Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Return Of Vashti Bunyan

The story of Vashti Bunyan must be one of the most romantic in the history of music.I had never heard of her until a few weeks ago when i stumbled across her name on Youtube when i was looking for something else.It was her name that first intrigued me,it was so unusual,it was like a mixture of Russian and English and i immediately thought of John Bunyan who wrote Pilgrims Progress.The song she was singing in the youtube clip was called 'I Want To Be Alone',it wasn't that can see it here if you want-

She was very beautiful though and reminded me of Marianne Faithful and the announcer said that she was discovered by the Rolling Stones,so why had i never heard of her?.My curiousity made me look up Vashti Bunyan on Wikipedia and i learned more about this enigmatic girl.It told me that Vashti was born in London in 1945. In the early 1960s, she studied Fine Art and Drawing at Ruskin College Oxford but was expelled because she couldn't decide between art and music. At 18, she travelled to New York and discovered the music of Bob Dylan and decided to become a full-time musician. Returning to London she was discovered by the Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, and, in June 1965, she released her first single, written by Mick and Keef 'Somethings Just Stick In Your Mind', it was backed with her own song 'I Want to Be Alone' which is the song i heard on youtube.

Her early records all flopped and then Vashti turned her back on the city and decided to travel with her boyfriend Robert in a gypsy caravan pulled by a horse called Bess and with a dog called Blue to the Isle Of Skye to join a commune planned by a friend, fellow folk singer Donavon.The epic journey was to take 2 years,stopping along the way to doing casual work and odd jobs to get some money and the occasional gig. During the trip she began writing the songs that eventually became her first album 'Just Another Diamond Day'.At this point i got really interested because her story reminded me of another singer who i have written about previously called Anne Briggs.Also i have always been interested in people who have a brief flirtation with fame and then disappear such as Karen Dalton,Jonathan Kelly and The Trees (see stories below).Reading on i discovered that in 1968 Vashti met the producer Joe Boyd who i have always admired through his work with Fairport Convention and others and in 1969 Vashti made her first album which featured Simon Nicol and Dave Swarbrick from Fairport and also Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band who i also really like.'The Hangmans Beautiful Daughter', by the ISB is a favourite of mine.The album came out in December 1970 and despite warm reviews it disappeared without trace and so did Vashti.She moved to the Outer Hebrides and then Ireland and spent the next 3 decades in total obscurity, raising her family and looking after animals.
30 long years went by and as the years turned into decades word about her album slowly aquired mythic proportions amongst serious music collectors and gradually the few copies in existance became some of the most sought after items in music.Vashti was totally oblivious to the fact that her work was aquiring a cult following.One copy apparently sold on Ebay for $2,000.Her music reached the ears of a new wave of folk singers such as Devendra Banhart and Joanne Newsom and in 2000 her album was re-released and this time it was noticed by the public and it was acclaimed as a work of genius.Suddenly Vashti had become the god mother of a new genre known as Freak Folk

I had read enough now!.I knew i wouldn't be satisfied until i owned this album..A quick look on ebay and 3 days later the cd plopped onto the carpet through my letterbox.As soon as the opening eponymous song began i knew that i was in the prescence of something rare and precious .As Richard Thompson might say this record is a fine as a beeswing.Vashti's voice is so delicate you feel you could almost blow it away.There is no percussion on this record just tasteful guitar accompanies some tracks and there is some flute,whistle,piano,harp,banjo,mandolin and strings but any more instruments would be intrusive as this album is so intimate you can almost hear Vashti breathing inbetween the lines of the songs.The lyrics have a childlike simplicity and are like nature poems.I think John Clare or William Blake would enjoy this album.I can understand some people wouldn't like the album.If you like rap or heavy metal i dare say you would hate it but if like me you like folky records like Fairport, Nick Drake,String Band,Donavon etc then i think you will love it.The song i am listening to at this very moment 'Come Wind Come Rain' Clippity clops along just like the gypsy caravan,you almost feel like you are on it.

