I picked up FROM THE BOTTOM OF A GRANDFATHER CLOCK on a whim. I had never heard of Bill Fay but being a Nick Drake fan, I was hoping for another shadowy genius in a garrett. What I heard sounded amazingly more like SGT PEPPERS on downers, chockfull of "Day In The Life" sentiments. And these were just the demos & outtakes.
Needless to say, it didn't take much prodding to pick this up. For those who stubbled across GRANDFATHER, you'll be far from disappointed by this "lost" 1971 masterpiece. Though ambitiously orchestrated, Fay's jaded delivery keeps things from sounding overdressed.
"Garden Song" starts off spare & winterly before bursting into a vernal wash of strings & horns. A promising start. Almost perversely, "The Sun Is Bored" follows with a distinctly Eleanor Rigby chill.
Throughout the most of this album, Fay wears the mantle of perpetual outsider, dissatisfied with what life has to offer. Rather than play "the games we want you to play" Fay takes on the view of the kid who stands on the sidelines letting the ball pass him by. The one unable to fit in with society's expectations.
This view is backed the cryptic liner notes, reprinted from the original album. That said, the present day notes provided by Fay in the reissue demystify all that & are humbly down to earth.
Though songs like "The Room" with its depiction of heroin addiction, are decidedly overcast, Fay always manages to paint just the right glimmer of hope into the horizon. And therein lies his skill. No matter how bleak things get lyrically, there's always a catchy hook to hang on to.
Though I've heard demos of many of these songs, the likes of "Narrow Way", "We Have Laid Here" & "Methane River" are new to me & each showcase Fay at his enigmatic best. Other highlights include the anti-war ballads, "Sing Us One Of Your Songs May" & "Gentle Willie". "May" being particularly moving.
Without a doubt, Fay's signature song has to be the anthemic, "Be Not So Fearful". According to the liner notes, it was recently covered by Wilco. Based on what I hear here(& on "Grandfather"), I'm loathe to seek it out.
Also included are two rare bonus tracks, which verge more on Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd territory. "Some Good Advice" captures Fay in fine, sarcastic form while "Screams In The Ears" is far more in keeping with the search-for-inner meaning feel of the album.
Others have described Fay as the missing link between Nick Drake & Ray Davis. I would say he's more like a cross between The Beatles & a sort of English Leonard Cohen. In any case, this might just be the well kept secret you've been looking for.
Fay's last album for Decca has also been reissued. But be warned, TIME OF THE LAST PERSECUTION takes a decidely dark, paranoid turn. And I can't recommend GRANDFATHER enough.