Robert Kirby (who’d just augmented NICK DRAKE) and such luminary sessioners as ROBIN WILLIAMSON (of The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND) and DAVE SWARBRICK & Simon Nicol (both of FAIRPORT CONVENTION), her debut LP JUST ANOTHER DIAMOND DAY {*9} was issued around Christmas 1970. Like DRAKE himself, she too found it hard to break through commercially, although the record has since become one of the most sought-after items of all time (a copy recently changed hands on eBay for $2,000).
Nearly relegated to a life of cultdom through withdrawing from the music world to live in Ireland, her wilderness years were spent looking after her family. But for an enthusiastic response to a long-awaited, post-millennium CD re-issue of her rare album, the return of Vashti might never have been; her comeback got under way when she featured on ANIMAL COLLECTIVE’s 2005 EP, `Prospect Hummer’; collaborations with DEVENDRA BANHART and Simon Raymonde followed soon afterwards or thereabouts.
So, after 35 years away from the business, LOOKAFTERING (2005) {*7} – so named due to her domestic prowess, one could say – was released. Produced by neo-classical composer Max Richter, and showcasing (alongside Robert Kirby again) newbie folkies/collaborators such as BANHART, ADEM, JOANNA NEWSOM, ESPERS associate Otto Hauser and CURRITUCK COUNTY member Kevin Barker, the magic was still there. As innocent and gentle as her debut all these years ago, the 60-year-old mother and missus found a `Wayward’ (one of the best songs) way of fashioning her fragile, twee vox to good effect; `If I Were’ and `Here Before’ were also of equal musical value to anything she’d done previously. By way of a reminder of Vashti’s earlier work, a collection SOME THINGS… (2007) {*6}, was a way of forcing home her complete musical history.
One had to admire Fat Cat Records (and their un-corporate US cousins Dicristina Stair Builders) for sticking with the ethereal Vashti. Both teams rewarded when she capped her sporadic career with album number three, the self-produced HEARTLEAP (2014) {*7}, discreet backing had been found from across the pond by way of DEVENDRA BANHART, Gareth Dickson and Jo Mango. For those of a nervous disposition (aka fans of free-flowing freak folk), well this airy and calming record might appeal. Sweeping and pressing upon the joyous and equally mournful cycle of life, the soothing Vashti waxed lyrical on several star tracks, including highlights `Across The Water’, `Mother’, `Gunpowder’, `Holy Smoke’ and the closing title track, named after her daughter Whyn Lewis’s cover shot painting (entitled Hart’s Leap).
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Nov2013-Oct2014

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