Unlike Annie Briggs who i mentioned earlier who has shown no interest in recording or performing again Vashti seems to welcome her new fame and finally got to record the album that was planned as the follow-up to Diamond Day.It is called 'Lookaftering' and after a 35 year gap since her first album this one was also hailed as a classic.I haven't heard it yet though but i will.Also in 2008 a documentary film was made which retraced Vashti's journey from London to the North of Scotland.It was called 'From Here To Before' and i'll have to watch that if i get the chance.So there you go,that is my story of the return of Vashti Bunyan. Wouldn't it be great if she was on at Glastonbury next year.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Otway And Barrett In Frome,Review

What a great year of music it has been.I have seen Van Morrison,Neil Young,Crosby Stills and Nash,Bruce Springsteen and now the gig to top them all,the legendary John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett at the Cheese And Grain in Frome.
We got to the pub just before 7.00 and Sash was already waiting as well as Mark,Angela,Chris, Chrissie,Big Mark and Curly.We met Phil later.I haven't seen such a gang of jolly boys and girls setting off for a gig in another town since i saw Hawkwind in Kings Lynn in 1974.Then Fred turned up,it was great to see Fred again because i have known Fred since we ran together on the mean streets of Peterborough back in the day.Sash,Kim and i piled into Freds car and he gunned that sucker down the highway towards Frome.We crossed the county line into the badlands of Somerset and arrived at the Cheese and Grain.This is an ancient market hall that was used in the the olden days for selling cheese and er grain.There was nobody there!

I tapped on the door and this man told me that they opened at 8.00.We were first in the queue.As soon as it opened we bagged our seats in the front row and headed to the bar.They had some real ale called 'The Usual'.I had a pint of 'The Usual' and who should i see at the bar but Otway himself.I introduced myself in my usual drunken manner and had a bit of a chat and then introduced him to Kim and we told him about the last time we spoke which was in the Argyll Pub in London before his 50th birthday party at the London Palladium and he said that night was one of his favourite moments of his career and showed us a film of it on his mobile phone.What a nice bloke he is.I got him to sign the back of my ticket and shortly after i met Willy Barrett and he signed Kims ticket,Willy Barrett is a really friendly person as well.
We went for a ciggy outside and when we returned the support band 'Sun Machine' we on stage,we listened to a few numbers,they were good for a local band.The girl singer was very good.We went back to the bar and ended up outside again chatting to some people, then it was show time!

Willy Barrett had enough instruments on stage to open a music shop.The first song they did was LOUISA ON A HORSE from their brilliant first album which i bought 32 years ago and still have.Willy excelled himself on violin on this one.I love this song with its references to Otways home area around Aylesbury.Then Otway sang the poignant GYPSY which is about how Otway in his youth saw a fortune teller who predicted his rise to fame,so she is the one to blame.Then they did their hit REALLY FREE in which Barrett played a musical wheely bin,i haven't seen Kim laugh so much in years.It was quite brilliant.BEST DREAM followed which is a great song and shows how Otway really is a great songwriter.One of my favourites followed, THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS which has supurb lyrics about the days of punk and a girl who was the last in her town to have a mohican hairstyle.Another great song followed IF I DID from their eponymous first album.This was followed by their version of Alfred Noyes epic poem THE HIGHWAYMAN which was quite supurb.MURDER MAN was the next song which Otway said was originally called Lonely Man but he changed the title and ensured it got no radio play.

I went for another pint of 'The Usual' at this point and heard Otway doing BODY TALK with the aid of the theramin and also the Rolf Harris classic TWO LITTLE BOYS.'The Usual' was taking it's toll by now and i'm not sure what the next song was called, it might have been 21 DAYS,it was good anyway.The classic CHERYL'S GOING HOME was next which brought back memories of their ill-fated appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test( See Video).The evening came to an end with BLUEY GREEN,the fantastic BEWARE OF THE FLOWERS and JET SPOTTER OF THE TRACK.This was supurb and i told Willy afterwards that they should have dedicated it to Jenson Button who comes from Frome and might be world motor racing champion today.Anyway never mind.Wait, there was one final song GENEVA an Otway classic which ended with Barrett sawing up his guitar and smashing it with a claw hammer and then playing the bagpipes.
We drove back through the Somerset night, back to The Crown for a last one and then knocked it on the head and went home.What a great evening it had been.If you read this Otway and Barrett, thank you very much.


