The self-told tales of singers, songwriters, and sundry musicians tend to have an air of familiarity to them. Those themes of overnight or overdue success, or the more tedious revelations of their over indulgences… do tend to, well, overlap. However unique the talent, there’s an element of sameness to the life stories they tell. Over, and over again.
Despite a few tiny traces, hardly discernible, this is far from the case with Vashti Bunyan. Her story, told with quiet assertiveness and vivid recollections, is unlike any you will encounter.
The story of the young artist struggling to get their own voice heard is a recognizable one. Vashti's debut single was written for her by Jagger and Richards and her manager Andrew Loog Oldham was trying to turn her into something that she could never really be. All of Vashti's singles flopped. Then, when she is finally allowed to make an album of her only material ('Just Another Diamond Day' - produced by Joe Boyd, released in 1970), it sinks without a trace. The anguish is such that she doesn't sing until her music is rediscovered in the early part of the 2000s.
As Vashti’s story unfolds, you begin to appreciate how apt the title ‘Wayward’ is – not in a daydreaming or delinquent manner, but instead in her self-determination, her rejection of the perceived norms of the time, her desire to find her own path. When her initial pop dreams don’t go to plan her father, uncharacteristically, tells her to 'compromise my dear'. As you read this you know that you know that compromise is not a word in her lexicon and that she will firmly take an alternative route.
That alternative route would take her, (as well as her partner and dog) on a journey by horse-drawn wagon from the relative stability of south London to the remoteness of the Outer Hebrides. Initially encouraged by their friend Donovan whose success in the late sixties allowed him to buy islands off the Isle of Skye, they made their slow way there.
That journey, as described in 'Wayward' could form the basis for the oddest possible road movie. And, like any great road movie, the physical journey is not the actual journey. The sadness felt as the ideal of their new life in the Outer Hebrides begins to fade is palpable. In addition , the failure of 'Just Another Diamond Day' would lead Vashti to retreat from music altogether.
If her story had ended here, it would still be a beautifully told, if disheartening, tale of 'what if.' But, thirty years on, Vashti discovered that the album that had been so ignored when it was initially released is now a cult classic and that her talent is receiving the recognition that it should have done all of those years ago. The third act of 'Wayward' is a long overdue revelation - the revival in interest in her work, two further albums of new material (the sublime ''Lookaftering' in 2005 and 'Heartleap' in 2014), the recognition of her unique and hushed delivery and her luminous songwriting.
It is fitting that the subtitle of Vashti Bunyan's memoir is 'Just another life to live' (a line taken from the song 'Diamond Day'), as this is the account of someone who has, both literally and figuratively, taken the road less travelled. Evocatively told and unlike any other memoir, especially those of musicians, that you are likely to find.
'Wayward' by Vashti Bunyan will be released in paperback later in 2023.
Hardback copies of Wayward are available now, here; paperback published in later in 2023
Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.
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