Posts Tagged ‘disappeared’


Photo: Decca
British songwriter Bill Fay in 1970, when a Decca imprint released his debut album. After the release of ‘Time of the Last Persecution’ a year later, he seemed to disappear.

Who doesn’t love a mystery? Thanks to mystery fiction, I’ve waded deep into topics and places I would never have known anything about. Nonfiction mysteries can be even more fun. Today’s story is about a songwriter who really wanted to know why the musician behind an obscure album his father loved disappeared from the music scene after the album came out.

Grayson Haver Currin at the New York Times reported on the quest in January: “Joshua Henry never understood why his father owned ‘Time of the Last Persecution,’ an obscure 1971 psychedelic-folk album by the British songwriter Bill Fay.

“Henry, a 40-year-old songwriter and producer devoted to old-school analog technology, grew up in the woods at the edge of California’s Sierra Nevada. His father, Jamie, wasn’t a record collector: He reluctantly served in Vietnam before becoming an antiwar activist, then spent his final four decades as a hardscrabble logger. ‘Last Persecution’ was never issued in the United States, and barely caused a blip in England’s very crowded singer-songwriter scene of the early ’70s. After its release, Fay vanished from music.

“All his life, Henry remained curious about the Fay LP, with a portrait of a disheveled singer on its stark black cover. When he was caring for his father, who was battling cancer, the album became a lifeline between the two men. They’d listen to Fay, dissecting his peculiar mix of apocalyptic vision and hopeful grit. After his father’s [death], Henry began trying to make good on a fantasy they had shared: to find Fay and help him make his first record since 1971.

“[In January, Fay released] ‘Countless Branches,’ his third album in the 10 years since Henry tracked him down and urged him to return to the studio. Fay — now 76 and married, almost all he’ll allow about his personal life — has made as many studio albums this decade as in the previous six combined. …

‘When Joshua told me about his dad and that he’d grown up listening to my music, it was real and profound,’ Fay said by phone from his North London home. …

“Fay stumbled into music in the ’60s. As a college student in Wales, he began to forsake his electronics curriculum for writing songs featuring piano and harmonium. … His self-titled 1970 debut featured idealistic odes to friendship, nature and peace swaddled in swooping strings and cascading horns. But only a year later, he’d turned to thorny rock for ‘Time of the Last Persecution.’

“Fueled by the horrors of the Vietnam War and the violence of the Jim Crow South, Fay railed against social corruption for 14 fractured songs, framing life as a revolving door of chances to get right with God. Dense and challenging, the album flopped. …

“Labels rejected subsequent demos and his father died from an aneurysm, leaving Fay as his mother’s longtime caretaker. During the next four decades, he raised a family and worked as a groundskeeper in a London park and a fish packer in a supermarket. Still, in a quiet corner of his home, he slowly built a meager recording rig with a cheap eight-track and a little keyboard, shaping full-band arrangements of songs he never intended for anyone to hear.

“ ‘I was disappointed,’ Fay said, ‘but music was never my living. And I wasn’t like other people, who had become part of a scene. I went back to what I had always done, which is the gift and blessing of working on music in its own right.’ …

“Jim O’Rourke found Fay’s music while researching Ray Russell, the electrifying guitarist on both Decca albums. … When a small British label reissued both albums on one CD in 1998, O’Rourke began telling his friends. As O’Rourke worked on Wilco’s ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,’ he played Fay’s debut for Jeff Tweedy.

‘I was astonished: How have I not heard this? How is this not something that is part of our DNA?’ [Wilco’s] Tweedy said of the first time he listened to Fay. … ‘It’s music that sounds like it was designed in a laboratory for me to fall in love with.’ …

“O’Rourke also sent ‘Last Persecution’ to David Tibet, … Despite rumors that Fay had absconded to a Christian cult, Tibet began looking for him; within a week, a British journalist connected him with a guitarist who had once played with Fay and became their intermediary. The two became fast friends.

“In 2005, Tibet released ‘Tomorrow Tomorrow and Tomorrow.’ …  In early 2010, Tibet also issued a two-disc sampler called ‘Still Some Light,’ culled from decades of Fay’s home recordings.

“A year after its release, the liner notes in that set finally gave Henry the lead he needed.”

Read what happened next at the New York Times, here.

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