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Vashti Bunyan pays tribute

Acclaimed folk artist plays a rare gig to remember late string arranger Robert Kirby

  • 12/04/2010
  • Rodrigo Davies
Vashti Bunyan

Acclaimed folk artist Vashti Bunyan has used a rare gig to pay tribute to the late string arranger Robert Kirby.

Kirby is famed for his work with Nick Drake, Paul Weller and Elton John and died in October at the age of 61.

He worked with Bunyan on her 1970 album Just Another Diamond Day, a commercial flop at the time that has since become a collector's item.

"Everything he wrote was so sweetly melodic and soulful, and I miss him terribly," Bunyan told 6 Music.

She performed tracks including Rainbow River at London's Union Chapel on Sunday, backed by a recorder quartet playing Kirby's original arrangements.

"Robert wrote at the piano and he never knew what it was going to sound like played by recorders and strings until he got into the studio. That to me is magical," Bunyan said.

Kirby followed his friend Nick Drake in dropping out of Cambridge University in the late 1960s to record Drake's debut album Five Leaves Left.

The album was first of three releases by the songwriter to enjoy critical praise but little commercial success until after Drake's suicide in 1974.

"I never let any thought in that I might take up music again."

Vashti Bunyan

Bunyan gave up on a career in music aged 25 after what she described as the "terrible failure" of her debut album.

However she was persuaded to return to music after her growing cult status led to the re-release of the album in 2000.

"I never let any thought in that I might take up music again, ever listen to the album again, or ever let anyone else listen to it," she said.

"My children weren't allowed to listen to it. "I didn't like hearing it because it reminded me of such a terrible failure in my life.

"I love that so many people seem to enjoy it now," Bunyan added. "Before, nobody seemed to find anything in it, so it's a complete joy for me."

Several younger folk-influenced artists have since recorded with her.

New York's Animal Collective invited Bunyan to collaborate on their Prospect Hummer EP in 2005, and in the same year she released her second release Lookaftering, featuring Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom.

Her profile was boosted after the track Diamond Day was used in a UK television advert by the mobile phone company T-Mobile in 2006.

It also featured in the third series of Channel Four's Skins, screened earlier this year. But despite praise from younger artists and public recognition, Bunyan said the support of her family helped persuade her to return to music.

"When I was writing the songs for Lookaftering I was saying 'I don't want to risk this anymore', and they were pushing me and telling me I had to do it. They all enjoy it with me."

Bunyan said she is writing an as yet unnamed third album, which she hopes to release next year.

"My contemporaries as musicians are all mature musicians now and I still feel as if I'm at the beginning. I feel really lucky to be able to do that."

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