Back before she recorded with Devandra and Joanna, before the remarkable resurrection of Diamond Day, even before her legendary late 60s horse-and-cart trek from London to the Isle of Skye, Vashti Bunyan was a figure from an older, weirder England: she was a would-be star at the very birth of British Pop.
This charming new compilation of lost singles and early demos makes plain what Bunyan has always insisted on: she wasn’t a pre-Raphaelite folk princess, or roving contemporary of Anne Briggs, but rather an aspiring singer-songwriter, an early, ambitious recruit to Andrew Loog Oldham’s “Industry of Human Happiness”, and, as photos from the time show, a dead ringer for Kate Nash. Maybe that’s not such an unlikely comparison: but while Nash in 2007 can take her sweet, strange, slightly gauche songs to the top of the charts, in 1965 Bunyan could only be a kind of singing doll, and ALO evidently saw her as the next Marianne Faithfull, setting her up with the title track, a winsome Jagger and Richards number.
The single failed, Oldham’s attention turned elsewhere, and Bunyan’s career faltered in the face of industry indifference. But this anthology, compiled from mouldering old acetates and tapes, rescues several songs that hint at the kind of pop writer she might have been, and show the beginnings of the singer who recorded ‘Diamond Day’.
“Winter Is Blue”, an unreleased single from 1966, is an eerie, baroque number that might not be out of place on early Joni Mitchell album, while “Coldest Night Of The Year”, recorded with Immediate label mates Twice As Much, is a deliciously frosty British take on the Beach Boys. And the second disc, a whole set of 1964 demos, recorded straight through in an hour, reveal an oddly determined, genuinely peculiar talent. Now that Diamond Day inescapably rings out during every ad-break, perhaps, after a long detour, Vashti Bunyan has finally become the pop star she always meant to be.
Q&A With Vashti Bunyan:
UNCUT: How do you feel about these songs now?
The demos on the second disc I hadn’t heard until a few months ago. It was very odd. It was like finding teenage poetry in the back of a drawer! It’s so earnest and so heartfelt! Some of them I would like to bury forever. But “Find My Heart Again” and “Someday” – it might have been nice if they’d had an Andrew Oldham arrangement.
What motivated you to release them?
I don’t think people who have heard Diamond Day are aware that I was initially trying to make be a pop singer. I didn’t want to be a folk singer! I wanted to show another part of that time, when young people really grabbed a hold of the music business. It never occurred to me that it was glamorous. But of course it was wonderful and deeply fascinating. Just to be around this world of Andrew Oldham and the Stones. Everyone was so young. The glamorous world was the other one – the one that the old guard who had been in show business since the 20s and 30s ran. Andrew broke through all that.
INTERVIEW: STEPHEN TROUSSÉ