It was fifty years ago, in 1965, that Vashti Bunyan’s musical career began. She looked destined for great things. Sadly, that proved not to be the case. Five years after her career began, Vashti Bunyan released her debut album Just Another Day in 1970. It failed to chart. This lead to Vashti Bunyan retiring from music. Nothing was heard of Vashti Bunyan for thirty-two years.
Then in 2002, Vashti Bunyan made a comeback. However, another three years passed before Vashti released her sophomore album Lookaftering in 2005. Another nine years before Vashti released her third album Heartleap, on Fat Cat Records. A year later, and Heartleap finds itself one of the contenders forthe 2015 Scottish Album of The Year Award. That’s fitting, given 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Vashti’s musical debut. Back then, Vashti was in love with music. Little did she think that she would ever fall out of love with music. However, she did. During that period, Vashti was one of music’s best kept secrets.
For thirty-two years, Vashti Bunyan was one of music’s best kept secrets. Vashti’s music was almost unknown outside of a small, loyal coterie of music lovers. This included a new generation of folk singers, including Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. Their careers were influenced by Vashti Bunyan, and especially, her 1970 debut album Just Another Diamond Day.
Five years after Vashti’s career began in 1965, she released her debut album Just Another Diamond Day. It was well received upon its released on Phillips, in 1970. Sadly, Just Another Diamond Day failed commercially. This lead to Vashti retiring from music. She was gone, but not forgotten.
Over the next thirty-two years, gradually, Just Another Diamond Day found the audience it deserved. It was reappraised by a new generation of music lovers and critics. They realised that Just Another Diamond Day was a long lost classic. This resulted in Vashti Bunyan making a welcome return to music in 2002. The story that began in 1965, picked up where it left off in 2002.
Vashti Bunyan was just twenty when she was “discovered” by Andrew Loog Oldham. This wasn’t the direction Vashti envisaged her career heading when she left her London home and headed to the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, an art school at Oxford University.
The dreaming spires of Oxford University weren’t for Vashti Bunyan. It was a familiar story. Vashti failed to turn up for classes. Eventually, Vashti was expelled from the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. For Vashti Bunyan, this proved to be the start of a new chapter in her career.
Aged just eighteen, Vashti headed to New York. This was 1963. Bob Dylan had just released his classic album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Vashti discovered Bob Dylan’s music. The gateway to Bob Dylan’s music was his opus, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Having immersed herself in Bob Dylan’s music, Vashti realised what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She wanted to be a musician.
So Vashti headed home to London. It was there that she encountered Andrew Loog Oldham, The Rolling Stones’ manager. He spotted Vashti’s potential and became her manager. In June 1965, Vashti Bunyan released her debut single as Vashti.
This was no ordinary single. It was a single penned by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind had originally been released by The Rolling Stones on 13th February 1964. Just sixteen months later, the Jagger-Richards’ penned Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind was released in June 1965 on Decca. For Vashti, this was an inauspicious debut. It failed to chart. Maybe her sophomore single would fare better?
It wasn’t until May 1966, that Vashti Bunyan released her sophomore single. This was Train Song. Produced by Peter Snell, Train Song was released on Columbia. Lightning struck twice. Train Song disappeared without trace. For Vashti, her nascent musical career seemed to have stalled.
For the next two years, very little was heard of Vashti. Her only appearance was on The Coldest Night of the Year, a track from Twice as Much’s sophomore album That’s All. That proved to be an ironic title, as that’s all that was heard from Vashti during that period of her career.
Although Vashti released other songs for Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate Records, they were never released. For Vashti, this must have been disappointing. Maybe that’s why Vashti and her then partner, Robert Lewis, decided to head off on a road trip.
This was very different to Jack Kerouac’s legendary road trip in On The Road. Vashti and Robert headed off to the Hebridean Islands by horse and cart. That was where singer- songwriter Donavan, a friend of Vashti, had planned to established a commune. This trip proved to be inspirational for Vashti.
During the road trip to the Hebridean Islands, Vashti wrote the songs that featured on her 1970 debut album Just Another Diamond Day. It would be produced by Joe Boyd, who Joe met at Christmas, 1968.
It was through a mutual friend that Vashti and Joe Boyd met. When Joe saw the songs, he immediately offered Vashti the chance to record an album of her travelling songs for his Witchseason Productions. However, this didn’t happen immediately.
Just Another Diamond Day.
A year later, in 1969, Vashti returned to London to record her debut album Just Another Diamond Day, with Joe Boyd. Vashti had no band. This didn’t matter. An all-star folk band would join Vashti on Another Diamond Day.
This included Dave Swarbrick and Simon Nicol from Fairport Convention. They were joined by the Incredible String Band’s Robin Williamson. The final piece of the jigsaw was string arranger, Robert Kirby. Just like Joe Boyd, Robert Kirby would go on to work with Nick Drake. Before that, they worked on Just Another Diamond Day, which was recorded at Sound Techniques Studios, in London. Just Another Diamond Day was then released in December 1970.
