It was always going to be an interesting mix of people who would come together to to see an enigmatic living legend like Vashti Bunyan. Loyal fans since her original release rougly thirty five years ago were there, as were those who have obviously only recently discovered her music, being of a younger persuasion. However until Bunyan took to the stage later in the evening, we were firstly treated to some wonderful support performers.
Local Brisbane soloist Lee Fielding was first up, and while his time was short, alternating between guitar and banjo he certainly made sure that what he shared was all quality. ‘Reinvent the Wheel’ could be described as mellow country blues and features honest lyrics which are delivered with raw emotion and fragility. He is a grounded performer who has the gift of filling his songs with warmth and reality. ‘My Michelle’ was a highlight, a beautiful love song written for his wife, who was also in residence on the night. While delivering a rich set of his own work, Fielding also covered the Pete Yorn classic ‘Splendid Isolation’ with perfectly restrained energy and truly emotive interpretation.
It was then time for another local Brisbane act, The Kindness of Strangers to share their own unique musical stylings. The four member band offered an intense and intimate musical experience. With poetic lyrics, emotive renditions and amazing original compositions they are something best experienced in person to fully appreciate the balanced vocals and perfectly matched musical accompaniments which included the flute, percussion, guitar and ukulele. Standout track, the sublime ‘Ghost in Love’ was performed with emotion and heartfelt meaning; a ukulele has never sounded so beautiful.
When the time came Vashti Bunyan and her two band members Jo Mango and Gareth Dickson took to the stage in subdued and humble fashion. She is softly spoken and somewhat shy, but when performing it is clear that she is a musical artist who stands the test of time. Performing a comprehensive set of music from both her 1970 debut ‘Just Another Diamond Day’, and her 2005 follow up album, ‘Lookaftering’ it was a pleasure to witness a folk master in the flesh in all her simple pared-back glory.
With her delicate traditional folksy vocals Bunyan is a mesmerising live performer, providing her audience with many spine-tingling moments. From the readily connective ‘Here Before’, to the playfully joyful ‘Hop Along Bess’, to the singular beauty of ‘I’d Like To Walk Around In Your Mind’, Bunyan’s heartfelt lyrics and emotive delivery is perfectly complemented by the fragile simplicity of her musical arrangements. Nothing is over or under done; without ever hearing her songs before they all sound exactly how you always expected them to be. She sings pure poetry that is never abstract or difficult for listeners to reach, hers is a lyrical gift that can conjure up vivid visual landscapes with just a note, a word or a particular phrase.
Obviously also very proud of the songwriting and vocal talents of her band members, Bunyan invited each of them to perform one of their own songs. Dickson performed the song that so impressed Bunyan when she first heard it that she invited him to join her band. ‘Two Trains’ with its dragging vocals and incredibly deft guitar backing worked its magic once again, gaining a very warm reception from the audience. Equally impressive was the heartstopping simplicity of Mango’s song ‘My Lung’ which showcased her incredibly diverse musical talents and deeply reflective and rich lyrics. Bunyan was very keen to promote Dickson and Mango as musical artists in their own right – high praise indeed, but in this case completely warranted.
Bunyan dazzles not in the obvious way of a diamond or precious gem, she glimmers in a more real, more grounded way. Listening to her music triggers a response like you would expect to feel when reaching a cool oasis in the desert or when sighting land after months spent at sea…that sense of relief, comfort and peace which washes over you and is like being warmly welcomed back home. Bunyan weaves intimate stories to reflect upon, and with their basis in her own experiences she brings those stories to life with her words and her subtle melodies. More than you would ever expect, she glistens.