Artist: Bill Fay
Album: Life Is People
Label: Dead Oceans / Cargo Records
“Ich kann mich an keinen Musiker erinnern, dessen Alben mir jemals mehr bedeutet hätten.” – Jeff Tweedy (WILCO)
BILL FAY is one of English music’s best kept secrets – a genuine national treasure. Back at the dawn of the 1970s, he was a one-man song factory, with a piano that spilled liquid gold and a voice every bit the equal of RAY DAVIES, JOHN LENNON, early BOWIe, or PROCOL HARUM’s Gary Brooker. He made two solo albums but his contract wasn’t renewed, leaving his LPs and his reputation to become cult items, later namedropped by the likes of NICK CAVE, WILCO’s Jeff Tweedy and JIM O’ROURKE. But he never stopped writing, and the music kept on coming. Now, in his late sixties, he has produced “Life Is People”, a brand new studio album that shows his profoundly humanist vision is as strong as it ever was.
BILL FAY was born in North London, where he still lives. His debut on the underground Decca Nova label, “Bill Fay” (1970), included spacious big band jazz arrangements by Mike Gibbs, but it was the follow-up, “Time Of The Last Persecution” (1971), that cemented his reputation – a harrowing, philosophical and painfully honest diagnosis of an unhealthy society and a messed-up planet, that featured the cream of London’s fieriest jazz session players such as guitarist Ray Russell. Unable to make ends meet as a musician, FAY wandered through a succession of jobs for years, writing songs privately. His albums were reissued in 1998 after being deleted for 27 years, and when the likes of Jeff Tweedy and DAVID TIBET (CURRENT 93) began singing his praises in the early 2000s, BILL began to come back into view. A third album, recorded piecemeal in the late 70s, was released in 2005 as “Tomorrow Tomorrow And Tomorrow”, by THE BILL FAY GROUP. And WILCO even convinced the shy singer to join them onstage in London in 2007.
A CD of BILL’s early demos and home recordings has also since emerged, but “Life Is People” is his first properly crafted studio album since 1971. He was motivated by American producer Joshua Henry, a fan who had grown up listening to the BILL FAY albums in his Dad’s record collection. Spooling through BILL’s home demos, Joshua discovered an incredible trove of material and decided to do something about it. Guitarist Matt Deighton (OASIS, PAUL WELLER, MOTHER EARTH) assembled a cast of backup musicians to bring out the songs’ full potential, Tim Weller (who’s played drums for everyone from WILL YOUNG to NOEL GALLAGHER and GOLDFRAPP), and keyboardist Mikey Rowe (HIGH FLYING BIRDS, STEVIE NICKS, etc). In addition, BILL is reunited on several tracks with Ray Russell and drummer Alan Rushton, who played on “Time Of The Last Persecution”.
And it’s a stunning return to form. The lush and expansive effect is completed by a cello, string quartet and a gospel choir, electric organs and pianos and a rich weave of acoustic and electric guitars. Ranging from intimate to cosmic, epic but never grandiose, BILL’s deeply committed music reminds you of important, eternal truths, and the lessons to be drawn from the natural world, when the materiality and greed threaten to engulf everything.
From the Eden-like hope for a better world in the opening “There Is A Valley” to the street sweeper gazing past the neon lights to the heavens in “City Of Dreams”; from the grand historical sweep of “Big Painter” to the compassionate hopefulness of “The Healing Day”; BILL’s perceptive songs strike at the heart of the big issues facing us all today. But they’re humble and down to earth too, full of striking images: witness the panoramic “Cosmic Concerto (Life Is People)”, with its windblown seeds and grandmas blowing kisses into prams: as rapturous and soul-stirring as any music you’ll hear this year.
It’s time to recognise one of the great English voices. After nearly 50 years, BILL FAY has finally delivered his masterpiece.
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