Tuesday, 6 November 2007

VASHTI BUNYAN: I'd Like To Walk Around In Your Mind

Some things bother me about Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind, the recently released 2CD compilation whose mission seems to be to prove that Vashti had a life before those diamond days. In her sleevenote she speaks of her songs centring around the impossibility and futility of trying to pin someone or something down, and yet her guarded comments about her record label insisting that her 1964 demos be included as a second CD suggest a degree of revisionism with which she may not be in full accordance. She also points out that Loog Oldham did not press gang her into switching from folk to pop, and the Stones-penned title track – a single in 1965 – suggests the truth of this; there are huge orchestral resources but they seem to eddy into their own whirlpool as her confidently trembling voice is pushed to the forefront of the mix.

The cover shot features Vashti standing in Lots Road, a few minutes’ walk from where I currently work, circa 1964; both it and she look as though they belong to 1934. The samizdat crackles and bubbles from the battered vinyl and acetates which have been used as masters imply a long buried message from another world and not just another century. Yet some artists cannot be easily explained, and perhaps she belongs in that category and innocently befuddles anyone who tries to comprehend what subtexts, if there be any, lurking beneath her art. The T-Mobile/”Diamond Day” tie-in might betray a continuing interest in her wanting her music to be pop, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be.

The nearest this compilation gets to “explaining” Vashti is 1967’s “I’d Like To Walk Around In Your Mind,” barely two-and-a-quarter minutes long, arranged discreetly (for acoustic guitar, double bass, nearly inaudible percussion and ‘cello) and produced by Mike Hurst, intended for single release on Immediate but never issued. In front of its equine campfire gait she sings as “sweetly” and “vulnerably” as ever but the message she conveys is more baited. “I’d like to walk all over the things you say to me,” she sighs, “I’d like to run and jump on your solitude/I’d like to rearrange your attitude to me.”

Already it is as if she foresees the reckless foresight of failed dreams: “You say you just want peace and to never hurt anyone/You see the end before the beginning has ever begun.” In her graceful smock lies a bomb. “I would disturb your easy tranquility/I’ll turn away the sad impossibility of your smile.”

But rather than, or as well as, the weekend radical or the betraying lover, she may be addressing her would-be listeners: “I’d sing my songs and find out just what they mean to you,” before the key emphatically moves up an octave and she provides an unexpected link between the Barry Gibb of “Words” (another song directed at the listener) and the Momus of “Closer To You” as she comments on the inherent dispensability of the two-minute pop song (but does it have to be dispensable?): “But most of all I’d like you to be unaware/Then I’d just wander away/Trailing palm leaves behind me/So you don’t even know that I’ve ever been there.” Quiet and calm, but with a stern, unbending mind behind the benign semi-smile; a threat as subtly sinister as anything in sixties music. As with her unlikely Denmark Street pop doppelganger Barbara Ruskin, did she simply look aghast at “Boom-Bang-A-Bang” and “Monsieur Dupont” and see that for a British female artist there was no talking to her time and that a different life had to be attained? And do “2 Hearts” and “Gimme More” prove or refute her wisdom in facing that world again?