Vashti Bunyan: Just Another Diamond Day (1971) / Lookaftering (2005)
They called her the Godmother of Freak Folk, and God knows why. A young artist in a milieu (’60s London) that seemingly gave shots to everyone who shared her inclinations, Bunyan spent the middle of the decade working under the guidance of Andrew Loog Oldham. A handful of multimedia appearances gained little traction, and Bunyan and her boyfriend decamped for the north in a horse-drawn cart, writing songs all the while. Urged back to London by American production maestro Joe Boyd, she recorded a number of these plaintive, intimate sketches with the assistance of some UK folk luminaries. The result, released on the Philips label, was Just Another Diamond Day. Unfortunately, the album arrived at the tail end of the Great British Folk Boom, and the combination of meager sales, ambivalent reviews and Boyd’s control of the proceedings set her a-wandering again. She hung up her Martin and raised a family. And then, in 1997, she did a very un-freaky thing: she Googled herself. As it happened, her output had acquired the usual collector/speculator following; a stray acetate (gifted to a journalist in 1968) ended up on a 1990 compilation, from which Lush repurposed it on their 1996 LP Topolino. Bunyan hadn’t gotten royalties, and after making the proper arrangements with 4AD, she began casting about for a way to squelch the Diamond Day boots. Her publisher tracked down her masters, and the reissue became Spinney Records’ first release in 2000. From there, it was a quick step to correspondence and recording with Joanna Newsom, Piano Magic, and Devendra Banhart, the last of whom secured a US release for Diamond Day, bringing her to the attention of the wider indie-rock world. Her young friends, in turn, contributed to 2005’s Lookaftering (along with Robert Kirby, the arranger on her debut). Demoed on recording software, Bunyan was persuaded by producer Max Richter to return to the barely-adorned, acoustic vibe of Diamond Day. Though she rejected the folk label time and again in interviews — and though her precise, crystalline compositions shared very little with her proteges’ mudpies — Bunyan was a standard-bearer for a special moment in time, and last year’s Heartleap expounded on her gift for plaintive, wide-eyed beauty.