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Bill Fay

Born 1943 in North London, England (one guesstimates), singer-songwriter and pianist BILL FAY started his inroads into cultdom by writing songs while studying at university during the early 60s. Facilitated and assisted by mobile studio engineer John Boden and ex-THEM sticksman Terry Noon, BILLY FAY (as he was then billed) would land a contract with Deram Records, almost immediately releasing the Peter Eden-produced and now rare-as-hen’s-teeth 45, `Some Good Advice’.
Some three years in the making but unceremoniously dispatched from Deram’s prog-friendly Deram Nova splinter, BILL FAY (1970) {*7} was a little disjointed and off-key (think DYLAN acolyte DAVID BLUE), but the record’s strength lay in his sombre songwriting and baroque/classicism arrangements (think NICK DRAKE or LEONARD COHEN). Earnest but uneasy at times, lasting songs that will filter through are `Gentle Willie’, `Methane River’, `Garden Song’, `Cannons Plain’ and `Sing Us One Of Your Songs May’.
Equally motivated by biblical commentaries on Daniel And Revelations, and, to a lesser extent, the killings of four students at Kent University (at least in its title track), TIME OF THE LAST PERSECUTION (1971) {*8} was the bearded one’s spiritual revisionisms and apocalyptic prophecies; check out the bleak lyrics to `Don’t Let My Marigolds Die’, `’Til The Christ Come Back’, `Come A Day’, `Dust Filled Room’ and `Plan D’.
While similar Brit singer-songwriters/groups of the day (ALAN PRICE, PROCOL HARUM, et al) retained and maintained their star appeal, BILL FAY was dropped by Deram and duly went into retirement for several years. Between 1978 and 1981, he returned to the studio to cut a third album, a good many of these shelved recordings surfacing on a Durtro/Jnana collection, TOMORROW TOMORROW AND TOMORROW (2005) {*6}. There was also interest stemming from the previous year’s Wooden Hill release, FROM THE BOTTOM OF AN OLD GRANDFATHER CLOCK (A collection of demos and outtakes 1966-70) {*6}. With new material in the pipeline , STILL SOME LIGHT (2010) {*6} – featuring one disc of old material from the early 70s and the other brand new sit-ins from 2009 – it was clear why fans such as WILCO (who invited Bill on stage at a concert in 2007), JIM O’ROURKE, David Michael (of CURRENT 93/Durtro Records) and Ben Chasny (of SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE), idolised him so much.
Signed to Bloomington, Indiana-based independent Dead Oceans, FAY’s first fresh material since ’71, LIFE IS PEOPLE (2012) {*9} was a masterful, melancholy set of songs. Top 60 in his British homeland, and convinced by engineer Guy Massey (producer was Joshua Henry) to recreate his early 70s motifs, he roped in guitarist Ray Russell and drummer Alan Rushton, alongside Matt Deighton, Matt Armstrong, Mike Rowe and a gospel choir, to enhance proceedings. Although world-weary and a little rusty, the frail FAY performed at least three tracks of note: WILCO’s `Jesus, Etc.’, `This World’ (featuring JEFF TWEEDY) and the sweeping semi-classic `The Healing Day’. Spiritual, compassionate and humbling, the subject matter was reverent and moribund, although hope and grace/life and death had their say on others like `There Is A Valley’, `Be At Peace With Yourself’ and the 8-minute `Cosmic Concerto (Life Is People)’.
In retaining previous cohorts, 2015’s WHO IS THE SENDER? {*8} also spun-out that spider’s web of curiosity among indie-folk fans. Now in his 72nd year on Planet Earth, FAY was only too aware of its foibles and fears; the songs `War Machine’, `Underneath The Sun’ and `The Geese Are Flying Westward’ warnings to listeners around the world of our human frailties. Like a waltz before the storm, Bill affirmed his hymnal, Christian questioning – however plaintive and gentle – in profound presentation on `How Little’, `Bring It On Lord’, the biblical `The Freedom To Read’ and the sad-core title track.
Fans missing AWOL miserabilists The BLUE NILE might well yet steer a course to the wonderment of the unassuming BILL FAY track `In Human Hands’, the opener on the lilting 76 year-olds almost imperious COUNTLESS BRANCHES {*8}. His third set for Dead Oceans Records and clocking in at around a half hour; accompanied only by his piano (guitarists Matt Deighton and Ray Russell, plus bassist Matt Armstrong supplement bonus-disc band versions), Bill temporary stepped into the shoes of VAN MORRISON on `Filled With Wonder Once Again’, or JIM CROCE on `Time’s Going Nowhere’. The humbling `How Long, How Long’ and `I Will Remain Here’ (the latter recalling JOE COCKER’s `You Are So Beautiful’), FAY dealt with the age-long musing of mortality, and with the hymnal `Salt Of The Earth’ and finale `One Life’ (very “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”), quality outweighed quantity.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Apr2015-Jan2020

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