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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Up The Posh

Posh in the 70's

Me in my Peterborough United shirt.

I became a football fan in 1960 when Peterborough United were elected to the Football League after winning the Midland League 5 years running.Posh replaced Gateshead in the 4th Division.Peterborough were known as 'The Posh' because they had the best stadium of all non-league teams.In their first season in the league Posh swept all before them,winning the 4th Division at the first attempt,scoring 134 goals which is the record number of goals scored by any team ever in any division.It is a record that will never be beaten, to score that amount of goals these days is unimaginable.Terry Bly scored 52 of them.Posh went marching proudly on into the 3rd Division which they would have also won but they were demoted back to the 4th for making illegal payments to the players for a cup win.Vicious treatment by the FA who were scared of Posh's success.
The Posh would not lie down though and built a reputation as giant-killers.One of their greatest moments was when they beat Arsenal 2-1 in the FA Cup 4th round.34,000 people packed the London Road ground to witness one of the greatest upsets in football history.Peterborough were drawn against Swansea in the 5th round which they drew and the replay was the following Wednesday away in Swansea.3,000 people waited in the rain outside the Evening Telegraph office in Broadway for news of the result.Posh had won!.They were in the last 16 of the FA Cup, the greatest club competition in the world.Posh were drawn against the mighty Chelsea and Peterborough became a ghost town as thousands of Posh fans made the journey to Stamford Bridge.The day ended in disaster though when our captain Vic Crowe broke his leg,this was in the days before substitutes and valiant Posh crashed out 5-1.
Peterbough had some great players back in those halcyon days of the 60's.The greatest of them all was Derek Dougan known as 'The Doog'.There was a great big banner at the games which read 'WE DIG DOOG'.The Posh fans used to sing songs with such great lyrics as-
Now if you're feeling down,
Or if you're feeling sad,
Come to the London Rd end,
And you won't feel so bad,
Come on borough,

Sadly, the 60's went by without any more success and Posh entered the wilderness years.I grew up (Or did i?) and went off to college in Wrexham,North Wales.One of my best friends was a Manchester United fan and i started going to see Man Utd with him.They were a fading team by the early 70's but it was great to see some of the most famous players in the world particularly George Best. On Saturdays we used to bunk the train up to Manchester,we always got out of the station at Deansgate by giving the little Pakistani ticket collector a cigarette coupon as a ticket and running past him.He must have dreaded Saturdays! We went to loads of away games as well.The furthest i went was to St James Park Newcastle.We left Wrexham early in the morning and travelled up to Manchester then caught the football special to Newcastle.The Newcastle fans were hard as nine inch nails and after the match we were chased back to the station under a shower of bricks and bottles.The train was almost destroyed by the time we got back to Manchester.A rumour had spread through the train that a horde of Man City fans were waiting for our arrival.The Man Utd fans rampaged along the platform and the City fans scarpered.We got back to Chester late at night and missed the connection to Wrexham.We walked the 12 miles from Chester to Wrexham and got home 22hours after we set off and had fought 2 battles.All in the name of Man Utd.
College came to an end and down on my luck i eventually ended up back in Peterborough for a while.I did see Georgie Best one more time.He was playing for Fulham against Posh and he scored one of the best goals i have ever seen.He blasted a pearler of a volley over the goalies head from 20 yards out.Even the Posh fans all cheered.Then came the day i will never forget.
Peterborough were drawn against Manchester United in the 4th round of the cup away from home.Excitment ran through the town and every bus and coach within miles was hired to take 10,000 Posh fans on the journey up to Manchester.I think it was February 1976.The Posh fans drowned out the Stretford End with their chants of "Come On Borough, Come On Borough, Peter-borough.The atmosphere was unbelievable.The game kicked off and Posh went 2-0 down in 10 minutes."Oh no", i thought, fearing a hammering,,i think Posh couldn't believe they were playing against the most famous team in the world at the Theatre Of Dreams (Old Trafford),but urged on by their fans Posh fought back and to the delight of the fans Posh scored to make it 2-1.Game On!,For long stretches of the match Posh totally out played Man Utd on their home turf.It was then i realised i was never really a Man United fan,i just liked Georgie Best.I was Posh through and through.Anyway, time was running out and Posh threw everyone forward to try and get the equaliser but it left them wide open at the back,Man U got a 3rd goal and it was all over.Peterborough fans know the truth though,for 80 mins they had out-played Manchester United.
I live in the West Country now but on Sunday i went back to Old Trafford for the first time in 35 years and we won the play-off final against Huddersfield 3-0 to be promoted to the Championship. The great days are coming back!."Come on borough, Peter-borough". Up The Posh!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Melanie Safka In Frome

