Bill Fay

For a long time Bill Fay stood at the top of my Last.fm charts, because I played this album, and his second, over and over again. I can now go weeks without playing them, but there’s something special about this music.

Bill Fay’s eponymous album didn’t make him a huge star in 1970 despite some support from John Peel (and the fact that he could clearly walk on water). It’s a shame, because this is a fantastic mix of simple piano-driven songs and lush orchestration, heard to best effect on opening track ‘Garden Song’, which lifts out of a super-quiet intro into swelling strings and horns. Fay’s lyrics can sound whimsical (when he’s trying to make friends with greenfly, spider and maggot, for instance), but his voice sounds like he’s got something more important to impart. This is most obvious on ‘Be Not So Fearful’, a song about forgiveness and hope; it might almost be a hymn, in exactly the same way that Nick Cave’s ‘Into My Arms’ is almost a hymn, and it’s just as beautiful.

Garden Song‘ – Bill Fay – Bill Fay

Be Not So Fearful‘ – Bill Fay – Bill Fay

The following year Fay released Time Of The Last Persecution and something is obviously on his mind; the music is dominated by his voice and piano, though there’s some fantastic one-take playing from his band. The lyrics are apocalyptic, dominated by images from Revelation: St George, Christ and the Devil, Hitler and Caesar. This (and the frazzled-looking Fay on the cover) prompted rumours that he’d gone mad, joined a cult, or both, though that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Still this is a tremendously affecting record, one worth hearing in its entirety. It descends through paranoia and panic to ‘Tell It Like It Is’, which offers a breathing space of English normality (football and dustbins), before more prophecies of the end times (the beautiful ‘Plan D’), the warning that ‘Christ or Hitler’ is the choice we’ll have to make (‘Pictures of Adolf Again’) and then ‘Time of the Last Persecution’ itself. Bill testifies about the return of the Anti-Christ and concludes “Make for your own secret place/And others will join you there/And you wait for the ships in the air/And you wait for a sign like a trumpet sounding/And you go out and walk to the Christ”. It’s pretty draining stuff and you can see where those rumours came from.

In fact it seems that Fay just gave up on recording. Two further albums have been released, a collection of more recent demos and a compilation, and both are worth exploring. He’s had some press with these re-releases, and has been rediscovered by bands like Wilco, who duetted with him on ‘Be Not So Fearful’ in London last year (though the duet I’d like to see would be with Nick Cave). He’s a real original and his music is highly recommended.

Pictures of Adolf Again‘ – Bill Fay – Time Of The Last Persecution

Time of the Last Persecution‘ – Bill Fay – Time Of The Last Persecution

Buy here. Fan site here.

JKneale

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About jkneale

BothBarsOn's London correspondent.

Posted on October 7, 2008, in Album reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Like it. Especially ‘time of the last persecution’. Not sure about the dodgy sax on ‘garden song’ though. just can’t stand that instrument.

  2. it’s not the instrument, it’s what you do with it: ska, Rocket From The Crypt-style punk, etc etc. I’m now tempted to do a sax ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll post 🙂

  3. I know, I know. I was going to put some exceptions in my comment, but couldn’t be arsed. One massive one is the sax at the start of ‘Night boat to Cairo’ – love that everytime. It’s just when it verges on the effin Baker St. territory that I run for cover.

  4. Well I’m with you on that one. Always safer when allied with trumpet and trombone for full brass section enjoyment

  5. Didn’t Bob Holness play sax on Baker Street?

  6. Wikipedia says no: “Holness was the subject of an urban myth, initiated by a relatively unknown student from Leeds University called Deepak Sharma, who, while writing for Curry Club Magazine, used his 15 minutes of fame on Stuart Maconie’s radio slot by claiming that Holness played the saxophone solo on Gerry Rafferty’s song “Baker Street”. The true performer was Raphael Ravenscroft. Sharma may have been inspired by the fact that Blockbusters’ 1987 American incarnation was hosted by Bill Rafferty.”

  7. However, another site tells me “His daughter Ros was in Toto Coelo (of I Eat Cannibals “fame”)”. This is a) probably all nonsense and b) the top two google entries – do your research, Mr Petty!

  8. Bill Fay is awesome. I fully agree.
    Although I’m not sure he just gave up recording. I remember reading somewhere that after Times of the Last Persecution he was dropped by the label, probably them thinking that he’d gone a bit mad (as if that ever stood in the way of good music).

  9. Hi grannytooth – thanks for bringing these comments back to Mr Fay! Not sure what the reasons were… Hard to imagine what might seem commercial to record companies in 1970-1971; it was probably a more elastic definition than it would be today.

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