Bill Fay — “Screams in the Ears”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — March 26, 2023


’67 B-side by the great Bill Fay (who has had quite a second act!) “is fantastic . . . . like some long lost Bob Dylan “Blonde On Blonde” out-take, Fay sounds just like Zimmy and his lyrics are far out to the max” (Dave Furgess, and a “deliciously skewed snapshot[] of a mildly disturbed psyche (sorry Bill) . . . a fascinating study of suburban alienation” (liner notes to the CD comp MOJO Presents: Acid Drops, Spacedust & Flying Saucers: Psychedelic Confectionary from the UK Underground 1965-1969) that “hinted at the darker themes he’d later explore. ” (Vernon Joynson, The Tapestry of Delights Revisited). Whether folk rock or psych, Fay is definitely not fey!

Fay recalls that:

My producer Peter Eden brought with him The Fingers, a band from Southend. There was no rehearsing as such, the songs were recorded at Decca studios spontaneously there and then in the morning, after which I overdubbed organ and Mellotron, and Peter mixed them in the afternoon. I was great to play with the band and was all over too soon.

(liner notes to the CD reissue of Bill Fay)

As to Fay, Grayson Haver Currin notes that:

[He] stumbled into music in the ’60s. As a college student in Wales, he began to forsake his electronics curriculum for writing songs featuring piano and harmonium. His demos found their way to Terry Noon, briefly Van Morrison’s drummer and a budding music impresario, who helped Fay secure a contract with an imprint of Decca Records and assemble a sharp studio band.

Richie Unterberger gives his post-“Screams” and pre-rediscovery history:

British singer/songwriter/pianist Bill Fay cut two albums for Deram during the early ’70s that became bona fide cult classics. His self-titled debut appeared in 1970 and was linked by comparison to recordings by Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, but Fay’s songs were more cosmic in scope lyrically and featured pop-orchestral arrangements. 1971’s Time of the Last Persecution . . . won the lion’s share of media attention because of its rather dire and apocalyptic subject matter. There was even speculation by music journalists about the decaying state of Fay’s mental health that proved to be nonsense. Fay’s records fell into obscurity, and he virtually vanished from music for more than two decades.

Fay issued . . . his lushly orchestrated self-titled debut [album] in 1970. While critical notice was favorable, there was precious little airplay, and the label’s marketing department had virtually no idea how to place his work. Though Bill Fay sold poorly, the label chose to record a follow-up in hopes of building interest. . . . Given its gaunt, haunted-looking cover photo of the artist, as well as the deeply pessimistic spiritual subject matter about the world coming to an end, journalists speculated Fay was a hopeless drug addict and/or mentally ill. Some even claimed he was homeless and raving on the streets. None of it was true. . . . Due to poor sales of both albums, Fay was released from his contract and Deram eventually deleted both recordings. They subsequently became cult classics and were reissued in 1998; they were finally greeted with nearly universal acclaim.

Fay graciously says that:

Decca . . . wasn’t too sure what was going on musically — what musical styles might become successful, and therefore rewarding to them, or not. Someone once said that Decca’s policy was to throw many pieces of musical mud at a wall in the hope that some of it would stick. I was one of those pieces that fell off the wall, along with others, but I had a chance before, my contract expired, to make a ingle and two albums that featured a lot of musical contributions from others and a lot of diversity in content. I’m thankful to Decca for that and for the freedom . . . to do it.

(liner notes to the CD reissue of Bill Fay)

You might get a kick out of this homage to Charlton Heston, set to “Screams”:

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