Vashti Bunyan - Realising a Myth


Vashti Bunyan is as much a mythical curiosity as she is musician. The cold facts of her musical career are extraordinary. She released her debut album in 1970. It was a spectacular disaster and sold about 35 copies. Heartbroken she walked away from music - her dream in tatters. What happened over the following 30 years is the stuff of legend. Slowly her album, completely unbeknown to her, gathered an enormous cult following with copies selling for hundreds of pounds. She eventually found out about this success when she was almost sixty years old. This sparked the release of a second album - 35 years after the first. She now performs extremely infrequently, but sells enough records to consider herself a successful recording artist. Those are the bare bones - but they are not why she is seen as such a figure of romanticism.

In the late 60s and early 70s she was involved in one of the great folk revivals. Her place was not in the epicentre. Her name won't appear next to Dylan's or The Incredible String band's, but she was living out a story of musical exploration and nomadism that’s as pure and symbolic of the era as exists. Based on this story she is viewed by folk historians and folk enthusiasts (I promise they’re not all ale glugging morris dancers jigging outside country inns) as a legend. I’m not going to tell you the whole story. You should look it up, and if it interested you then you should read Electric Eden by Rob Young.

Anyway, what this rambling doggerel is meant to do is explain why going to a Vashti Bunyan show is a little like going to watch the actual Achilles, or King Arthur. So infrequent and small in size are her shows, and so pristine an image does she hold that you do feel slightly in the presence of a fictional story character come-to-life.

The concert was held in St. Pancras Old Church - a venue with a capacity of 120, that had sold out within a few blinks of being put on sale. The atmosphere was hushed. There was frankincense burning, and an air of reverence that created a tension. Her performance was good. Her voice is like a thin shard of glass: beautiful, but seemingly in danger or breaking at any moment. Just Another Diamond Day held particular magic following a story about her early days as a musician. She told us about how upset she’d been at continually being told that she was not commercial enough to warrant representation. Gleefully she went on to explain that in 2002 she was asked whether Just Another Day could feature on a major UK television advert. Is wasn’t her kind of thing she explained, but the glorious sense of proving her early doubters wrong prevailed, and she takes huge pleasure in having gone commercial.

It was the time in-between songs that I enjoyed the most. Yarns about living on the road, about Scotland, relationships and hardships flowed like a group sitting round a campfire. Thankfully we’re far enough into this article that there’s probably nobody still reading, because I’m about to mention the only bad thing about the evening. It was the one thing out of her control - the sound. Technology failed, and the PA uttered a slightly obscene and prolonged noise about once during most of her songs. That’s it.

I began writing this piece as a live review, and I am acutely aware of the fact that I have written very little about the show. In my mind the show is only worth reading about if you know the story, and my interpretation of the experience of seeing Vashti is based entirely on my perception of her, her life and what she represents. So I'm not sorry.

Her new record, Heart Leap, came out this month and if you’ve not heard Vashti before then first listen to Just Another Diamond day (below). If you become friends then go from there. If you have, then I can tell you that it's every bit as dreamy as you'd like it to be.