Vashti Bunyan Interview

The word 'legend' is a word bandied about far too often, though veteran folk singer Vashti Bunyan's story certainly feels more than a little legendary. After a striking debut record in in 1968 and single written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards failed to push her into the big-time despite early comparisons with Marianne Faithfull and Bob Dylan, Bunyan upped sticks and left the city to join a hippie commune.

Living a reclusive life away from music, it wasn't until thirty years later that a whole new generation discovered her music, and the record, entitled 'Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind' was justly heralded as a cult classic. This led to her first recorded work in 35 years, 'Lookaftering' a few years later, which was an instant hit. It's rare that an artist embraces success 35 years after starting out in the music business, so it was odd to see Bunyan this year joining hundreds of new bands to play this year's Great Escape Festival in Brighton. We spoke to her before her performance...

How are preparations for the Brighton show going?

Good thankyou... arranging a couple of new songs for the band - the same musicians I first toured with in 2006 and I’m greatly looking forward to playing with them again.

What do you think of the support acts for the show: Tom Brosseau, Vetiver, Haushka?

I have seen Tom Brosseau a couple of times and loved what he did.. Haushka I haven’t seen - only heard - but been fascinated by so I’m look forward to seeing him .. and Vetiver are good friends, I have toured with them in USA and I love them to bits. Andy Cabic has the most beautifully affecting voice and writes clever thoughtful songs and as a band they are the best. There is no one like them. It’s weird this support thing.. I don’t think any of us are any more headline than anyone else.

What’s your opinion on Brighton? You’ve played here before and you’re back again…

I like Brighton – it seems so differently alive and busy - and a big contrast to Edinburgh which tends towards the staid except at festival time (when it resembles Brighton on a normal day).

When you first left the public eye, is it true that you took off on horse and cart to join Donovan at his Isle of Skye commune? Did you make it there? And how long did you remain there?

Yes – true that I did and yes - we made it after two summers and a winter. No room for us so we stayed there a few hours then went on to further travels with and without horses.

Was this a conscious move away from possible commercialisation of your music?

The music never was commercialised.. I wanted it to be but no one took any notice of it and so I guessed it was because it was rubbish and so I stopped doing it.

What did you do in your years away from the public eye?

Learned how to live without safety-nets mostly. Then had children and it wasn’t so easy. Settled down a bit more but never lead a conventional life.

Did you play much music in the intervening years or did you stay away from it?

No. None. Nothing.

When did you return to urban living? And why Edinburgh nowadays?

When the father of my children and travelling companion and fellow diamond-daydreamer decided to live a different life and go back to London - after a while I fell in love with my lawyer and moved to Edinburgh with my kids to be with him and his kids. Still here after fifteen years but now we’re thinking of moving to Los Angeles where my grandchild lives - and where I would like to work with Andy Cabic and other west coast musicians.

The themes of your music, both in the seventies and over the last few years, seem to often revolve around a distaste for modern living. There’s a lot of talk of escape to a better place. How do you feel about the world in 2008? Do you ever feel tempted to ‘vanish’ again?

I feel much the same about the wider world in 2008 as I did in 1968 sadly.. but there is still a lot that has changed for the better. One of my young relatives has been very ill recently and she might not have recovered even a few years ago – so what’s to dislike. I learned that the better place isn’t necessarily up a long track into the hills. Took me a while.

You’re said to be descended from John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Did his work influence yours at all?

A journalistic myth – no proof and something I have never claimed. Maybe my childhood was slightly influenced by his notion of journeys and allegory.

The book’s about religion. Are you a religious person?

No not at all. No religious genes.

What do you think of your status as ‘cult folk legend’?

It makes me smile mostly. A living person who goes about her days like everyone else can’t really be a legend. And I am not a folksinger. But it is to me emblematic of the way things have changed – that my old songs are seen in a kinder light.

What do you make of the modern music scene compared to when you were first around?

I’m overwhelmed by the generosity I’ve found this time around – not just to me but between the musicians I have met and worked with.

Was the scene less cynical back then, or is that a myth?

Myth.. in my experience anyway. I find it is much more like the 60s were meant to be.. and how they have been mythologised – now in this time than they ever were in their own.

Are you recording a third proper album?

Beginning. It has taken me months of shutting myself away to get back to any kind of writing – and to try to rid my head of the knowledge that this time it will be heard. Always before I had no idea if a song would ever see the light of day.

Is it good to be back again after so long? Any plans for a proper tour? What are your future plans?

I am surprised and of course happy with what has been happening this last few years. And it isn’t like being back as I was never really there in the first place. It is all quite different and fascinating – so many people with good new musical ideas. I am working towards getting another album finished at some time - and then I’ll tour again hopefully. I like the road.

Written by Nick Aldwinckle.