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Bill Fay is a British singer-songwriter who got together with a bunch of London jazz session players in the early ’70s and released a pair of cultish albums, loved by adventurous rock types like Wilco and Nick Cave. He hasn’t released an album in more than 40 years. But Fay is, all of a sudden, back in action, and he’ll soon release a new LP called Life Is People, recorded with a band assembled by British journeyman guitarist Matt Deighton. Check out the tracklist below.
Having made two albums in the early seventies -Bill Fay and Time Of The Last Persecution, Bill Fay has taken until now to release a new album (although a lost album Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow was finally issued in 2004). He is now regarded as a national treasure -and support from cult but significant artists like Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Nick Cave and Current 93’s David Tibet has helped him finally achieve the recognition that didn’t happen forty years ago.
So, parallels could quite possibly be drawn with the likes of Vashti Bunyan in terms of career revival; but to listen to his music on this album alone is to realise how much Fay has influenced others. Wilco covered Fay’s song ‘Be Not So Fearful’ and here Fay returns the favour by offering a radical and beautiful take on Wilco’s ‘Jesus etc..’ (originally to be found on Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot).
Beautifully scored and arranged, these songs stand out on their own and make up one hugely impressive whole. Whilst unbearably sad in parts, the sheer quality and beauty on this album is strangely life-affirming. I’ve become absolutely smitten by this album over the past week, and have listened repeatedly. So a cult hero for many years -on the strength of this album, his time has finally come. Make the time to listen-and make sure you buy it. - Ed Jupp
Bill Fay is hardly a household name. In fact, he’s hardly a name at all. And yet, his music has resonated with some rather important musicians. Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy claims no records have meant more in his life than Fay’s, and Okkervil River’s Will Sheff calls Fay “rock music’s conscience”. So why has Fay gone virtually unnoticed by the music community at large?
The story goes that Fay released two records in the early 1970s on Deram (1970′s Bill Fay and 1971′s cult classic Time of the Last Persecution, which featured some of the best British jazz session players of the era), but both flopped and the label dropped him. Fay began recording Last Persecution‘s follow-up, Tomorrow, Tomorrow & Tomorrow, in the mid-70s, but it was left incomplete until its delayed 2005 release. During the years in between, Fay was virtually invisible.
Though his music slow-builds into rich, seemingly omniscient classic rock balladry that very few artists are — or ever were — capable of producing, it still somehow slipped between the cracks. Fay amalgamated many of his famous contemporaries’ best traits: David Bowie’s quirky confidence, Leonard Cohen’s apprehensive wisdom, Ray Davies’ melodic prowess, and Van Dyke Parks’ knack for arrangement and delivery.
But today, Fay is back with new music. With Life Is People, Fay releases his first official album in just over 40 years; and surprisingly, after all that time, little has changed. Fay’s songs sound as if they’ve simply been hanging out in the ether for all these years, just waiting to be put to tape. Like his back catalog, these compositions have a hard time restricting themselves to any sort of era, style, or genre. Fay’s songs have always sounded idiosyncratic in that way; for instance, “Let All the Other Teddies Know”, Last Persecution’s guitar-squealing conclusion, sounds like a Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood composition written three decades too early.
Life Is People makes a strong argument for why Fay deserves recognition, and not just by those in the know. With top-notch production framing technical and emotive musicianship, Fay recaptures his sound as a lucky few remember it. Backed by guitarist Matt Deighton (Oasis, Paul Weller, Mother Earth), Tim Weller (who’s played drums for everyone from Will Young to Noel Gallagher and Goldfrapp), keyboardist Mikey Rowe (High Flying Birds, Stevie Nicks, etc.), and some of the players from Last Persecution, Fay continues exactly where he left off: still obsessed with, awed, and frustrated by the natural world around him.
The luscious “There is a Valley” is a nature-centric look at humanity as told through whispering trees and sheep-trodden mountainsides. Not unlike The Band’s work, it resounds with a timeless classic rock depth, stuck in a past that never really existed in the first place. Organs coast along a tight groove, leaving room for Fay’s whimsical wisdom to fill the canvas. “The Big Painter” is an Arvo Part-indebted baritone hymnal that plays like a more Gregorian take on Pink Floyd psychedelia: eerie, soft-spoken, and unsettling while dissonant ephemera stumble around in the background.
The album falters, however, when Fay unnecessarily takes on Wilco’s untouchable “Jesus, etc.” Jeff Tweedy himself makes an appearance on the just barely sappy, power-folk requiem for an idealized past, “This World”, which could have been written by Nick Lowe. “This world’s holding all the keys/ Gotta break it before it breaks me,” Fay says before Tweedy responds, “This world’s got me on my knees/ There was a time when I used to stand tall.”
Life Is People is proof enough that Fay has always stood tall; we just may have been too short to notice him. It seems like time has finally caught up with Fay, or rather, that time is ready to start regretting its negligence. He’s in our sight lines now, and hopefully he’ll stay there a while longer. -