Vashti Bunyan: Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind

Some songs can pass through generations like cultural DNA, and it is possible that the conviction and simplicity of Vashti Bunyan’s will assure she is still adored in 400 years. Just don’t call her a folk-singer.

Vashti Bunyan

Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind

Subtitle: Singles and Demos 1964 to 1967
Label: Fat Cat
US Release Date: 2007-10-16
UK Release Date: 2007-10-15

Vashti Bunyan never regarded herself as a folk singer, and the release of Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind provides clear evidence for her case. This remarkably consistent two-disc set collects her early singles and demos, rare home recordings, and her first-ever recording session, (the tapes of which were recently discovered after 40 years in her brother’s shed and attic). Several of the songs here should have been massive pop hits, and there’s even a duet that could be mistaken for that extremely rare beast: a half-decent winner of the Eurovision Song Contest.

The undeniable purity of Bunyan’s voice and her use of imagery hewn from nature have led to the folk tag, and also to some people overlooking the darkness in her material. Anyone concentrating on the prettiness in this collection will miss themes of regret, death, contradiction, desire, revenge, freedom, defiance, and emotional numbness though the record does include some of the most superb humming ever recorded, (“Train Song”, “Find My Heart Again”).

The shoulda-been pop hits start with the Jagger/Richards-penned title track. Bouncy, sad and socially conscious in equal measure, it has the feel of Lee Hazelwood at his most sprightly. “I Want to Be Alone” strikes a poptastic balance somewhere between a Leonard Cohen lament and The Seekers’ “Georgy Girl”. The marvelous “Love Song” is a clever ode to aspects of a lover’s attraction (eyes, hands, hair) with a twist in the tale. It is mystifying that such high-quality singles were either unreleased or that they just flopped.

The quasi-Eurovision duet with Twice As Much on “Coldest Night of the Year” is an ever-so-slightly-steamy dialogue piece. It’s hard not to smirk as the male voice runs through a litany of reasons why he should be allowed to spend the night: “But I haven’t been well/ I might catch the flu/ Or a cold in my nose.” It’s no “Summer Nights”, but given the stellar arc of Bunyan’s fortunes it’s not too late for this track to become a Christmas smash. Also included here is the fabulous “I’d Like to Walk Around in Your Mind”, a song which, had it been done by Velvet Underground and Nico, would be considered a classic dark counterweight to the Summer of Love.

The second disc features Bunyan’s first ever recording session from 1964. She paid for an hour in a studio to make a demo and ran through 11 songs. I’m guessing the microphone was close to her mouth, as her guitar is sometimes so quiet that she seems to be singing unaccompanied. The material was mostly written when she was just 18 years old, and it’s impossible to know whether the gentleness in her quiet delivery or the assurance and sophistication of her lyrics reflects the real teenager. “Girl’s Song In Winter” is especially intriguing, due in part to our not knowing for sure if she refers to a dead lover or to their child. The sound quality of both discs is fine and the occasional crackle heard when listening via headphones is as exotically attractive as listening to the country blues on vinyl.

Many people are now aware of the story of Vashti Bunyan’s remarkable journey by horse and cart from swinging 1960s London to the Outer Hebrides. Disillusioned with her lack of success, she and her companion Robert planned to join a commune with Donovan. By the time they arrived two years later, he had already returned to the capital. Still, the songs she wrote along the way became her stunning debut album Just Another Diamond Day. Initially a commercial failure, its reputation as a lost legend made possible her extraordinary returns to recording and performing. After 30 years during which she did not pick up a guitar, (or even sing around the house), her songs and her voice retain a bone-chilling and spirit-warming power. But don’t take my word for it, go and hear her sing in person. You will never forget it.

The monochrome photograph on the cover shows Bunyan leaning against a wall on Lot’s Road, London. Her light-colored short coat and tights contrast with the dark brick wall and make her look like the statue that, in terms of musical output, she remained for three decades. While we’ll never know what would have been different if her dream of making the 1960s charts had come true, the opportunity to look back at these magical early shots at pop-stardom is a risk-free treat. Some songs can pass through generations like cultural DNA, and it is possible that, (unlike many of her disciples in the so-called psych-folk movement), the conviction and simplicity of Vashti Bunyan’s will assure she is still adored in 400 years. Just don’t call her a folk-singer.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.