Sunday, 14 June 2009

Bill Fay

Now for something old.

Bill Fay was an English singer-songwriter who released two albums in the early 1970s. Both records pan out like an (albeit short) story of Fay's fairly traumatic experience of life around that time.

The story begins with 1970s 'Bill Fay', an album recorded in just one day with an orchestra. This album documents Fay's retreat from the world around him, Fay opens the album with the intention of 'planting myself in the garden', a metaphor for Fay's intention to step back from the world he is dissatisfied with. 'Believe me' instructs Fay, upon making this claim. Fay's simple piano playing often gives his songs a hymn-like quality whilst Fay's voice is rather detached from the rich orchestral backing, which highlights Fay's own feeling of detachment with what surrounds him. It makes him sound like an observer of the world around him, recreated so well by the orchestra. On 'Gentle Willie', Fay sings of a man intent on getting away from it all amidst suffering from an identity crisis. 'Willie' ends up buying a watch tower, only for him to discover that the tower looked over a battlefield, whereupon Willie laughs, then cries. 'Be Not So Fearful' featuring only piano, drums and voice seem an odd inclusion amongst the orchestration, maybe Fay felt that that version captured the mood he intended for the song, without the need to coat it in an elaborate arrangement.

Album number two, 'Time of the Last Persecution' documents Fay's experience now that he has set out to do what he wanted to do and retreat from society. Fay sounds distressed, almost apocalyptic (the album's title and front cover both suggest something dark is going on). He sings that 'all my time is lying on the factory floor' and that he will be coming 'when the air is black'. Fay's music on this album is sparse, often backed only by a jazz guitarist like on 'Don't Let My Marigolds Die'. Apparently he was influenced by the biblical writings of ministers from the 1800s he found in a book in a jumble sale around this time explains the sometimes prophet-esque subject matter of the lyrics.

'From The Bottom Of An Old Grandfather Clock' is collection of Fay's demos made around the time of his albums but released in 2004 (the cover is great, who is that guy on the left?!). I guess Fay couldn't find a place for these songs and so ditched them. 'Camille' and 'Maxine's Parlour' are both brilliant songs off 'From The Bottom...' and rank among Fay's best work. Fay's songwriting is distinctly English, whether it be the orchestral backing conjuring up images of English countryside or lyrical references to marigolds, rivers and English phrases such as 'Tally ho let's go'. Fay's songs are also short and consise, as if he doesn't want to linger on one subject too long.

This is getting to sound a bit like an essay, never mind. Fay disappeared from public view after the release of 'Time of the Last Persecution', evidently choosing not to play out any more of his life on record. Apparently he became a swimming pool cleaner at a school, maybe he still is? Pretty cool.

Here's one last great song, 'Sing Us One Of Your Songs May'.

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