Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Bill Fay
Bill Fay / Time of the Last Persecution...plus

Released 1998 (re-issue of original albums from 1970) on See For Miles
Reviewed by Os Selby, 11/01/2002ce

Two singles from the summer of '67 - the "plus" tease the See For Miles people have added to the title of this collection of Bill's complete output - and two albums. Then nothing. News of what happened to Bill is beyond even the canniest web trawls.

The singles are bits of cod Dylan and Granny-takes-a-trip-too-many fluff, desirable for the psych/whimsy completist but of only passing interest to most. A three year hiatus and then the Bill Fay debut album from early '70: a wonder, truly monumental. Bathed in celestial string and horn arrangements of cosmic schmaltziness, Bill magics some stirring melodies and blathers on in his somewhat colourless voice about Gentle Willie and a Methane River. Belying the up-beat melodies is a murkier undertow of drug burn out, paranoia and suicide. The first stirrings of Bill's Christ/persecution complex are also here both in lyrical ticks and the cover photo taken to give the illusion that Bill is standing on the water of some lake. Anyone who has ever fallen for the baroque rock/pop/folk strings of the likes of Scott Walker or Nick Drake's 1st, or has a soft spot for a plaintive tune on off kilter subject matter - think a solo Barrett on a good day - will find this essential.

Later in the same year comes Time of the last persecution, and oh dear, something very bad has happened to Bill's world. The fresh-faced cherub on the cover of Bill Fay has become an empty-eyed tramp with shaggy Jesus beard and wild stringy hair - think a solo Barrett on a bad day. The photo is a head shot against the cross bars of a white window frame, designed for that medieval saint icon on mandrax look. As cover and title suggest, a somewhat darker work, presaging imminent mental disarray - and all the more compelling for that. The strings are thrown out for more rockist proceedings with the occasional atonal guitar freak outro. There are more direct and wholly paranoid references to Christ, Satan, Hitler and erm...Teddies than before. The futile and morbid preoccupations of the whole affair are redeemed by tunes and melodies that keep the listener bouyed up and hankering for more.

After that, silence. I'd like to think he now teaches Religious Education in a secondary in Essex but suspect that something altogether less happy lay in store.

And that's it. Culty of course, and guaranteed to appeal to anyone for whom the opening lines of Bill Fay are poignant rather than pap:

(piano & voice only)

"I'm planting myself in the garden, believe me,
Between the potatoes and parsley, believe me,
And I wait for the rain to anoint me, and the frost to awaken my soul.
I'm looking for lasting relations with green-fly, spider or maggot, believe me..."

(Cue orchestral swell and, let's face it, glory). Believe me.

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