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VASHTI BUNYAN – Lookaftering (FatCat)

Posted: October 5th, 2005, by Simon Proffitt

If you thought the Stone Roses took a long time to deliver their second album (Stone Roses to Second Coming in 5 years), or maybe bleep pioneers LFO (Frequencies to Advance also in 5 years), then take a look at folk legend Vashti Bunyan. It’s a fascinating story: kicked out of art college in 1964 for writing songs instead of making art, Vashti released a couple of unheralded singles in the mid 60s and then set off for the Isle Of Skye in a horse drawn cart in order to get out of the city and hang out with likeminded people. Her first album, Just Another Diamond Day, was released in 1969 with little commercial success and she subsequently disappeared. Fast forward 30 years or so, and say hello to our old friend the Google vanity search. Vashti, to her surprise, discovers that she’s a highly respected cult figure and that the 21st century is clamouring for more. Diamond Day gets a reissue, and offers of work roll in. The next thing she knows she’s recording with the Animal Collective and recording material for her ‘difficult second album’. Fortunately, it’s another gem.

Just Another Diamond Day was/is a beautiful record: delicate, whimsical, deeply personal and totally refreshing. It was a hard act to follow. And the slightly underwhelming, syrupy and polished opener of Lookaftering, Lately, might suggest that it hasn’t been followed too successfully. Sure, Vashti’s voice is still exquisite, vulnerable and sweetly innocent, but the tastefully lush string and woodwind arrangements sound a little, um, Radio 2. And I’m a bit worried that this is way things will continue – straightforward, faintly nondescript 21st century radio friendly over-produced folk-lite. It’s kinda stupid to expect more of exactly the same, but still…I hope that she hasn’t lost the plot. But the gently lilting melodies and warmth of the arrangements soon eat away at my doubts, and around halfway through I realise that I’m really loving what I’m hearing. It’s a grower, for sure, and we have to wait until track 6 (Turning Backs) for the first genuine moment of spine tingling, stellar beauty – a haunting piano line, honeyed vocals and a sunburst of hammered dulcimers. In fact the second (and third) plays grow even more, and I’m even now feeling mean for having mentioned Radio 2.

It’s a brave and brilliant move by FatCat – had this been released on a less hip label, perhaps one dedicated to contemporary folk music, it might have slipped under the radar – filed away quietly and unjustly in Borders next to Kate Rusby and Eliza Carthy, and only being detected by those in the know. But Lookaftering deserves much more, and certainly deserves to be heard by more people than are currently hearing Jamie C*ll*m and Jim Moray, two current darlings of paid-for-by-the-marketing-meatheads daytime-TV spots. FatCat don’t necessarily have the power to put Vashti on the National Lottery show, but they’re certainly allowing a whole new generation of appreciative music fans to hear something wonderful. Plus, in these times when Finnish rural psychedelia is becoming so ubiquitous, it’s a breath of fresh air for the songs not to be buried under 100dB of tape hiss.

So, then: marvellous. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another 30 years for album number 3.

Vashti Bunyan
FatCat Records

Simon Proffitt

Simon was born near Clowne, Derbyshire and is now an honorary Welshman. In former guises he has created fake diamonds, developed ultra-high-capacity storage devices and been one half of slow-moving, ├╝ber-pretentious record label Fourier Transform. He now spends his evenings recording silence and banging kitchen utensils.


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