Monday, 4 August 2008

Vashti Bunyan

"Why should you say I could love any man, have his children and still be free? Go on voting, striking and fighting. Go on searching, fighting and loving."

How Do I Know.

As a lyric in isolation, this sums up everything that draws me and concerns me about feminism. Men and women both work these days, and earn roughly the same, but while being born female is fate, motherhood is made the destiny of a lot of women. It's a privilege to have somebody to care for, but motherhood also seems the ultimate prison. All mothers are single mothers at the end of the day. Once that decision to be a mother has been made, there's no turning back. It's nothing less than traumatic. Yet, we're still pretty much expected to make that transition of freedom to non-freedom.

Vashti Bunyan wanted most of all in life to be a pop singer - something she still upholds as being the dream she had for herself. What she did instead was release some folk tunes, then turn her back on what she saw as her ambition failure, to take two years to head to Donovan's commune in the Isle of Skye. It took two years for her to get there, and by the time her and her boyfriend Robert arrived, it had closed down. Still, some spiritual wisdom: it's all about the journey, not the destination - and this inspired an album.

Nonetheless, her and Robert set up home and raised children together, but Vashti didn't sing again for 35 years. The reasons aren't completely clear. Perhaps she didn't feel like it. Arguably she was just content with family life. She busied herself in domesticity - which she enjoyed, but there was still a renunciation in place. Her children knew snippets of their mother's past, but she never so much as sang to them.

Still, it was wanting to share her past with her children, and the advent of the Internet (which made clear to her how much she had grown into cult status in the meantime, and also just how many of those scratchy old tapes were issued in compilations) that prompted her to make a new album, entitled Lookaftering. Making this album was an experience she enjoyed returning to.

And, yes, in her own words, she felt like a flower unfolding after all that time.

Listen to this. Buy this.

Vashti Bunyan, born in London in 1945