I discovered the music of Melanie in the early 1970's when i was at Teacher Training College in North Wales and i immediately fell in love with her and her message of peace.I bought all her albums,Candles In The Rain,Leftover Wine,Live At Carnegie Hall, Gather Me,Garden In The City,Four Sides Of Melanie,Madrugada,The Good Book and others that i can't remember off-hand.She was prolific in the 70's and all her albums were brilliant.What a great songwriter she is. I never did see her though.She was on at Glastonbury in the early 1980's and i was really looking forward to seeing her but i drank so much cider i collapsed in a heap somewhere and missed her.

Decades went by and i don't know why but i just lost interest in Melanie and my vinyl albums gradually disappeared into the mists of time.Then a couple of weeks ago i saw a poster on a wall in Westbury which said that Melanie was appearing at The Cheese And Grain in Frome and i decided i should start my summer of music by seeing Melanie.I went with Kim and My friend Fred who told me that Melanie had been sampled by a Hip-Hop band who he liked called The Cunnin'Lynguists which is a very unfortunate name but a great record (I wonder if Melanie has heard it).

Anyway, the three of us were standing ouside the venue having a chat and a van drew up and a hippy looking bloke dashed inside.This turned out to be Melanie's son Beau-Jarred who opened the show.He is a wizard on guitar and played some amazing pieces, some of which reminded you of Bach's baroque music.At other times he even played the guitar behind his head a la Jimi Hendrix.Then it was time for Melanie.It was great to finally see her after all these years.After a little chat with the audience she began with one of my favourites, CLOSE TO IT ALL and i was immediately taken back to that room at college when i first heard her.It was as if time didn't exist at all.The next song was one i didn't recognise or have forgotten called THE SUN AND THE MOON and i must admit that i got a bit irritated because i couldn't hear the words properly,i think the mixing desk had a few technical problems.As the evening went on though i forgot about the mixing problems.THE NICKEL SONG was next,one of her more commercial songs and i seem to remember having this on a single back in 71.Then she sang HI LILI HI LO which she told us came from a Danny Kaye film but i remember as a hit for Alan Price.Melanies version is great and was followed by what i think is a new song called FIRST THING I SEE which is supurb and shows Melanie still has retained her songwriting ability.This was proved by another excellent song called LITTLE BIT OF ME.

Melanie was ably supported on guitar by Beau-Jarred throughout who then produced an instument i had never seen before which sounds like an electric cello and sounds great and reminded me of Nick Drake.Melanie then sang another audience request I REALLY LOVED HAROLD.This was followed by another new (To me) song called MAKE IT WORK FOR ME.Then a classic,Melanie's stunning version of RUBY TUESDAY which i think is lyrically the Stones greatest song which Melanie manages to make even more meaningful and moving.LOVE DOESN'T HAVE TO HURT was followed by BRAND NEW KEY which i think is Melanie's biggest hit and is really good fun."We're in Wurzel country",said Melanie with a grin!.SMILE followed and is a song Melanie wrote in the aftermath of 9/11 and is a very profound song.BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE followed which is one of my personal favourites and shows that as a singer/songwriter Melanie is one of the all time greats.LAY DOWN/CANDLES IN THE RAIN was next just to underline what great inspirational songs she has written.It was almost the end but not before LOOK WHAT THEY DONE TO MY SONG MA one of her most famous songs.The evening ended with another song i didn't recognise called I'D LIKE TO LEAVE YOU WITH SOMETHING WARM.She did!

