Bill Fay: From The Bottom of an Old Grandfather Clock

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9 Outtakes and Demos, 1966-70  by  Bill Fay
Released: 10/01/2004 • Label: Wooden Hill UK

“Christ is in the bathroom, look in any mirror on the wall / Satan’s in the garden shed, he’d like to screw you all”

If patience truly is a virtue, then no man deserves just reward more than Bill Fay.

A humble factory worker from North London with an eclectic ear for melody and translucent fingers, Fay recorded the bulk of his work in the early 70’s, his first two albums (Bill Fay and Time of the Last Persecution) were released on the Deram Label but never attained any sort of audience. He slipped into obscurity, recording the follow up to his sophomore release in the same period, but unable to find a label interested until more than 25 years later. Gifted with the most perfect combination of pop-oriented hooks and deeply melancholic ditties, he spun his web of secrecy hidden upstairs in lofts abandoned to ears but his own. Being dropped by his label, Bill continued recording music almost constantly, being forced to take jobs in factories and fish cellars to be able to supplement his recordings. Almost religiously driven in a lot of his work, but without the evangelical zeal that would turn off a great number of people, it’s beyond me how this mans work has remained shrouded in such undiscovery. Lyrically astute, crafting touching worlds from his memory, describing local scenes and the casual lives of the working class, without glorifying or surrendering them to ridicule.

An intimate glance into the surroundings of his world, back in the 60’s. With such breathtaking songs as “Be Not So Fearful” (which was covered by Jeff Tweedy/Wilco) and “Backwards Maze”, along with the extraordinary “Jack Laughter & Mademoiselle Sigh” stretching over 6 minutes in it’s melancholic majesty before incorporating a stripped down version of “Warwick Town” as a hidden closer. It’s beyond me how these songs were not the soundtracks to an entire generation. They have the potential to have been looked upon in the same regard as anything Dylan, The Beatles, Stones, etc put out.

The world has overlooked a multitude of singer/songwriters who recorded and released during the 60’s. Perhaps it was a case of over-kill or demand not exactly equalling supply, but somehow talented musicians like Rodriguez, Linda Perhacs, Vashti Bunyan, Skip Spence’s masterpiece Oar slipped through the cracks and failed to make even slight dents in the music scene back then. Thanks, in part, to the existence of music blogs and current artists pushing their discoveries upon new ears (Devendra Banhart vs Vashti Bunyan, Ben Chasny vs Gary Higgins), they have managed to reach a new audience, and some of them even have released new albums, or re-released their debut records after huge gaps in time, such as Vashti, Higgins and Fay. Vashti Bunyan in particular has enjoyed an immense revival, gaining a whole army of new fans with her last album Hidden and her touring/performances on Later With Jools Holland, not to mention the T-Mobile commercial using “Just Another Diamond Day”. Every worker deserves his/her pay, so we won´t go biblical on her with calls of “Sell Out!”.

I chose this “album” to review instead of his full length’s based solely on the fact that it was my first introduction to Bill Fay and I have such a close connection to these songs in their bare form, without all the orchestration and fiddling about he did on the subsequent releases. Not that Bill Fay or Time of the Last Persecution are any worse off for their attention to detail, but I have always been a believer of “less-is-more”. If a song is strong enough to stand the test of time with basic instrumentation, then it doesn’t need the lavishing of too much care and energy spent on it. It can forge it’s own path without the frivolities.

Naturally some music needs the opulent arrangements and strings to truly realize the writers dream. Bill Fay’s can stand quite tall just as they are here on the “demo’s and outtakes” collection.

From The Bottom of an Old Grandfather Clock

The sense of the Brighton Sea, mist curling along the shore, spitting wind coating your lips in salty rain. Fish’n’ Chips shops further down the road scenting the air with vinegar, windows into pubs with Chesterfields in bronzed leather and roaring fires, old men sat by their teak tables sipping brandy, red nosed and oblivious to the outside. Winter parks, carpeted in frost, with the weak tips of grass pushing forth in the endless search for sunlight, birds vacant from trees, trees vacant from leaves, leaves lying in skeletons amidst the light snow and fog. Cafe’s with hands smudged on the windows trying to clear a vantage point, full English breakfasts and hot tea, waitresses with blue eyeshadow and smokers mouths, the beige table-tops splattered with HP sauce and sugar grains. Cold suburban streets wrapped in huddled scarves and hats, spluttering buses driving the shoppers home after a day out, kids with their bags of Rhubarb & Custards red cheeked and content peering out the back window and making faces. Dark rooms lost down hallways collecting dust and expelled melodies, songs whirring about in the smoke-filled chambers, clinging to books, records, candlesticks. Half eaten sandwiches and bent cigarettes. Windows to gardens with stone slabs, spring grass, a shed, wooden fences with sharpened tops, an apple tree. Fat worms appearing from dark soil, spiderwebs shining with a diamonds brilliance against the early morning sun, bramble bushes tangled against the lampposts. Childhood love, the moors and hills of the midlands, stone cottages beside mills, miles of fields dotted with cows and sheep, tractors din above the morning kettle.

The sights and smells of Britain.

Collected and kept intact in the 25 songs. Undiluted. A rare glimpse into the world of a true artist.

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