1968, Vashti Bunyan set off by horse and cart for the
Isle of Skye, intent on leaving the London music
business behind her after her friend, Donovan, had
talked of a Renaissance on the west coast of Scotland.
It was on this journey that the songs from her now
seminal 1970 album 'Just Another Diamond Day' were
penned although it took 30 years for the album to
reach wide public acclaim. Marcus Wilson spoke to
singer/songwriter Vashti Bunyan about the importance of
her journey to the Highlands and Islands four decades
Wilson: When you first set off on horse and cart to join
an artists' community on the Isle of Skye, what did you
expect to find there?
Vashti Bunyan: Im not sure I can remember it has all
been so overlaid with Life since but I think I had a
hope of people living a harmonious existence, growing
their own food and living their lives undisturbed by the
disapproval of the society I was leaving behind.
MW: What was your
connection with Donovan, who founded the community?
VB: My partner Robert Lewis was at art school with
another painting student who had grown up with Donovan
and was still one of his closest friends (and who
incidentally still lives the life on Skye that we were
all dreaming of) and so we got to know Donovan through
MW: It took you two years before you actually
arrived on Skye, during which time you wrote, recorded
and released the now seminal album Just Another Diamond
Day. Can you describe that period?
VB: It was two summers travelling from London with the
horse and the worst of the winter between spent in the
Lake District. I was looking for a different kind of
education to the relatively sheltered one Id had as a
young person in London and I surely got it. No other way
could I have learned about life the way I did. Living
outside most of the time cooking on fires on the
ground, washing in rivers and burns, walking miles
everyday and watching the landscape slowly change
through industrial and rural England to the moorlands
and highlands of Scotland.
How important was the influence of the Hebrides and your
travels in those early songs on the "Diamond Day" album?
VB: I had no idea what Skye
or the Hebrides would be like but I had always yearned
for the freedom of the countryside and had romantic
notions about farms and farmers and shepherds. By time I
reached the Hebrides I had learned about the realities
of farming and was an aspiring vegetarian.
MW: Did you find much of an artistic community in
the Hebrides during your time there?
VB: No and I think maybe that is what I loved about
it. The art scene I had left behind in London had never
appealed to me. I was looking for something different
and certainly found it in the enormous wisdom and humour,
and the story-telling, amongst the more elderly members
of the island communities.
MW: Did you ever perform your music to audiences
in the Hebrides?
VB: No never. I was so overwhelmed by respect for the
ancient music I heard there that my own songs seemed
MW: You have made
Scotland and Ireland your home since negative early
responses to the Diamond Day album in the media. Was
this exile caused by your disillusionment with the music
industry, or did you have a deeper calling to Scotland
VB: Disillusionment had been the cause of my leaving
London and the music business before setting off on the
horse and cart journey. When I wrote the songs that
became the album Just Another Diamond Day I was not
intending to record them just to document the journey
and to keep us walking along. I had no deeper calling to
Scotland or Ireland, no. I have stayed in Central
Scotland and latterly in Edinburgh because of the people
I have become attached to here.
Did you give up playing guitar and writing music
entirely at this time?
VB: When the album also disappeared off into oblivion I
just decided I was not a musician of any worth and
should therefore stop. I didnt pick up a guitar again
(except to teach my oldest son to play) until I started
writing songs again in about 2002.
MW: You have a
background at art college, so were the visual arts an
outlet for your creativity during this period?
VB: Both Robert and I tended to make our immediate
surroundings as beautiful as we could with what was to
hand. Robert continued to paint occasionally, but mostly
we just wanted to make our lives match the pictures
inside our heads.
MW: The responses to the 2000 re-release of Just
Another Diamond Day and 2005's Lookaftering album have
been phenomenal. You now have a live band that includes
Scottish musicians such as Jo Mango. How did you put the
VB: I had been looking for a guitar player from the time
Just Another Diamond Day was re-released in 2000 as I
was slowly coming around to the idea of live
performance. FatCat the label who put out my second
album Lookaftering in 2005 had been sent a demo by
Gareth Dickson from East Kilbride and they told me about
him. I immediately loved the demo that they had put up
on their website, and contacted him. He came over a
couple of days later, and a month later we were
performing at the Barbican in London, completely
terrified, neither of us having done anything like that
in our lives before.
He then introduced me to brilliant Jo Mango when we were
offered a tour and needed a multi-instrumentalist. I
already knew Fiona Brice the violinist and Ian Burdge
the cellist both from London. We set off for a
European tour and had a wonderful time. Jo and Gareth
and I have also been to the USA and to Australia and
Japan. I admire them all so much all of them
distinctive musicians in their own right - and we play
together from time to time as a band still. I hope once
I have another album made we will be able to tour
Your new film charts your journey from those early
"Diamond Days", and takes you back to Berneray. Can you
describe the film, and what it was like to be back in
VB: It starts with Joe Boyd (the producer of Just
Another Diamond Day introducing me at the Barbican show,
telling some of the story of the long lost album and
then goes into the car-journey that the director Kieran
Evans and I made, revisiting some of the places that I
remembered from the horse journey.
Just Another Diamond Day album cover.
We reached Berneray on the most idyllic day hot and
sunny and still. Driving across the causeway which was
not there when I was there and then seeing the ruin of
the cottage that Robert and I had lived in and there
being no gales or horizontal rain made it feel quite
surreal to me. Of course all my elderly friends are long
gone and the island felt so very different but it still
wove its spell and entranced me. We were only there for
a few hours and I would like to go back again.
MW: And can we persuade you to come to the
Highlands and Islands on your next tour? There are lots
of great venues for music now on the Isles of Mull,
Skye, Lewis and in Ullapool to name just a few places!
VB: Yes. I have heard there are some good places to
play. I have not played in Scotland much at all but
maybe we will put that right next time.