When Just Another Diamond Day was released in December 1970, it was well received by critics. They appreciated Vashti Bunyan’s new sound. She was now a fully fledged folk singer. This suited Vashti. Just Another Diamond Day veered between pastoral, ethereal, lush, understated, rural, melancholy, cerebral and cinematic. Sadly, when Just Another Diamond Day was released, it failed commercially. Vashti took this badly.
She retired from music after the commercial failure of Just Another Diamond Day. At first, Vashti stayed in one of The Incredible String Band’s Glen Row cottages. After that, Vashti moved to Ireland, and then settled in to Scotland. For the next thirty years, Vashti settled into family life. She had three children. As her children grew up, little did Vashti realise that somewhat belatedly, Just Another Diamond Day found the audience it so richly deserved.
Since her retirement in 1970, gradually, Another Diamond Day found the audience it deserved. It was reappraised by a new generation of music lovers and critics. Among Just Another Diamond Day’s fans, were a new generation of musicians who had been influenced by Vashti Bunyan. They realised that Just Another Diamond Day, which was reissued in 2000, was a long lost classic. Eventually, Vashti Bunyan decided to make a welcome return to music in 2002.
This started with Vashti making guest appearances on Piano Magic’s 2002 single Writers Without Homes. Two years later, Piano Magic and Vashti collaborated on the Saint Marie E.P. This was just the start of a string of guest appearances and collaborations Vashti made.
Vashti’s next collaboration was on Devendra Banhart’s 2004 album Rejoicing In The Hands. This was quite fitting. Vashti is credited as the Queen of freak folk. Devendra Banhart was one of her disciples. It was a case of two generations of freak folk collaborating. This wasn’t the last of Vashti’s collaborations.
A year later, Vashti worked with another band who were influenced by her music. This was Animal Collective. Vashti appeared on their 2005 E.P. Prospect Hunter. However, the most important release for Vashti in 2005 was her sophomore album Lookaftering.
It had been a long time coming. Thirty-five years to be precise. However, eventually, Vashti made a very welcome return to the studio. The result was her sophomore album Lookaftering.
On Lookaftering, Vashti was joined by some of the artists she had influenced. This included Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. A familiar face was Robert Kirby, who played such an important part in Vashti’s 1970 debut album Just Another Diamond Day. He played trumpet and French horn on Lookaftering, which was released on Fat Cat Records, in October 2005.
Just like when Just Another Diamond Day was released December 1970, Lookaftering was released to critical acclaim. Lookaftering was released to an appreciative audience. Understated, ethereal, cerebral, beautiful and ruminative, Lookaftering was a return to form from a reflective, philosophical Vashti. Older and wiser, Vashti Bunyan had matured with age. Surely, it wouldn’t be long before Vashti released her third album?
That’s proved not to be the case. Nine years have passed since Vashti released Lookaftering, Valerie released her third album Heartleap on Fat Cat Records.
Heartleap features nine songs written by Vashti. She plays acoustic guitar and is accompanied by a small, talented band. This includes strings courtesy of Fiona Bruce, Ian Burdge and Gillian Cameron. Guitarists Garth Dickson and Andy Cabic are joined by Jo Mango on kalimba and dulcimer. Saxophonist Ian Wilson also plays recorder. Devendra Banhart, who featured on Lookaftering, makes a welcome return, adding backing vocals. These musicians played their part in the recording of Heartleap.
When Heartleap was released, critics hailed the album as a return to form from Vashti Bunyan. Thirty-five years after turning her back on music, and twelve years since she stepped back into the limelight, the Queen of Psych Folk was back, and better than ever.
Across The Water opens Heartleap. Just acoustic guitars and plucked strings accompany Vashti’s tender, wistful vocal. There’s a sense of sadness and melancholy in her vocal. That’s apparent when she sings: “every day is every day.” Later, strings tug at your heartstring, as Vashti sings: “learn to fall with the grace of it all.” This mixture of ethereal beauty and melancholy is the perfect way to open any album, never mind a long awaited comeback album like Heartleap.
Vashti’s vocal on Holy Smoke is breathy and understated. There’s an ethereal quality to her vocal. Guitars and synths accompany her. They create a mesmeric backdrop. Then sharp flourishes of strings enter. They’re joined by tender bursts of harmonies. However, what holds your attention is Vashti’s tender vocal and melancholy lyrics, including: “I’m only as lonely as I want to be.” The pastoral beauty of Holy Smoke is a reminder of what music lost when Vashti turned her back on music in 1970.
Mother is another piano lead song. You’re drawn in by the piano. You wonder where the song is heading. Vashti almost pounds the keys. Then when her wistful vocal enters, it’s quite a contrast. Accompanied by strings, there’s a sadness in Vashti’s vocal as she remembers her mother, as she sits playing the piano and smiling. This beautiful song is a snapshot of Vashti’s younger life.
