The album that camein from the cold

Vashti Bunyan released her first and only album in the early Seventies. Steve Jelbert asks her why it took 30 years to achieve critical acclaim
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The Independent Culture

"For three years I would record something, and it would always fall through. So I got completely disillusioned with the music business." Vashti Bunyan is recalling her days as a hopeful starlet, one of Andrew Loog Oldham's ever-expanding stable, in the Sixties. She met an art student who had ideas about reactivating ley lines with horses and wagons and pilgrimages, and the pair of them decided to leave the city and move to the opposite end of the country. To the Hebrides, in fact. In a horse-drawn wagon. It took two years to get there, by which time most of the members of the commune they planned to join had already decamped back to the capital.

"For three years I would record something, and it would always fall through. So I got completely disillusioned with the music business." Vashti Bunyan is recalling her days as a hopeful starlet, one of Andrew Loog Oldham's ever-expanding stable, in the Sixties. She met an art student who had ideas about reactivating ley lines with horses and wagons and pilgrimages, and the pair of them decided to leave the city and move to the opposite end of the country. To the Hebrides, in fact. In a horse-drawn wagon. It took two years to get there, by which time most of the members of the commune they planned to join had already decamped back to the capital.

Along the way, Bunyan found time to write and record an album, Just Another Diamond Day, for the legendary producer Joe Boyd. Dribbling out a year later, in 1970, it almost instantly disappeared but gradually achieved cult status as the only disc made by Boyd's influential Witchseason set-up to remain unavailable.

Until now, that is, as the tiny Spinney label, previously responsible for rescuing the eerie soundtrack to The Wicker Man, has reissued it to near-unanimous acclaim.

It's a lovely record, quite deceptive in its message. Recorded in three days, it features musicians such as Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band - another outfit currently receiving critical reappraisal - and Fairport Convention's Dave Swarbrick and Simon Nicol, with string and recorder arrangements by Robert Kirby, best known for his work with Nick Drake. Its pastoral mood is quite at odds with the circumstances in which it was produced.

"It's a bit of a social document, in that it was possible to have the dreams I had then, and the thoughts that led to those songs while I was travelling through industrial England in the late Sixties - it was pretty grim." Bunyan is delighted that the review in the NME (only 30 years late), "got it right in saying that world only existed in 'the played-out fantasies of a few ambitious hippies'. I didn't actually live like that, nor have I since." She even wrote a letter of thanks.

The soft-spoken Bunyan, looking great in her fifties, now lives in a sunny flat in Edinburgh, though times were not always so comfortable. Withdrawing from the music business after the album's release and the birth of her first child, she moved to the west of Ireland. "We heard houses were going pretty cheap, but by the time we got there they'd gone up from 100 quid to 500," she laughs. "Out of our range." Then there were times spent making things "to sell by the roadside", until she ventured into furniture restoration. It was only on moving to the city in the Nineties and becoming acquainted with the internet that she realised there was any interest in her music at all.

"I didn't know about any of it - that one of my songs had been on the soundtrack of Tonite Let's All Make Love In London, or that a track I'd recorded with one of Oldham's boy bands, Twice As Nice, had been on their album. At the same time I was travelling up the country, penniless, in a horse and cart," she admits.

"I got back in touch with Oldham. I never thought that I would ever be speaking to him again," she says, surprised. Having read the first part of his autobiography, Stoned, she's coming to terms with her own role in the times. "There were no young people in power when I started off. People like Andrew let us in. I like his book because it talks about British pop music. He's not scared of talking about people like Cliff Richard and the Shadows, the Beatles." This woman was present at the recording of PP Arnold's definitive version of "The First Cut Is the Deepest". And she knew Nick Drake.

"I met him a couple of times. Joe tried to get us to make some music together, but it was obvious that he wasn't keen. He was very unhappy already. I'd meet him in Joe's office sometimes and he'd just turn away and look at the wall," she recalls. "It was hard not to take it personally, but it was just that he could not speak to people." Bunyan makes no claims to being in the same class, though parts of Diamond Day aren't miles away in sound. She understands his dejection at being ignored, though. "I only felt a tiny bit of what he felt, but the rejection sent me to the far edges of convention to get away from how I felt about it."

It may have taken 30 years, but she finally feels vindicated. "I'm surprised at the way it's caught people's imagination," she says, delighted, and there may even be some kind of belated follow-up. "I'm trying to make music, and I'm sure it's because I know now that there are people who enjoyed what I did 30 years ago."

'Just Another Diamond Day' is out now on Spinney

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