Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham is credited with discovering British singer-songwriter Vashti, or Vashti Bunyan, as she later became known. She was initially promoted as a replacement for Marianne Faithfull in Oldham’s pop firmament, but she went on to become a highly regarded folk singer in her own right.
She was born Vashti Bunyan in London in 1945. Publicity material at the time of her launch as a singer claimed she was a descendent of the poet John Bunyan, though she denies the connection.
After leaving school, she went to study at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, part of Oxford University. During her time in Oxford she shared a flat with Jennifer Lewis and hung around with Angela Strange. (All three girls went on to enjoy recording careers, though Vashti’s proved the longest.)
Vashti was more interested in music than in art, and the college eventually kicked her out in 1964 for skipping classes to write songs.
Unworried, she went off to spend the summer with her older sister in New York. It was there that she discovered the music of Bob Dylan and became enchanted with his songwriting style.
On her return to London, she announced to her family that she wanted to become a pop singer. She insisted at the time – and continues to do so today, despite all the evidence to the contrary – that she was not a folk singer.
She booked herself some time in a local recording studio and then hocked her demo around the offices of producers in London’s West End, but without success.
However, salvation was to come in the form of Andrew Loog Oldham, manager of the Rolling Stones. He had been alerted to the potential of the singer and went to see her perform at a club called the Dark Room, off Regent Street, in central London. Oldham had previously discovered Marianne Faithfull at a launch party for Adrienne Poster and had seen her enjoy great success. However, Marianne had recently broken away from Oldham and he was on the lookout for a new girl singer.
Oldham landed her a contract with Decca and rushed her into the recording studio. Repeating the approach that had worked so well with Marianne – that of having her cut a song penned by the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards – Some things just stick in your mind became her first 45, in June 1965. The B-side was I want to be alone, which Vashti had written. The release was credited to the surname-less Vashti.
The media (accurately) portrayed Vashti as Oldham’s replacement for Marianne – a label that, unsurprisingly, his new protégée didn’t care much for.
She went out and promoted the release, appearing on shows such as Ready steady go! However, despite its impeccable credentials, the 45 failed to become a hit.
The song’s orchestration was somewhat at odds with the simple guitar-and-vocals style that the singer was more comfortable with, and she quit Oldham and Decca for Columbia, where she felt she would have more creative control.
Train song became her first – and only – single for Columbia. Issued in May 1966, it had been written by Vashti and Alisdair Clayre, an old friend from her Oxford days. The flip, Love song, was a Vashti-only composition.
Vashti was teamed with duo Twice as Much in 1966 to record the excellent Coldest night of the year, which had been written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Plans to release the track as a single were shelved, and it eventually saw the light of day a full two years later as an album track on Twice as Much’s That’s all album.
Further solo self-penned singles for Immediate, 1966’s Winter is blue and 1967’s I’d like to walk around in your mind, also remained unreleased. Vashti has since commented, “Immediate lived up to its name. Anything that didn’t work instantly just got left behind.”
The singer appeared in the 1967 documentary about “swinging London”, Tonite let’s all make love in London, and her Winter is blue also appeared on the film’s soundtrack album.
By the summer of 1968, she had had enough of Immediate and she and boyfriend Robert Lewis packed up their belongings on a horse and cart and headed for folk singer Donovan’s Isle of Skye commune. However, the commune had broken up by the time the pair arrived and they ended up travelling on to Scotland’s Outer Hebrides islands.
During the trip, Vashti began composing songs that she would record the following year for her album Just another diamond day. Fairport Convention’s Simon Nicol and Dave Swarbrick were among the artists who helped out on the LP, which was released on the Philips label in 1970. The record was the first to bear her full name. Although it failed to sell at the time, it has since become highly sought after.
The birth of a son shortly afterwards saw Vashti quit the music business and up sticks again, this time to the west coast of Ireland, before settling ultimately in Edinburgh.
She was coaxed out of retirement in 2001 and began recording guest vocals on releases by folk artists such as Devendra Banhart and Glen Johnson. In 2005, she issued the second LP of her career, Lookaftering, and toured the US and Canada.
She has since collaborated with artists such as Anthony Reynolds and been the subject of a documentary, Vashti Bunyan: From here to before.
A double CD was issued in 2007, which compiled her singles and many demo tracks from the
Our pick of the pops
Some things just stick in your mind
Coldest night of the year
Winter is blue
Some things just stick in your mind
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