Stories for Ways and Means is a new book that features original “grown up” children’s story collaborations by some of this era’s most compelling storytellers from the worlds of music and contemporary art. It’s being published by the long-running indie record label Waxploitation run by entrepreneur and photojournalist Jeff Antebi. The Stories for Ways and Means project lends support to several non-governmental organizations and nonprofit groups aiding children’s literacy causes around the world including Room to Read, Pencils of Promise, 826 National and many more.
Some of the featured musicians contributing to the project include Frank Black, Laura Marling, Del the Funky Homosapien, Gibby Haynes, Alec Empire, Kathleen Hanna, Devendra Banhart, Nick Cave, Alison Mosshart, Satomi Matsuzaki of Deerhoof, Will Oldham, Gary Numan and ska great, guitarist Ernest Ranglin.
My old friend, film composer and musician Adam Peters, came back from London a few years ago raving about a musician he’d just met there named Vashti Bunyan. Adam and I tend to agree about most music and I think he’s a musical genius himself, so when he’s enthusiastic about something new that I just have to hear, well, I just have to hear it.
What made his enthusiasm for Vashti Bunyan’s music even more compelling was that he’d been in London working as the musical director of that big Syd Barrett tribute concert and had been playing with the very cream of the crop of the rock world, including Damon Albarn, John Paul Jones, the great Kevin Ayers and of course, the Pink Floyd.
So this was exceptionally high praise indeed.
Now referred to as the “Grandmother of Freak Folk,” in the mid-1960s, Vashti Bunyan was a pretty London-born flower child who discovered Bob Dylan on a visit to New York and decided to becme a singer upon her return home. Like Nico and PP Arnold, shy-looking Vashti was spotted by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who had her record the Jagger/Richard’s composition Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind in 1965.
She recorded a few more songs, but nothing really stuck. She did the hippie thing for a while, traveling, living in communes and writing songs which eventually ended up on her album, Just Another Diamond Day, produced by Joe Boyd (Pink Floyd, Nick Drake) and recorded with members of the Fairport Convention and The Incredible String Band in 1970.
The results were haunting, as delicate as cotton candy, but the album was not a success. Bunyan turned away from a musical career, raising her three children on a farm. But it was not the end of her music. For years the reputation of Just Another Diamond Day grew steadily, trading at the very highest end of record collecting prices, often selling in excess of $1000, a fact Bunyan herself remained blissfully unaware of.
In 2000 Just Another Diamond Day was reissued on CD with bonus tracks. Bunyan’s ethereal music was embraced by a new generation of musicians such as Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom and Animal Collective. The title track was used in a memorable T-Mobile advertisement. Her follow-up to Diamond Day, titled Lookaftering came out in 2005, a mere 35 years after its predecessor and was critically well-received.
A documentary film about her life, tracing the journeys that inspired the songs on the Diamond Day album, Vashti Bunyan: From Here To Before was released in 2008.
I just gave it a listen; it’s pretty fun, kind of like summer barbecue music for ratty youth. There is very little of the somberness of, say, Cripple Crow, and also not much outside Banhart’s usual musical territory. But he’s continuing to polish and perfect his style, and the album is a strong, polished and mature effort from the artist. I dig it!