However, I never thought I would end up as one of those gin-huffing obsessives I used to spy in indie record shops – frog-chinned saps flicking idly through the dusty vinyl for pressings of an ancient Lionel Ritchie EP only released in Singapore and sold to three people during the bubonic plague. These men, with their pendulous beards and their searching blank eyes, were to me – at best – a curio. One of life’s many burps of comic tragedy.
Then, as I mused on these hairy sound-lurkers some more, their lives began to fascinate me. These men, it seemed, were hanging on to last vestige of a faded fantasy life, one soundtracked by the perma-tanned pop divas of yesteryear who have long since retired their ivory pipes for catheters and stair lifts. These men represented the need to cling on to a golden age, or an age romanticised as golden, merely since it resides in the surreal backwaters of their youth.
When I listen to the music of Vashti Bunyan, I am transported to an era I have never encountered: a hazy dream of an idealistic 1960s – a romanticised country retreat where the simple pleasures of lapping streams, glittering icy mountain peaks, and quaint evenings spent reading by the fire, fill my days. I attribute this sickly pleasure to moments in my own youth: the splendour of an endless childhood winter, the longing to regress to a carefree life, and a general disdain for adulthood I have carried into… adulthood. Also, reading the sentimental fiction of Lewis Grassic Gibbon has scarred me.
Anyway, the point is… I’ve been on the Bunyan hunt now for almost a month. For those unfamiliar with Vashti, she released the timeless folk masterpiece Just Another Diamond Day in 1970, which stands alone in its impenetrable beauty and haunting transcendence. Since then, she has recorded another album, Lookaftering, plus a handful of miscellaneous tracks with other artists, and it is these songs I am trying to attain.
It’s not easy for the completist in this frugal climate. Especially the completist with a limited budget of £2.50. This obsession to find everything began when FatCat Records released the splendid collection of 1960s Vashti material Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind in 2007. However, as a nasty marketing ruse, they released TWO versions – one with no bonus tracks and an expensive limited edition with four (not very impressive) bonus tracks.
Ordinarily, this wouldn't have bothered me, but one of these tracks, ‘I Won’t Say’ was an unreleased demo unavailable elsewhere. I began to wonder: What if this song was earth-shatteringly beautiful? What is this was the greatest Vashti performance ever and I was missing out? What if in the future I become obsessed and replace my old copy anyway? So I shelled out the £10 extra for these four tracks. When I got the CD, the tune was quietly beautiful, but the original source tape cut out towards the end, ruining the impact of the song. Bastards!
This burning need to find every Vashti performance eventually crept up on me after I went to see her in concert. This was, of course, the best gig I had ever been to (and the cheapest) – a moving set of her finest songs delivered with the most incredible humour and gentleness. So that was it. I had to find everything she had ever released.
I soon discovered the plight of the curio-finder. Tracks appear on obscure EPs, then are re-recorded on full-length albums, or are unavailable for some reason for large periods of time. And then there’s locating bootlegs of live performances which, as any collector will tell you, is harder than finding good quality heroin. Plus, there are one-off songs on compilations, or guest appearances on terrible albums. It all adds up to a hole in my wallet.
The good news is: all I need now are three tracks Vashti recorded with singer Anthony Reynolds, and my search is complete. These tracks, together with the dozen or so others, will comprise the ‘lost’ Vashti album I will spin until my ears die of pleasure.
I have also learned to respect the weary vinyl-hunters, who nowadays ply their trade online, and have found a home for their obsession through the accommodating world of internet forums. God bless the bearded freaks.