Afterwards Melanie patiently signed autographs and spoke to everyone who waited behind.That shows what a nice person she is.Also the concert was for charity in aid of SCOPE.One of the reasons i first liked Melanie all those years ago was that she was gorgeous and meeting her briefly after the gig i can confirm that she most certainly still is!


Melanie said she hated the picture of herself on this poster but she was still kind enough to sign it for me.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

When We Saw The Who At Charlton In 1974

Here is story of the great adventure
One Friday evening i got home from work and Dave and Paul had taken some acid so i had some as well.Then we went for a walk.We visited some pig sties and had a look at the piglets which was good fun then we went to visit Dobbin.He was this really old white horse who lived in a field near us.We didn't know his real name so we called him Dobbin.When we shouted to him it took Dobbin about 10 minutes to walk across the field to see us and we gave him some apples.Then we went for a walk across the fields.We pretended that we were on an expedition around the world.I was naturalist David Attenborough and i gave a running commentary.We walked through a wood which became the tropical rain forest.
"If you look up into the canopy of the trees you can see the ring tailed lemur,and over there you can see the Orang Utan which means little old man of the woods"
Then we emerged into a field which became the savannah,
"Here you see a huge herd of wildebeest",They were actually only cows.When we reached a boggy bit, that became the Artic tundra.Eventually we reached the village of Cefn Y Bedd,we always called it Seven In A Bed.We went in the pub and ordered a pint and tried to act normal because we were out of our heads by now and kept having fits of the giggles.
"Hey look, theres a dead man over there in the corner",said Dave trying to freak me out.It was just someones hat and coat lying on a bench.In the end we went and sat outside in the warm evening air.Then we walked back along the lane towards Summerhill.
Suddenly, out of nowhere a fire engine appeared racing towards where we lived.In our state we immediately assumed our house was on fire.
"Right", said Dave,"If it's our house, we will just walk straight past,i want no truck with the police in this state".
As it turned out we had no reason to get paranoid,the house was alright.We sat up all night smoking and listening to records,such as Bitches Brew,Miles Davis,Berlin by Lou Reed,Satanic Majesties by the Stones, Next, by The Alex Harvey Band,Lifemask,by Roy Harper and gradually getting mellower as dawn approached with Joni Mitchell,Melanie,Leftover Wine etc.All the time we were waiting for the village shop to open so we could buy a pint of milk to have a cup of tea,some cigarettes and a paper.Finally at 7.00 i went to the shop,still totally out of my brain.I had thought of every possible thing that could go wrong,i had even made a list of the 3 items we needed.When i got in the shop though i discovered there was about 10 other people in there and i had to queue up for an eternity to get served while i was still hallucinating like billio.I got back to the house which was strewn with album covers and all sorts of garbage from the nights madness and put the kettle on.
In the Daily Mirror something caught my eye.
"Hey, guess what?, The Who are playing in London today".
It was a huge concert at Charlton Athletic Football Stadium.Also playing were Lou Reed, Humble Pie,Bad Company,Stone The Crows, Lindisfarne and some others who i forget.
"Right, lets go," said Dave and Paul immediately.
"Don't be stupid",i replied, "We havent got any money".
"You boring old bastard, you're no better than Dobbin,we are going, you stay here you old git". I was 22 years old.
We added up all our money and we had about £3 between us and set off down the lane in the general direction of London.At Wrexham railway station we got on the train and kept a wary eye out for the ticket collector.Finally i spotted him coming along the next carraige
"Here comes the clippie",i said to the others,"Get in the bog".
We all casually left our seats and all 3 of us got in the toilet with our boots wedged against the door and the sign saying ' VACANT '.We sat in there for about 20 minutes till the clippie had walked past and then nonchalently resumed our seats.In this fashion we arrived in London.
When we got to the venue, Charltons Stadium 'The Valley' we clambered over the top of the turnstiles with no hesitation and we we in. I couldn't believe it had gone so smoothly.There were about 74,000 people there.It was packed, even on the pitch.It was also a really hot day and i took my shirt off.I was also really thirsty.
"I'm going to get some lollies",i said to the others and strolled off to an ice cream van.I queued up for about 30 minutes and bought 3 ice lollies and started strolling back,then i looked up and all i could see were 74,000 faces.I had forgotten where we were!.I was seized with panic and had a vision of me in London in the middle of the night dressed only in jeans with no money.Luckily by some miracle i managed to find my comrades and all was well.
We heard some great music that day, Humble Pie featuring the late great Steve Marriott were great,Lou Reed did Sweet Jane and The Who were sublime, playing for at least 2 hours.To tell you the truth it is so long ago in the mists of time i can't remember all that much about what songs they did.I think they did Baba O'Riley, Summertime Blues, Wont Get Fooled Again.All i know is that it was a great concert and the only time i ever saw The Who.
We spent the night in Euston Station and got some free soup and tea from a stall outside.Much later i heard that this tea stall was run by a notorious sex criminal called Roger Gleaves,the self styled Bishop of Medway who used it to lure runaway boys into a life of degradation.Thank god we never met him. Anyway on Sunday morning we bunked the train back to North Wales after a great weekend.I remember things like that, in those far flung halcyon days of yesteryear when we were really young and really happy.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Trees and The Garden Of Jane Trelawney

