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Bunyan in Topanga Canyon in 2009
|Birth name||Jennifer Vashti Bunyan|
|Also known as||Vashti|
|Born||1945 (age 73–74)|
Newcastle upon Tyne, England
|Years active||1965–1970, 2002–present|
|Associated acts||Twice as Much, Piano Magic, Devendra Banhart, Animal Collective, Vetiver, Dudley Benson, We/Or/Me|
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.
Early life and education
Vashti Bunyan was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1945 to John Bunyan and Helen Webber, 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 failure to attend 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 additional 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 "Rachel'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". Her music has also been categorized as folk, psychedelic folk, or new folk.
- Just Another Diamond Day (Philips 1970)
- Lookaftering (Fat Cat Records 2005)
- Heartleap (Fat Cat Records 2014)
- Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind – Singles and Demos 1964 to 1967 (Fat Cat Records/Spinney Records 2007)
- "Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind" / "I Want To Be Alone" (Decca, 1965) (as Vashti)
- "Train Song" / "Love Song" (Columbia, 1966) (as Vashti)
- Tonite Let's All Make Love in London (1967)
- "Winter Is Blue" (as Vashti)
- "Winter Is Blue (Reprise)" (as Vashti)
- Circus Days – UK Psychedelic Obscurities 1966–70 Vol.1 (1990)
- "I'd Like To Walk Around in Your Mind" (as Vashti)
- A Pot By Any Other Name (2001) (compilation issued by Ptolemaic Terrascope magazine)
- "17 Pink Sugar Elephants" (rec. 1966) (early variation of "Train Song")
- Instant Karma (2002)
- "Winter Is Blue" (as Vashti) (combined version of song from Tonite Let's All Make Love in London)
- Folk Rock and Faithfull: Dream Babes Vol. 5 (2004)
- "Train Song" (rec. 1966) (as Vashti)
- "Love Song" (rec. 1966) (as Vashti)
- The Golden Apples of the Sun (2004)
- "Rejoicing in the Hands" (with Devendra Banhart)
- The Enlightened Family: A Collection Of Lost Songs (2005)
- "Song of a Wishwanderer" (rec. 1968)
- Not Alone (2006)
- "Same But Different"
- Ballads of the Book (2007)
- "The Fire" (lyrics by Rodge Glass)
- Gather in the Mushrooms – The British Acid-Folk Underground 1968 – 1974 (2004)
- "Winter Is Blue"
- Way to Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake (2013)
- "Which Will"
- Twice as Much – That's All (1970)
- "Coldest Night of the Year" (rec. 1967)
- Piano Magic – Writers Without Homes (2002)
- "Crown of the Lost"
- Piano Magic – Saint Marie EP (2004)
- "Dark Ages"
- Devendra Banhart – Rejoicing in the Hands (2004)
- "Rejoicing in the Hands"
- Animal Collective – Prospect Hummer (2005)
- "It's You"
- "Prospect Hummer"
- "I Remember Learning How to Dive"
- Vetiver – Thing of the Past (2008)
- "Sleep a Million Years"
- Dudley Benson – Forest: Songs by Hirini Melbourne (2010)
- We/Or/Me – The Walking Hour (2013)
In popular culture
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- Her voice was heard on Saint Etienne Presents Finisterre (2005), a documentary about London featuring the music of the band Saint Etienne.
- Friend, fellow folk singer and longtime fan Devendra Banhart reportedly writes her name on his arm before some concerts.
- Lush covered her song "I'd Like To Walk Around in Your Mind". They got to know it from the Circus Days compilation.
- A cover of "Train Song" performed by Ben Gibbard and Feist appeared on Dark Was The Night, a charity compilation benefiting HIV/AIDS awareness and the Red Hot Organization. It was released by 4AD on 17 February 2009.
- "Diamond Day" was featured in the popular UK teen comedy/drama Skins on the third series (2009), episode six entitled "Naomi".
- Her song "Here Before" was covered by the Swedish artist Fever Ray, released as the B-side of the 2009 single "Stranger Than Kindness".
- "Here Before" also featured in the soundtrack for the 2008 BBC production Heist, about a medieval burglary.
- She is name-checked in the Half Man Half Biscuit song "Totnes Bickering Fair", from the 2008 album CSI:Ambleside.
- Vashti's important link to the back-to-the-land counterculture of the 1970s and the insightful expressions of 'nature' in her work have been discussed in an academic paper in 2009 by geographer Keith Halfacree ('"Glow worms show the path we have to tread": the counterurbanisation of Vashti Bunyan', Social and Cultural Geography 10: 771–789).
- "Train Song" was selected as the background music for Samsung's 2011 SMART TV commercial.
- "Train Song" was also featured in the 2014 HBO television show True Detective.
- "Train Song" was used in the opening credits of the 2017 Amazon Original Series Patriot.
- "Artists | Midheaven Mailorder". Midheaven.com. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
- "Songwriter/Composer: BUNYAN JENNIFER VASHTI". Repertoire.bmi.com. Archived from the original on 10 January 2016. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
- "findmypast.co.uk". Search.findmypast.co.uk. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
- "Vashti Bunyan: 40 Years Later, A Musical Rebirth". NPR.org. Retrieved 28 July 2017.
- Richard Harrington, "Vashti Bunyan's 'Day' Has Come Again" The Washington Post 9 February 2007
- "CultBox – British TV drama and comedy – News, reviews and interviews". Lastbroadcast.co.uk. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
- "Vashti Bunyan Interview | Features | Clash Magazine". Clashmusic.com. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
- "Top 30 Most Expensive Items Sold In Discogs Marketplace For May 2018". 5 July 2018. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
- "Reebok "Join The Migration"". YouTube. 23 July 2008. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
- Tobias Khan, "Vashti Bunyan: The Past and Future Collide" Tiny Mix Tapes 8 February 2008
- Ally Carnwath, "Massive chill melts into warm Vangelis" The Observer 22 June 2008
- Roffman, Michael (5 July 2011). "Check Out: Robert Smith covers John Martyn". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
- Gordon, Jeremy (2 July 2014). "Vashti Bunyan Says New Album Will Be Her Last". Pitchfork Media. Pitchfork. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
- "Whyn Lewis Paintings — 'Run' oil painting from 2005 that was used for the..." Whyn Lewis Paintings. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
-  Archived 2 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- Rogers, Jude (2 January 2008). "Lie back and think of ukuleles". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 August 2008.
- Michael Keefe. "What Is New Folk? A Genre Profile". About.com. Archived from the original on 12 December 2007. Retrieved 7 July 2008.