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Vashti Bunyan - St Philip's Church, Manchester, 12/10/2014

  by Nicky Crewe

published: 14 / 11 / 2014

Vashti Bunyan - St Philip's Church, Manchester, 12/10/2014


Nicky Crewe watches 60's singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan play an atmospheric and enthralling set at St Philip's Church in Manchester

I don’t often spend Sunday evening in a church. St Philip’s is an extraordinary church too, located in a Dickensian area of Salford, drawn by Lowry, designed in the 1820s by Sir Robert Smirke, the architect who was responsible for the British Museum. I have been there once before for a concert, and I know it’s a regular venue for music. It’s also very close to where I went to my first secondary school. Bus stop conversations about the Hollies and the Beatles, Radio Caroline and Luxembourg, Dylan and Donovan. It’s an area I rarely get a chance to visit in reality, though it’s part of my dreamscape. The vicar was there, taking photos, greeting friends in the audience. He told me there had already been a Thai christening and an Ethiopian church service that day. Normally he avoids booking concerts on a Sunday, but as he said, "Who could resist Vashti?" Like all places of worship, it has a presence and an atmosphere. The audience were quiet and respectful. The bar and the merchandise table were discreet. The evening started with a young singer, Flo Morrissey, who had come from London to support Vashti for this one concert. Only nineteen, performing her own songs and with a voice like an angel, it was easy to make a link with Vashti’s own early career and style. It was a lovely start to the evening. Vashti came on stage with Gareth Dixon. He played beautiful guitar accompaniments, adding an occasional harmony, and performed one of his own songs, 'Two Trains'. There was a Nick Drake quality to it, which isn’t surprising. He has worked with Vashti for nine years, and we heard the story of how they had first met, when she was asked to perform and curate a concert at the Barbican. I’m guessing most of the audience were familiar with Vashti’s music and some of the stories of her early career, and later rediscovery and commercial success. I was lucky enough to interview her recently for Pennyblackmusic, coinciding with the release of her new songs on 'Heartleap'. It was lovely to hear her tell her tales of travel and dreams of escape, her disappointments and disillusionment at her lack of commercial success, turned round decades later by 'Diamond Day' being taken up as a commercial. She told us about her family and her own path through life as a young woman. Beginning with 'Here Before', she followed this with 'Diamond Day', settling us in with old favourites interwoven with new songs from 'Heartleap'. 'Across the Water' is about getting stuck in life, not knowing how to move forward. 'Wishwanderer' is about her dream of taking off on the road, a guitar slung over her shoulder. When she wrote it in her early twenties, she told us she was still living at home. That romantic dream of a way of life, travelling to the far north in a horse drawn wagon with her dog and her boyfriend, writing songs, still resonates with many. While the escapism wasn’t always easy, the dream is still beguiling. It’s an amazing thing to live your dream, and she did it, and now has her reward in the recognition of her music. Each song is like a perfect miniature painting of a mood or occasion, whether it’s about her children, or a difficult relationship. The songs are short and sweet. The tune for 'Pink Sugar Elephants', written in her early twenties, was adapted to the words of a poem by her friend Alex Clare. He would write poems and leave the rolled piece of paper in the empty milk bottle on her doorstep! And the song was played twice on Radio Caroline. These stories bring her past to life, and her dreams are dreams I shared. As she said, it’s the cycle of love and heartbreak and joy and love again. Not just 'Heartleap', this was heart’s ease. A gentle, thought provoking and beautifully performed concert in a setting full of peace. Hopeful, poignant and fragile in mood, the audience were full of respect and consideration. At the end, the applause was rapturous, as it should be. Listen to 'Mother' from 'Heartleap' and you will know why. Discussing the concert on our journey home, we both commented on the sense of well being we felt. This wasn’t an adrenalin fuelled performance. There was no sense of having to wind down. Falling asleep with her music playing, I realised how easily it became part of my dreams. Perfect music for the winter evenings to come, cheering the dark nights with its delicate touch.

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Vashti Bunyan - St Philip's Church, Manchester, 12/10/2014

Vashti Bunyan - St Philip's Church, Manchester, 12/10/2014

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