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Vashti Bunyan Lookaftering Review

Album. Released 2005.  

BBC Review

Long lost cosmic folkie Bunyan returns with her second album in 35 years...

Chris Long 2005

Vashti Bunyan's story is possibly the most romantic that music has ever known. After being ejected from her mid-60s art school for being unable to choose between songs and painting, she was discovered by Stones svengali Andrew Loog Oldham and looked set to become a star.

However, the recordings she made never surfaced. Disenchanted with the industry, she packed her few belongings onto a cart and made an epic horse-drawn journey north to Donovan's colony on the Isle of Skye. Two years later, she arrived to find that the Scottish Dylan had gone, leaving her with just the collection of songs she had created en route.

Those songs, thanks in no small part to the Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention, made up her debut album, Just Another Diamond Day, a twinkling collection of other-worldy folk released with little fanfare in 1970. After that, Bunyan vanished. So legendary is that self-exile that Mark Radcliffe used it in his recent book, Northern Sky, as metaphor for the ultimate get-away-from-it-all disappearing act.

With all that in mind, no-one ever expected this, her follow-up, a mere 35 years later. Its the kind of gap that makes Kate Bush and The Stone Roses look like hard workers. A web search a few years back revealed to Vashti that her debut had become something of a lost gem, a cult classic passed from collector to collector, and it spurred her to develop Lookaftering.

It is a worthy successor. Rather than being a simple echo of her masterpiece, Lookaftering is distinct in its own beauty, shimmering with her soporific tones and floating on the gentle wonder of her melodies.

As with Just Another Diamond Day, Bunyan has chosen to work with some of the finest and most challenging musicians around. Where before Dave Swarbrick and Robin Williamson gave her accompaniment, now it is the turn of Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart and Adem to offer their talents in support.

Her songwriting has developed, if only in the lengthening of her compositions, but none of her tender charm has diminished in those years of absence. Her topics are, as ever, drawn from her own life, taking in motherhood, the loss of a brother, the loss of freedom and the constraints of domesticity along the way. That honesty only adds to the lulling intimacy her voice already offers and makes the album title, a personalised word that means taking care of someone, seem like the most perfect description possible.

Lookaftering would have been a remarkable albumeven without Bunyan's story to accompany it. The fact that it is the work of a singer whose brilliance was thought long-lost to the world makes it an instant classic.

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