BILL FAY From The Bottom Of An Old Grandfather Clock (WHCD012)
Described by Mojo magazine as "Britain's pop Salinger", the reclusive Bill Fay cut the wonderful "Screams In The Ears'/'Some Good Advice' single for Deram in 1967 before making two dark singer/songwriter albums for Decca, at which point he opted for public silence. This release features twenty-five stunning demos cut between 1966 and 1970: apart from three tracks that were included a couple of years earlier on Tenth Planet's vinyl-only compilation of Peter Eden productions, everything is previously unreleased. Among the highlights are a handful of tracks with Honeybus as the backing band, including "Warwick Town' and "Maxine's Parlour'. Baroque '60s pop at its finest, From The Bottom Of An Old Grandfather Clock includes previously unpublished photos and extensive liner notes, with new quotes from Bill.
"Shackled as he is by the leg-irons of 'eccentricity', it's easy to forget why you should actually pay attention to the 30-year-old home recordings of a man whose record sales were zilch at the time of release. Because they're as accomplished and melodically gifted as McCartney's and Townshend's, that's why! Fay's delicately- layered lamentations weave a web between McCartney's "Martha My Dear' and Townshend's "Classified' with the surface jauntiness constantly being undercut by a very English melancholia. These are songs that could only have been penned while contemplating the drizzly view through the steamed-up windows of a small-town park cafe. A singularly neglected talent." (Uncut, ****)
"This is a collection of outtakes and demos recorded 1966-70, when his songwriting was at its peak. These songs are unadorned by the lavish big band arrangements that Mike Gibbs provided for the first album, and the searing guitar presence of Ray Russell, but don't suffer at all for their absence. A succession of dull day jobs, including time as a gardener in public parks, led Fay to learn the art of creative contemplation (aka daydreaming) - a kind of Wordsworthian "wise passiveness" that led him to consider himself a flower planted between the potatoes and the parsley ("Garden Song') or as a "stranger in the field talking with the cows…" ("Strangers In The Fields'). It is a marvellous story of a singer schooled in the university of life and transfixed by his meditations on the philosopher Teilhard de Chardin. There is something that recalls the films of Terence Davies in the way Fay co-opts pub songs and tells stories of retired, paranoid Second World War heroes ("Just Another Song', "Sing Us One Of Your Songs, May', "Gentle Willie'). Poetic metaphysics with a mock Tudor cladding by a visionary of the English suburbs." (The Wire)
"The songs here aim at pop more acutely than anything on his Decca albums - the gloomy pop of early Bee Gees, Keith West or Cat Stevens. In "Maudy La Lune', a Beatley ode to a waitress, he's "so in love it's making me ill". The nasally, slightly East End delivery recalls early Bowie, and Dylan too. Another beautiful song, "Brighton Beach', describes a suicide. Opener, "Warwick Town', recorded with Honeybus in 1968, is a crestfallen pop song about an ashamed, unmarried mother leaving home, "her eyes are low cast down"…" (Mojo, ****)
"While the bulk of this disc features Fay accompanied by himself on piano or guitar, openers 'Warwick Town' and 'Maxine's Parlour' are full-on folk-pop outings, cut with members of Honeybus (who also recorded them for BBC sessions around this time) and featuring beautifully ornate Pete Dello arrangements. 'Maudy La Lune' comes straight from the Magical Mystery Tour-era McCartney school, all chipper Franglais cool and eyebrow-raising chord changes but with Fay's laissez-faire vowel shapes making it all his own. This is a fascinating release, offering a glimpse into another side of one of our most unique and unfairly overlooked maverick songwriters. Highly recommended. (Shindig!)
"The songs are the heart of this journey into Bill Fay's past, and it's virtually impossible to explain just how good most of them are. Suffice to say that, in a just world, the release of From The Bottom Of An Old Grandfather Clock would be met with major reviews in major music magazines, with reviewers spouting off about how we finally have the British answer to Smile or some such lost masterpiece…" (Sweet Floral Albion)
© Tenth Planet/Wooden Hill 2008-2014