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The ’70s, Deleted

Dr Strangely Strange
Dr Strangely Strange
The truth is, of course, that the majority of artists of the time didn’t do any of those things. Making records was far less common than today when everybody in the world – or at least the USA – gets to put out at least one CD of their own songs, and most had to get it together in an unremarkable urban bedsit or basement.

Of course it’s reasonable that tales are constantly retold and uncovered about the high profile, well-selling and influential bands of the day like Fairport Convention, the Incredible String Band and Steeleye Span. But strange cult status has grown up around certain artists like Vashti Bunyan and Nick Drake who, partly through their back stories, later achieved much greater fame than they did at the time they made their albums. Albums which, I could argue, only sound good out of context, compared with later things against which they sound ‘other’. At the time, stacked up against more interesting music of the day, they stiffed.

The truth, as Joe Boyd is the first to admit, is that their sales, along with other cult figures from the era like Dr Strangely Strange, were “Very small. Very very small. Vashti’s was barely three figures. Which is part of the story, of course. When the cult interest began, there were no copies in circulation! So few had been sold that copies of the original vinyl barely existed. So when one came up for auction sometime in the mid-late ‘90s, it sold for £750. Record Collector noticed, asked ‘Who the fuck is Vashti Bunyan?’ and wrote a piece which led to the deal for the album’s reissue and subsequent success. Nick wasn’t a lot better, but probably the low four figures. Dr Strangely Strange much the same, I think. The latter, of course, were the only one of the three artists who did any performing at all, but that was mostly in Ireland.”

And here you have the beginning of how the mythology overtakes the music and artists’ actual achievements. I vaguely remember seeing Nick Drake in London’s Les Cousins, the haven for aspiring young singer/ songwriter/ guitarists of the day. The reason my memory is vague is that he simply wasn’t that noticeable, his music was definitely not outstanding among that of many other similar people around, and his performance skills were frightful. Quite why he attracted a record deal is a mystery. On a recent TV feature about Drake, Joe – a man who I greatly respect and with whom I’d rarely argue – came out with some statement about how Drake was so original and unlike anybody else at the time. “No he fucking wasn’t, Joe” – I bawled at the screen – “if you thought that, you didn’t get out enough!”


fRom fRoots 328, October 2010

 

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