Vashti Bunyan - St George's Church, Brighton
Despite her years, her obvious wisdom and her incredible sensitivity, Vashti Bunyan hasn’t quite come to terms with her status as a folk luminary. Each time the audience erupts into a tender heartbroken applause, our host looks up from her guitar, peers through her masses of dark grey hair and breaks into a slight smile. She is completely humbled by the reaction in this, the second wave of her music career; the icon years.
Vashti Bunyan released her first album, Just Another Diamond Day, in 1970 and didn’t release a follow-up until thirty five years later in 2005. Her debut didn’t sell at all well and Vashti gave up on the idea of a music career. She went to live on a self-sufficient farming community in Ireland; rearing children and raising animals. Little did she know, while she was working away in the countryside her album was steadily becoming a cult phenomenon. The fact that there were so few in circulation, just made it even more desirable and copies of it were being passed around on E-Bay for nearly $2000. A whole generation of musicians were being influenced by her music and she didn’t have a clue. It wasn’t until Devendra Banhart wrote to her in 2001 asking for advice that she realised the impact she was having.
Tonight’s concert had that “An audience with…” feel. Each song was prefaced by a brief description of when it was written, what prompted it and how she feels about it now. She is an extremely warm, friendly woman. Her stories are told with real earnest and often garnished with a wry humour, woven into a non-linear biography. She picks and chooses from the two major song writing periods of her life; unified by her consistent style, but contrasted by innocence and experience.
She plays the anthem of her comeback (and a certain phone company’s new tariff), ‘Diamond Day’, early in the set commenting that it is a song written while travelling across Britain with “a horse, a wagon, a guitar and a boyfriend…in that order”. It is a song about the simplicity of life, which she quips could only have been written when she was a teenager.
There are a few recurring themes in her music: heartbreak, travelling and her children. Each of these themes is addressed from a polar perspective. ‘Wishwanderer’ is a celebration of the travelling life and the fluid nature of the idea of “home”, whereas ‘Wayward’, written more recently, is sung from the family kitchen rebelling against housework and yearning to be back on the road. There are a number of songs for or about her children. Interestingly, there is one song, ‘Lately’ written before her children were born wondering what it might be like if she ever did have children. Some of her songs are no longer lyrically than a haiku, but the weight of the music is astounding.
Vashti Bunyan gives a lot of herself in her performance and the venue, St George’s Church, just furthers the grandeur of the event. We left feeling cleansed, alive and completely assured that this folk luminary’s career has been very deservedly been resurrected.