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Vashti Bunyan - Just Another Diamond Day CD (album) cover


Vashti Bunyan


Prog Folk

3.56 | 23 ratings

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5 stars A bucolic dream, a lost treasure, a must for Nick Drake fans

The story of Vashti Bunyan is one of the most incredible in all of music. A London art school drop-out, Bunyan had the luck to meet and impress Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham. She recorded some singles during her brief flirtation with swinging London but was disheartened with the way things were going. So rather than hang out and stagnate with the counterculture nonsense around her, she pulled a disappearing act that makes Syd Barrett look like an attention-seeker. In the summer of '68, Bunyan and her partner Robert hitched a horse to a cart and left London for the Isle of Skye on the Scottish coast. It took them two years to get there, having to stop every 20 miles to shoe the horse. They were searching for a rural throwback existence, a traditional life in a quiet place to raise their children, to grow their food. They would find it, but not before fate intervened to make Vashti the "Godmother of the modern psych-folk scene" according to some.

"traveling towards a Hebridean sun to build a white tower in our heads begun"

Over the course of their two year trek into the rural past Bunyan had been writing songs about their horse drawn journey and about the life they imagined when they arrived. Legendary producer Joe Boyd heard about this and managed to coax Bunyan back to London for one week of sessions with members of The Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention, along with Robert Kirby who had scored Nick Drake's album. Only 500 copies of "Just Another Diamond Day" were pressed, and according to Joe Boyd only about 150 were sold. Bunyan was upset that the album was so clearly ignored and unceremoniously threw music over her shoulder. She would not record or perform again for three decades as she retreated to an idyllic private life of raising her three children in rural Scotland and Ireland. She vanished from the music scene more successfully than Syd Barrett did and by all accounts had an incredible adventure. What were those years like?

"Cleaning out and lighting the old kitchen range in the morning, getting the kids to the school bus down the long bumpy track, cooking huge meals for us and all the people who worked with us, mountains of washing, scrubbing the floors, getting in trouble with the next door farmer either for one of the dogs wandering through his sheep or my son riding his motorbike through the new crops (both of which I still feel guilty about), picking up the kids from the school bus, more cooking, making bread, chopping wood, cleaning, polishing, despairing of ever getting it all done. Every mealtime was filled with political discussion and good-natured arguing, and every evening would be spent in front of a big log fire." -Vashti, to Pitchfork Magazine

"I had no idea what Skye or the Hebrides would be like, but I had always yearned for the freedom of the countryside and had romantic notions about farms and farmers and shepherds. By time I reached the Hebrides I had learned about the realities of farming and was an aspiring vegetarian. The art scene I had left behind in London had never appealed to me. I was looking for something different and certainly found it in the enormous wisdom and humour, and the story-telling, amongst the more elderly members of the island communities. I was so overwhelmed by respect for the ancient music I heard there that my own songs seemed irrelevant." -Vashti, to

But as Bunyan spent the middle of her life in this authentic fashion something strange happened back in the music world. Old copies of her album were discovered by the likes of Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, and the new acid-folk fans, and the album started to trade at auction for huge money. So in the late 90s with her children grown and having moved to Edinburgh, Bunyan was inspired to return to the music scene. She finds it ironic that her own peers rejected her music in 1970 but that she was given a second chance by people young enough to be her children decades later. I think part of this can be credited to the unique and "real" feeling of the music. This wasn't contrived hippie pining by rockers who would sing one thing in the day time and spend the nights enjoying the drug scene. It wasn't an album theme. These were the heartfelt dreams of a young woman who wanted a real life, and got one.

So what does the music sound like? It's just Vashti. Her voice is ghostly frail and hauntingly beautiful, so soft as to often be little more than a whisper. She may briefly conjure early Joni Mitchell in your mind but not for long. She is accompanied by her acoustic guitar and recorder, mandolin, strings, and words that reflect a life of family and work ethic, fresh air and natural beauty. The songs are very short and seemingly childlike but this is not "kid music" in any shallow sense. After laying down her vocals, she had little to do with the mixing and was actually not happy with the folkish arrangements at the time, she did not consider herself a traditional folkie, but something more unique. She had different ideas about how it should sound but lacked the assertiveness to get involved, though today she recalls it more fondly than she did at the time.

In my opinion she frets too much, I think Boyd knew exactly what he was doing here and I think the results are about perfect. There is a personality that is completely original and her own-in fact it is not really true to call this psych folk or acid folk because it never panders to the drug scene contingent, Bunyan wasn't into drugs. So while it is praised by acid-folkies don't expect that which is overly weird. Don't expect the craziness of Comus by any means! For some this will be twee and far too delicate, one review I saw said "It makes Nick Drake sound like Lou Reed." You must be willing to dim the lights and just lay back and chill. Expect to be told stories about traveling and feeding the animals by a young woman who will captivate you, as you realize that immediately after she sang these songs she walked away from music for decades. It almost never happened at all and how lucky that it did.

"Vashti's songs may seem unreal to urbanized listeners but they should listen with open hearts and minds. I have never known anyone whose music is so completely a reflection of their life and spirit." -Joe Boyd, producer

Very far from prog-rock, Diamond Day is nonetheless an essential relic to me. I love the fact that this is the sincere soundtrack to a life more than a high minded concept. It may be a collection of simple lullabies and soft observations, but it remains a timeless, touching experience.

Finnforest | 5/5 |


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