Release Date: Aug 20, 2012
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter
Beautifully measured return to the studio from this humble master of English song…It’s been around forty years, since English singer-songwriter Bill Fay last saw a studio album from conception to completion. This has little to do with Fay’s vision and almost everything to do with the vagaries of an industry that tends to work at cross purposes to the artists that populate it. Fay’s legend rests on two albums released just as the benign visions of the sixties turned inward and self-destructive in the early seventies, a narrative arc that’s reflected in the shift from the Edenic and redemptive song poems of Fay’s debut, self-titled album from 1970, garlanded as they were with orchestra and captured in autumnal colours, to the explosive force of 1971’s Time Of The Last Persecution, where Fay, alongside guitarist Ray Russell and their group, drilled free improvisation into songs sung from what sounded like the end of the world.
Life Is People is Bill Fay's first non-retrospectively released album since 1981. His first two, Bill Fay and Time of the Last Persecution, were released at the beginning of the '70s, sold poorly, and were not reissued until 1998. Tomorrow Tomorrow and Tomorrow, recorded with the ACME Quartet, was self-released in a very small quantity in 1981, before it was picked up by David Tibet's label for general release in 2007.
Plenty of artists fade away after just a handful of recordings. But few amass the underground following that British pianist and singer-songwriter Bill Fay has. And it was a longtime fan (producer Joshua Henry) that drew him out of hiding to release his first LP in four decades. The results are stirring: with deep ruminations on the divine and a fervent appreciation for the grand design, Life Is People is just what you would expect from a deeply introspective artist in his later years.
Not sure how we managed to miss this one last year, but my guess is that if more of the Noripcorders had heard it, it might have creeped solidly into our best of the year list. Perhaps a guy his age, who first recorded in 1967 and last recorded in the 70s, is a bit out of our standard demographic, but with a champion like Jeff Tweedy on his side, he’s due a careful look or two. His first records never sold very well and hardly anyone knows his name, but after being dropped by his label in 1971, Fay never stopped writing music.
You don't need a history lesson to love Life Is People, the third proper album by British singer-songwriter Bill Fay. If you've ever enjoyed the records of Pink Floyd or Randy Newman, Spiritualized or Wilco, the dozen gems here move between similar poles of spartan grace and outsized grandeur. The organ-abetted lilt of "The Healing Day" suggests Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett turning the page toward happiness a decade ago, while the gospel choir delivering the mantra of "Be at Peace with Yourself" might make you scan the credits for a J.
Bill Fay is hardly a household name. In fact, he’s hardly a name at all. And yet, his music has resonated with some rather important musicians. Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy claims no records have meant more in his life than Fay’s, and Okkervil River’s Will Sheff calls Fay “rock music’s conscience”.
In the 2002 Wilco documentary I Am Trying to Break Your HeartJeff Tweedy is filmed performing “Be Not So Fearful”, a song by British singer-songwriter Bill Fay. Fay had a very minor hit in the early seventies with “Pictures of Adolf Again”, a politically-fired but low key ballad. Fay’s self-titled 1970 debut and 1971 follow-up Time of the Last Persecution sold poorly and subsequently resulted in Fay being dropped by his label.
British singer-songwriter Bill Fay has long been one of those musician's musicians. This may be due mostly to the obscurity of his recordings, or the fact that musicians can empathize with Fay losing his contract after two poor-selling records. But as the internet renders obscurity relatively obsolete -- and as Fay's work has come back in print -- the praise for Bill Fay is becoming more widespread.
The existence of Life is People is already a quiet triumph. Bad luck and public indifference seemed to have ended Bill Fay's career in the early 70s; his first two records slipped into obscurity until Nick Cave and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy evangelised about them, helping to pave the way for his first proper album in 41 years. Unsurprisingly it feels like a period piece; swirls of Hammond organ, bluesy guitars and Fay's tremulous vocals contribute to the impression of something discovered and dusted off rather than newly created.
Bill Fay's two exquisite, early-1970s folk-jazz-rock albums – particularly 1971's Time of the Last Persecution – became cult artefacts decades later thanks to the enthusiastic patronage of some famous fans (notable among them Wilco's Jeff Tweedy – indeed, Fay covers Wilco on this album, and Tweedy sings on one song) and long-overdue reissues. A host of archive material and home demos have emerged recently, but Life Is People is Fay's first all-new studio album in 40 years. It's a more traditional affair than those classics (his new band doesn't quite match the rootsy, freewheeling swing of the early albums) but Fay is still in fine voice, singing stately, hymnal songs imbued with a kind of cosmic and religious rapture, sometimes spooky and awed, sometimes sun-through-the-clouds, everything's-gonna-be-OK hopeful.
The stunning return of a prodigal son you never knew existed. Martin Aston 2012. Some careers are hard-fought; some are just hard. And some are as lonely as the long-distance runner. Bill Fay’s happens to be all three..
It's hard to be a cult hero these days when self-promotion has become an art in and of itself. British singer-songwriter Bill Fay undoubtedly would have remained banished to obscurity had Wilco's Jeff Tweedy not began trumpeting the brilliance of Fay's two early '70s albums and drawing liberally from them starting around Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. That attention slowly began drawing Fay out of his self-imposed shell, and Life is People marks his full-fledged return from the wilderness.
Bill Fay is a name that may not be immediately familiar in the pantheon of great British songwriters. In the early 1970s, he released two solo albums rich with the song writing tradition established by the likes of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. However, Fay’s tales of existential wonder and ruminations on all aspects of the human spirit failed to truly capture a wide audience and he was dropped by his record label.