As Jellyfish unfolds, an unlikely combination of instruments accompany Vashti. A recorder is joined by synths, acoustic guitar, plucked strings and synths. They enveloped Vashti’s lilting, dreamy vocal. Adding the finishing touches are swathes of lush strings. They play their part a dreamy, lysergic song.
Some of the arrangements on Heartleap have a sparseness. That’s the case at the start of Shell. Just meandering, chiming guitars and synths combine. They’re provide the backdrop for Vashti’s heartfelt vocal When her vocal drops out, the arrangement is panned. This proves effective. It holds your attention. Never does your mind stray. Not when Vashti is veering between storyteller and philosopher. Imagery and metaphors are omnipresent as a worldweary Vashti delivers some cerebral lyrics.
Straight away, The Boy has a cinematic quality. The lyrics paint pictures in your mind’s eye. As Vashti sings, you wonder what The Boy has seen and heard. You fear for him, and his future, during what’s one of the most moving songs on Heartleap.
Gunpowder is a song about love and love lost. A rueful Vashti is accompanied by strings, acoustic guitar and synths. She’s in a reflective mood, wondering what might have been. That’s apparent when Vashti sings: “I blew my chances, and you throw the years out, with all the merry dances you led me, you led me.”
Blue Shed features just a lone piano accompanying Vashti. There’s a sense of longing in her voice. She longs to be alone, longs to be away from people. Deep down, she realises this is wrong. “I might be sorry, oh it might be the end of me.” Despite this, Vashti longs to be alone. This is sure to be, a song that many people will be able to relate to.
The arrangement to Here swells up. Recorders, droning synths, guitars and a dulcimer combine. Very different is Vashti’s vocal. It’s almost a whisper. This works well. You listen intently to her vocal. What you hear are some beautiful, joyous lyrics about being with someone you love.
Heartleap closes with the title-track. It’s just Vashti’s breathy vocal, accompanied by her guitar and synths. This gives the arrangement an understated sound. Her lyrics are like a stream of consciousness. They’re also quite beautiful. As for the arrangement, there’s a brief nod to John Martyn’s Solid Air. Mostly, though it’s Vashti Bunyan, the comeback Queen, whose no longer one of music’s best kept secrets.
Unlike another inferior album released this week, Vashti Bunyan’s third album Heartleap was quietly released on Fatcat Records on 6th October 2014. There was no fuss and no hype. Vashti it seems, was content to let her music speak for itself. It does. However, Vashti I think, is being too modest. Heartleap is an album that she should be truly proud of.
Heartleap is an album that oozes quality and ethereal beauty. That’s the case from the opening bars of Across The Water, to the closing notes of Heartleap. It’s best described as dreamy, melancholy, beautiful, ethereal, haunting, cerebral and wistful. Elements of ambient, folk, jazz, freak folk and psychedelia can be heard during the ten songs on Heartleap. They only last thirty-four minutes. However, Heartleap is thirty-four flawless minutes of music.
The potent and heady brew that is Heartleap showcases Vashti Bunyan’s considerable talents. Sadly, however, Heartleap is only Vashti Bunyan’s third album. After the commercial failure of her debut 1970 debut album Just Another Diamond Day, Vashti turned her back on music.
It was thirty-five years until we heard from Vashti Bunyan. She released Lookaftering in 2005. Many thought Vashti was back for good. She flitted out of our lives for another nine years. Although she dabbled in music, she never released another album. That was until now.
Now aged sixty-nine, Vashti Bunyan decided to release her long awaited third album, Heartleap. For her legion of loyal fans, this was good news. They’d lived in hope that Vashti would release another album. With each year that passed, it looked like we’d heard the last of Vashti Bunyan. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
Twelve years after the release of Lookaftering, Vashti Bunyan has returned with Heartleap. It’s a career defining album. Heartleap surpasses 2005s Lookaftering, and comes close to rivalling Vashti Bunyan’s lost classic Just Another Diamond Day. That’s how good an album Heartleap is. I’m not surprised about this.
Vashti Bunyan was always a hugely talented singer and songwriter. That was the case in 1970, when she released Just Another Diamond Day. Sadly, Vashti Bunyan was ahead of the musical curve. When Just Another Diamond Day failed commercially, she turned her back on music. Gradually, though, a new generation of music lovers, critics and musicians discovered Just Another Diamond Day. Belatedly, Vashti Bunyan was receiving the critical acclaim that her music so richly deserves. No longer is Vashti Bunyan one of music’s best kept secrets. Instead, Vashti Bunyan is the comeback Queen, who has just released Heartleap, an album that oozes quality and ethereal beauty and would be a deserving winner of 2015s Scottish Album Of The Year Award.