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|Jennifer Vashti Bunyan|
1945 (age 72–73)|
Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Bunyan released her debut album, Just Another Diamond Day, in 1970. The album sold very few copies and Bunyan, discouraged, abandoned her musical career. By 2000, her album had acquired a cult following; it was re-released and Bunyan recorded more songs, initiating the second phase of her musical career after a gap of thirty years. She subsequently released two albums: Lookaftering in 2005, and Heartleap in 2014.
Vashti Bunyan was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1945 to John and Helen Bunyan, and moved to London at six months old. Although she has been said to be descended from The Pilgrim's Progress author John Bunyan, this is a claim she has herself denied. In the early 1960s, she studied at The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at Oxford University, but was expelled for failing to turn up to classes.
At age 18, she traveled to New York and discovered the music of Bob Dylan through his The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan album and decided to become a full-time musician. Returning to London, she was discovered by The Rolling Stones' manager Andrew Loog Oldham. In June 1965, under his direction, she released her first single, "Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind", penned by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Released using simply the name Vashti, it was backed with her own song "I Want to Be Alone". This single and her follow-up "Train Song", released on Columbia in May 1966, produced by Canadian Peter Snell, received little attention.
The only other release of this time was her distinctive vocal on "The Coldest Night of the Year" by Twice as Much which eventually turned up on their second and final LP, That's All, by Oldham's Immediate Records in 1968. After recording further songs for Immediate Records, which remain unreleased, and making a brief appearance in the 1967 documentary Tonite Let's All Make Love in London, with her song "Winter Is Blue", she decided to travel with her then boyfriend Robert Lewis by horse and cart to the Hebrides to join a commune planned by a friend, fellow singer/songwriter Donovan ("...from South London up to the Hebrides. Initially to Skye but we carried on to the Outer Hebrides."). During the trip she began writing the songs which eventually became her first album, Just Another Diamond Day.
At Christmas 1968, during a break from her trip, she met Joe Boyd through a friend and he offered to record an album of her travelling songs for his Witchseason Productions. A year later Vashti returned to London and recorded her first LP with assistance from Simon Nicol and Dave Swarbrick of Fairport Convention, Robin Williamson of The Incredible String Band and string arranger Robert Kirby. The album appeared on Philips Records to warm reviews in December 1970, but struggled to find an audience.
Disappointed, she left the music industry and moved to The Incredible String Band's Glen Row cottages, then Ireland, and back to Scotland. Much of the ensuing 30 years were spent raising her three children. In this time, entirely unknown to her, the original album slowly became one of the most sought-after records of its time. It has sold online on Discogs for as much as $3,946.
In 2000, Just Another Diamond Day was re-released on CD (with bonus tracks), assuring her influence over a new generation of folk artists such as Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. In 2001, Banhart wrote to her asking for her advice, beginning her connection with many of the contemporary performers who cite her work. In 2002, she was invited by Piano Magic musician Glen Johnson to sing guest vocals on his song "Crown of the Lost", her first recording in over 30 years. Since then, she has appeared on releases by Devendra Banhart and Animal Collective.
In 2005, she recorded and released her second album, Lookaftering on Fat Cat Records, some 35 years after her first. The album was produced by composer Max Richter and featured many of her contemporary followers including Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Adem, Kevin Barker of Currituck Co, Otto Hauser of Espers and Adam Pierce of Mice Parade. It was well received by critics and fans alike.
During the autumn of 2006, Bunyan assembled an ad hoc band and embarked on a brief North American tour, with performances in both Canada and the US. She performed songs from both of her solo albums, as well as some of the rare material from the unreleased Oldham sessions.
Her music reached a much wider audience when "Just Another Diamond Day" was covered and used in a TV advert for T-Mobile. "Train Song" gained her further attention when it was used in 2008 by Reebok for an ad for the NFL, in 2014 as part of the soundtrack for the TV series True Detective, as well as in 2015 as the opening credits song for the Amazon Original Series Patriot.
In 2007, she collaborated with novelist Rodge Glass on the song "The Fire" for the compilation album Ballads of the Book which was devised to combine Scottish writers with Scottish singers (Bunyan lives in Edinburgh). Bunyan also provided vocals on three songs for former Jack frontman Anthony Reynolds' debut solo album British Ballads. Bunyan sang with Reynolds on the songs "Country Girl", "Just So You Know" and "Song of Leaving". In October 2007 a compilation album of her mid-1960s singles and unreleased demos was released entitled Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind - Singles and Demos 1964 to 1967.
In January 2008, Vashti said she was in the process of recording a new album: "I'm supposed to be writing just now. I have one complete song and a whole lot of fragments. I'm supposed to have them finished by May and there's no way."
In June 2008, Vashti appeared at London's Royal Festival Hall with The Heritage Orchestra as part of Massive Attack's Meltdown, in a live performance of Vangelis' Blade Runner soundtrack, singing "Rachael's Song" as sung by Mary Hopkin on the original recorded soundtrack.
In October 2008, a feature documentary about her Vashti Bunyan: From Here To Before, directed by Kieran Evans, had its world premieres at the Times BFI London Film Festival. It retraces Bunyan's journey across the British Isles and sets it against the backdrop of her first high-profile London concert. It uses her trip through Britain as its main narrative structure. The album provides the soundtrack to that journey, just as it did the first time.
In June 2014, Bunyan announced her third and final album, Heartleap. She wrote, "The whole point of the album was finally to learn a way that would enable me to record the music that is in my head, by myself. I neither read nor write music, nor can I play piano with more than one hand at a time, but I have loved being able to work it all out for myself and make it sound the way I wanted. I've built these songs over years. The album wouldn't have happened any other way." Heartleap was released on 7 October in the U.S. via DiCristina and 6 October in the UK via FatCat Records. The cover artwork was by Bunyan's daughter, Whyn Lewis, who also did the artwork for Lookaftering.
In 2008, Bunyan has been labelled "the Godmother of Freak Folk" for her role in inspiring the "new generation of folk experimentalists including Devendra Banhart and Adem". An internet journalistic source categorized her music as folk, psychedelic folk, or new folk.
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