Back in 1974 I was living in a little village called Summerhill, nr Wrexham in North Wales and worked at a place called 'The Metal Box Company'.My friend Dave worked there as well,we were quality control inspectors.We had to go on a weeks course to learn how to use all these instruments such as micrometers and we learned it all in about half a day.The lady teaching us couldn't believe it. Anyway,although the company was called 'Metal Box Company' what we actually made at this place was plastic bottles such as Fairy Liquid and Domestos. We had to do hourly checks on the bottles to make sure they were alright.We did this in about 2 minutes.This left Dave and I about 58 minutes in every hour to throw plastic bottles at each other and mess about generally.It was mad working there, we used to call it the 'Mental' Box Company.Everyone who worked there was mad. They were all bonkers.
Dave and I couldn't stand the sight of each other because we were living in the same house and working together.One day I kicked him in the leg and we walked to work 10 yards apart from then on.
To cut to the chase and get to the point of this story, Dave started going out with this girl called Sula who came from Dolgellau or somewhere up there near Snowdonia near the place where the Tipi people lived. She was a student at Wrexham Technical College, just up by the football ground.How she met Dave I don't know but she started coming round our house all the time. Sula bought this album round that she kept playing and I really liked it. I asked her what it was called and I thought she said,'The Garden Of Jane Trelawney'.
That name struck a chord with me because when I was a kid one of my favourite books was Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and one of the characters in it was Squire Trelawney who is in the very first chapter if I remember. I loved this album because it was in the folk/rock idiom that I liked.I was already a huge fan of Fairport Convention and this was more of the same.The band was called 'The Trees' and i think Sula actually knew them.The singer was Celia who was a great singer and she eventually married a famous DJ called Pete Drummond, anyway that's by the by.
I absolutely loved that album,it had songs such as 'Nothing Special','Silkie','She Moved Through The Fair','I Am A Road And I Know Where I'm Going To' and the whole album was great.
Sadly the days at Summerhill ended and I left, never to return.

Thirty two long years elapsed and back in spring of this year I was talking on the phone to a friend of mine, and we were talking about old rare albums and I said "Have you ever heard of an album called 'The Garden Of Jane Trelawney?".
"Heard of it?",said Kev,"I've got it,its brilliant,I'll make you a copy if you want".
A few days later I was listening to an album i loved but hadn't heard for 32 years and all the memories of the days in Summerhill came flooding back.When I looked at the cover I had a real shock though.The album wasn't called 'The Garden Of Jane Trelawney' at all,it was called 'The Garden Of Jane Delawney'.I don't care though, for me it will always be 'Jane Trelawney'.
That is not the end of the story though because a friend on the internet called Richard offered me a cd called BBC sessions by the Trees which I snatched up and also Richard sent me a cd of demo's by 'The Trees'.So now 32 years on I have 3 albums by the great but short lived Trees.