Bill Fay - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
Bill Fay’s peculiar brand of folk rock was largely ignored during the English singer/songwriter’s late ’60s heyday. Fay released two albums in the early 1970s, both of which were labeled Dylan knock-offs due to their meandering poetic verses and arrangements. Yet underneath the surface of Fay’s acoustic folk was an artist who wasn’t attempting to emulate Bob Dylan, but instead build upon the frame work of Dylan’s folk songs. Fay added screwy jazz structures, rock discord and obtuse poetics that were a smidge “freak folk” for late ’60s Britain. Three decades later the work of Bill Fay has resurfaced due to popular contemporary indie artists such as Wilco and Jim O’Rourke, both who have championed the long forgotten singer-songwriter as a major—if misunderstood—influence. The dawn of the new millennium found Fay’s long out of print albums re-issued to the delight of a younger generation of eager folkies who found his amorphous experimentalism surprisingly relevant.
Fay’s debut single, “Some Good Advice/Screams In My Ears” (1967 Deram) is arguably his most mainstream release. Having married his melancholy folk sound with a pop sheen not found on any of his future releases, the song showed a prowess that the subsequent record lost.
His self-titled debut full-length Bill Fay (Deram) came out in 1970, and it was chalked up to being a Blonde on Blonde rip off at the time. In fact, Bill Fay was mostly a collection of experimental story songs that were characterized by his husky, out-of-tune vocal style and dogged critically for not leading anywhere.
After the album failed to make much of an impact, Fay streamlined his sound into more accessible folk rock for the sophomore effort, Time Of The Last Persecution (1971 Deram). The album—which centered on biblical themes and tragic current events such as the Kent State killings—was also slammed by critics and ignored by the public, and Deram dropping the obscure artist soon after.
Fay re-entered the studio in the late ’70s but his third full-length, Tomorrow Tomorrow and Tomorrow (Durtro Jnana) wasn’t released until 2004 as the Bill Fay Band. That same year a collection of early outtakes recorded between 1966 and 1970 was released as From the Bottom of an Old Grandfather Clock (2004 Wooden Hill), which included a new track recorded by Fay in 2000. After his two albums for the Deram label became highly sought after collector’s items, both LPs were re-released on CD in 2005 by the Eclectic Discs label.