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PART OF THE Sweet Inspiration ISSUE

‘I borrowed some money and booked an hour in a studio where I recorded twelve songs straight, one after another, just voice and guitar’

Wayward is the extraordinary story of Vashti Bunyan who, in 1968, gave up everything she knew in the city to take to the road with a horse, wagon, dog, her then partner, and guitar. Travelling to the Outer Hebrides, so began a whole new chapter for her as a person and musician. After retreating to a musical wilderness for decades, the rediscovery of her recordings brought her a second chance to write. You can read an exclusive extract from her life at BooksfromScotland below.

 

Extract taken from Wayward
By Vashti Bunyan
Published by White Rabbit Books

 

My parents asked my big brother to give me a talking to. What was I going to do with myself now? How will I make a living? Secretary? Nurse? Get MARRIED? Ugh.

‘I want to be a pop singer.’

My brother laughed. His lovely big drain laugh that I so miss now he’s gone, but then it just made me narrow my eyes.

Undaunted and determined I went up and down Denmark Street in Soho – Tin Pan Alley – looking for any managers or producers who might listen to me and my guitar. They had to shut their windows in order to hear me over the noise of the traffic outside and one patted me on the backside as he showed me the door – saying ‘Very nice but you’re just not commercial, dear’.

Maybe he just couldn’t imagine me in a sparkling ballgown with my hair lacquered up on top of my head. I couldn’t either.

I borrowed some money and booked an hour in a studio where I recorded twelve songs straight, one after another, just voice and guitar, with my very English tones announcing each title as I went. I had four of the songs put onto a seven-inch acetate, and this was my only demo. I lost it. I wonder if anyone ever found it.

Looking for any opportunity to be heard, I took up the offer of a spot in a bar called the Dark Room. Girl with guitar singing quiet songs to fur-coated loudly drunken and perfumed old people who must have been quite bewildered at the sight and sound of me. Not that they could hear me. One time only.

There was a party given by our old neighbours the Blacks at Appletree Wick, just before my twentieth birthday. My mother persuaded me to go with her and I reluctantly took my guitar and sat down on the edge of a gilt chair in a room full of once-famous actresses, singers, people of the stage. Mink coats, diamonds and pearls, patent leather shoes, gin and tonics, Mum happily back with friends. I chose to quietly sing ‘How Do I Know’, probably hoping to raise some perfect eyebrows with its reference to having babies by different fathers and still being free.

I remember making no impression amongst the clinking glasses and high laughter, but I must have done on one woman there – an agent called Monte Mackey from the Al Parker agency in Mayfair.

Mrs Mackey knew Andrew Loog Oldham – twenty-one- year-old manager of the Rolling Stones and ex-manager of Marianne Faithfull. I was called to the Mayfair office to meet him and sing some of my songs.

There I was surrounded by the theatrical plush typical of the day, the swags of red velvet and golden tassels, a grand piano with silver-framed signed photographs from grateful and loving clients, a white marble fireplace with an ornate electric bar fire, Mrs Mackey sitting silently behind her large desk – and there was Andrew, standing, shining, with his back to the mantelpiece and gilt-framed mirror. I doubt we exchanged glances and there were no words. Me – long white socks, small skirt, holey jumper, old guitar, moody demeanour and a croaking voice. Andrew, blond and per- fectly otherworldly, looking down – or at the ceiling.

Sent away after a few songs, I had no thought that anything would come of the meeting, but next day I was again summoned, this time to Andrew’s office in Ivor Court at the other end of Gloucester Place. He handed me an acetate recording of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind’. This was to be my first single. A Mick Jagger and Keith Richards song.

‘But I want to record my songs.’

One of mine could go on the B-side, said Andrew, and my second single could be one of my own. I was not happy. I went home and complained at my father. He said – quite uncharacteristically – ‘compromise, dear girl’.

*

I did. I set out on a path I had not planned, but it surely had its moments.

The contrast between the traditional impresarios’ world that I had glimpsed through our neighbours the Blacks and their friends, with this – Andrew Loog Oldham sweeping it all aside, wresting the reins and reclaiming music for the young – warmed my contrary little heart. I was just twenty, Andrew a year older. He had already brought the Stones to dazzling success and I was surely dazzled, but also aware that I was around something quite world-changing, and I was quietly delighting in being a small part of the big fuck you.

 

Wayward by Vashti Bunyan is published by White Rabbit Books, priced £16.99.

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