“Wayward” by Vashti Bunyan review – the adventures of wander woman

The 70s folk singer who re-emerged in the early 00s recounts her extraordinary existence on the road – and the sexism of the hippy era – in this spare, riveting memoir

Vashti Bunyan is a singer whose times have always come slowly, as though in thrall to some kind of cosmic jet lag. Decades after her winsome, haunting debut album Just Another Diamond Day was released in 1970 – sinking without trace – Bunyan went online and discovered that her abject failure, as she had understood it, was now a cult artefact changing hands for silly money.

So scarred had Bunyan been by the lack of validation at the time of Diamond Day’s release, she had put music away for an entire lifetime, never even singing to her three children in her otherworldly soprano. Unbeknown to her, she had since become a legend in alternative folk circles.

Upon her re-emergence in 2000, Bunyan shared with fawning journalists the extraordinary story of her flower child-era journey from London to Scotland by horse and cart that formed the basis of Just Another Diamond Day: a hippy dream that actually happened. Even better, Bunyan then embarked on a second musical career. The title of this riveting memoir is taken from a song on Bunyan’s second LP, 2005’s equally wonderful Lookaftering.

“I wanted to be the one with road dust on my boots,” yearns the title track, “and a single silver earring and a suitcase full of notes.” That song – and Bunyan’s memoir – tells of a countercultural dream gone awry as disillusionment and traditional gender roles clamped down on her youthful waywardness.

Blossoming once again in her own time, it has taken another 20 years for Bunyan to write her story down in spare, often luminous prose. “Berneray [in Scotland, where Bunyan lived for a time] held its ancient history near to the surface. With no trees, the only verticals being the new electricity poles, Viking days hung in the air with nothing to absorb them.” And also: “We were two idiot dreamers who chose the wrong island to carry out those dreams upon.”

The bare bones of the story will be familiar from the Diamond Day myth: in 1968, in pursuit of a simpler life, Bunyan and her then-partner, an artist, set off for singer Donovan’s place in Scotland in a cart pulled by Bess the horse (“Jog along Bess,” Bunyan sang on the album) with Blue the dog, writing songs as she went. “Towards a Hebridean sun, to build a white tower”, as one song had it.

Naturally, their plans hit bumps in the road from the off. The horse they had bought as Betsy (the receipt is included here) turned out to be a decade older than advertised when she was re-shod and the blacksmith at Truman’s Brewery in Brick Lane, east London, recognised her. The fact that the now ex-brewery still had a stable full of dray horses feels extraordinary in itself – 60s London often feels like ancient times in this book. That sense of dislocation is redoubled by the pre-industrial, back-to-basics existence Bunyan and her other half-embraced.

They kept clean in rivers, ate little but lentils, pooped in holes in the ground and favoured flowing Victoriana in their dress. Encountering as much suspicion as they did curiosity, they came to depend on the kindness of strangers – and the Traveller community. Bunyan’s mother’s grandfather had been a Romany, a fact painstakingly suppressed by the family that, somehow, did not pass unnoticed in the byways of northern Britain.

Even before they set off, you boggle at some of their choices. In 1967, the pair lived inside a bush on Bromley Common for a time. Later, as the miles grew longer and heavier, the pair decided to get poor Bess pregnant. When they finally arrive at Donovan’s mythical redoubt nearly a year later, having overwintered in a house lent to them, there is nowhere for them, or Bess, to stay. They eventually end up on Berneray – the island they “carried out their dreams on” – where the God-fearing locals mostly spurned them, although some were kind.

Throughout, the sexism of the times is breathtaking. Bunyan’s boyfriend “offers her” to Donovan. Her fledgling music career was dictated to her by men; many of the arrangements on her album repelled her. When she gave birth out of wedlock, there was considerable pressure to have her children adopted.

Bunyan’s life has had numerous acts since then; she recounts these faraway exploits with an awareness ripened with time. The educated way she and her then-partner spoke, for instance, may well have helped keep the police off their backs and unlock some of the kindness they received. Ultimately, though, Bunyan’s story is riveting, and her eventual rebirth as an artist, a triumph of playing the long game.

 Wayward: Just Another Life to Live by Vashti Bunyan is published by White Rabbit (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

Source: Wayward by Vashti Bunyan review – the adventures of wander woman

Guitar man: An interview with Richard Thompson

Groundbreaking British DJ John Peel once called him “the best kept-secret in the world of music,” but Richard Thompson has been flatpicking raging guitar solos for more than 50 years.


Groundbreaking British DJ John Peel once called him “the best kept-secret in the world of music,” but Richard Thompson has been flatpicking raging guitar solos for more than 50 years. He burst onto London’s swinging music scene in 1967 as the teenage singer and guitarist for Fairport Convention, the seminal folk-rock band that married traditional English songs with an infectious rock groove. In the ’70s, he began singing hypnotic duets in harmony with his then-wife Linda; their best-known album, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, was released in 1974.

In the early ’80s, the singer-songwriter went solo and has regularly put out albums ever since. Though he remains relatively under the radar, the press takes regular notice of him: In 2011, Time magazine listed his 1991 fingerpicking masterpiece “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” as one of their All-TIME 100 Songs, and in 2015, Rolling Stone put him at #69 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2011 for his musical contributions.

Last September, he released 13 Rivers, his 18th solo album. It features 13 thundering, mostly minor-key songs that Thompson vaguely describes as having been written during a dark time in his life. He brings the Richard Thompson Electric Trio, with drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk, to the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Thursday, Feb. 14. Pasatiempo reached him by phone at his rented house in New Jersey, where he was resting up in advance of his 2019 tour.

Pasatiempo: The songs on your new album have been described as having a “grim urgency” and an “unflinching gaze,” which could also characterize much of your songwriting over your career. In the first verse of the opener, “Storm Won’t Come,” you sing, “I’m longing for a storm to blow through town/And blow these sad old buildings down/Fire to burn what fire may/And rain to wash it all away.” Are these songs for troubled times, or is this just business as usual for you?

Richard Thompson: It’s not that bad if you really listen to it. [laughs] I don’t think I’ve written literally about anything. I’ve been in this parallel world of song fiction. I’m sure all these traumas that my son has been through are reflected in there.

Continue reading

Vashti Bunyan on Soho, silence and finding her voice


The word has been used to describe Vashti Bunyan so often over the years you wouldn’t be surprised to find her picture if you looked the word up in a dictionary. It’s been used about her voice – a delicate, slight yet utterly beautiful thing – and it’s been used about the woman, or at least the girl she was. The girl who was once signed up by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham. The girl who in 1970 released an album, Just Another Diamond Day, that nobody bought, a failure that crushed her will to make music for decades and saw her disappear in a horse and cart to the wilds of Scotland and Ireland. A fresh peach who was bruised by life. […]

Read the Full Story: Vashti Bunyan on Soho, silence and finding her voice (From HeraldScotland)