Bill Fay - Life Is People
By: Red On Black
Is it possible to be genuinely excited by the release of an album by an obscure English songwriter who will never trouble the charts and who recorded his last album 41 years ago? The answer is an emphatic yes, not least since Bill Fay remains one of the great lost artists of British music. He is one of those unexplainable great singer songwriters whose musical footprint never left any kind of substantial imprint. It is true that over recent years Fay’s stock has risen not least as his first two albums have been re-issued and he has been championed by musical heavy weights like Nick Cave and Wilco‘s main man Jeff Tweedy. It is only right therefore that the latter has collaborated on this album with Bill Fay and if you do nothing else after skimming through this review please download the cover version of Tweedy’s “Jesus, etc” which is one of “Life is People”‘s many stellar highlights and easily matches the original.
Better still get this album and listen to the sound of a composer who has been denied his proper deserts finally get his moment and grasp it with both hands. This is music for thinking, feeling and possibly “experienced” music lovers who know that the reaching of a certain age can shatter hope and ambition but also can lead to reconciliation and greater peace of mind. Bill Fay’s “Life is people” is essentially a strategic overview of life’s uneven journey, charting its desperate low points as a street sweeper in the evocative “City of dreams”, an accommodation with faith in “Thank you lord” and in the seven minute “Cosmic Concerto “Life is people”“ producing an anthem of quiet wonder.
The tempo on this album may appear downbeat and the heavy darkness on songs like the “Big Painter” where he speaks of “no lessons learned over the centuries” show an artist who has lived through tough times. Yet he retains his optimism. Thus in the brilliant “Never ending happening” Fay brightly concludes that “on what’s to be and what has been/ just to be a part of it/ is astonishing to me“. Some will detect Nick Drake related melodies and influences in this album and Fay has been compared to him not least in the comparative obscurity that both singers endured, albeit that Fay happily remains with us. The Drake comparison is perhaps overstated not least since Fay’s music is not quite so quintessentially English or infused with the pastoral shades of Drake’s work. Indeed the lovely duet he undertakes with Jeff Tweedy on this album “This world” is almost a pop song. Other songs here suggest potential classics particularly if taken up by other more well known artists these include the almost spiritual “Be At Peace With Yourself” and the affirmative world-weariness of a true highlight “The Healing Day”.
Fay recently wryly commented in a interview to NPR in the States that “Life in People” must not be seen as some sort of comeback album since “you can’t make a comeback album unless you arrive in the first place. He then sardonically observed “I’m getting a little bit worried that I’m coming close to arriving”. It is hardly surprising for an artist who has hidden from our worldview for over four decades that a late rush of fame may be viewed with some trepidation. Yet what we see at work is a master songwriter on “Life is people” who positively demands attention and the recognition that somewhere along the way a great talent got lost but has returned with a vengeance.