Week 388: “Here Before” by Vashti Bunyan

Going into the studio to record her 2005 album Lookaftering must have been a slightly surreal experience for Vashti Bunyan. She must have felt a strange, distant deja-vu, like she’d been there before in another life.

After all, it had been 35 years since her previous record’s release.

Vashti Bunyan’s story is part Rodriguez and part Nick Drake. Her career began in the mid-1960s, when The Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Oldham got her into the studio to record a Jagger-Richards song called “Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind.” A few other recordings followed, all of which sounded like fairly typical mid-60s pop, and none of which was particularly successful.

A full-length album followed in 1970; a compilation of markedly folkier songs written while she had been travelling by horse and cart (no kidding) to Scotland. But a lack of wide distribution, combined with the difficulty of promoting an album and starting a family at the same time, led Bunyan to abandon the music scene completely.

She moved to a commune in Scotland. She raised three kids. She raised three step-kids. She lived a simple, contended life.

Meanwhile, that album, Just Another Diamond Day, was living a life of its own. It had developed a cult following, and original pressings were selling for thousands. In 2000, it was re-issued on CD, and, her own kids having now grown up and moved out, she returned to the studio – at age 60 – to record her second full-length album.

The resulting album was Lookaftering. A reference to those years spent raising her kids. A return to her love for music. It was produced by Max Richter (featured on this blog in week 182) and featuring collaborators like Adam Pierce (featured in week 249) and Robert Kirby (who had done string arrangements for, appropriately, Nick Drake).

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. Her voice, haunting and personal, recalls Joni Mitchell.

2. The vocal melody is repeated in echoes, but the echoes enter on different bars, creating a canon effect.

3. The lyrics seem to imply either nostalgia for the days when her kids were young and innocent, or a belief in reincarnation. I don’t believe people can be reincarnated, but Bunyan is proof that careers can be.

Recommended listening activity:

Taking a lesson in something you quit a long time ago.

Buy it here.