on 29 December 2005
Bill Fay certainly cuts an evocative figure on his album sleeve; with that image of the artist all worn and weary, sat glaring off into the distance through a mess of dishevelled hair like some mad biblical prophet!! Despite what Fay himself says in the album's linear notes about this merely being representative of the style of the time, the image of his weary face - partially hidden beneath layers of unkempt facial hair - still seems absolutely tailored to the style of music found throughout the record in question, with Time Of The Last Persecution blurring elements of folk, blues, torch-songs and psychedelia to blistering effect, to create a bold and uncompromising album that goes way beyond anything created by those trendier-artistes referenced on the cover.
For all intents-and-purposes... Time Of The Last Persecution could (or perhaps, should) be seen as the definitive aural manifestation of the death of the swinging 60's, or indeed, as the sound of the hippy-era waking up to the guns and the protests and realising that you simply cannot change the world with peace and love alone. In keeping with this ideology, Fay and his main collaborator, blues-guitarist/producer Ray Russell, create an album that is quietly menacing, creating an escalating sense of claustrophobia and suffocation as the minimal piano/blues guitar combo eventually gives way to more psychedelic influences and nods to avant-garde jazz. On top of this severe sound - which predates some of Nick Cave's more volatile moments by more than a decade - we have those intense, prophetic lyrics, which mix Dylan-like depictions of civil unrest with bizarre evocations seemingly plucked from the wildest and weirdest nightmare imaginable. According to the sleeve-notes, Fay was mostly inspired by a book he found at a jumble sale, which essentially featured a number of essays by various high-ranking ministers from the 1800's on the Book of Revelations and the Book of Daniel, which Fay worryingly juxtaposes with the violence, apathy and general disintegration of traditional moral values at the heart of the world, circa 1970.
Listening to the album more than thirty-years after it was first recorded; it becomes clear that the doomy subject matter is as much about society now (in the twenty-first century) as it was about the early 1970's... with the album really becoming a series musical and lyrical treatise on the way the world is heading and the inevitability of the apocalypse. In other words... bleak music born out of one man's sadness; as he watches the world start to collapse all around him (with the historical references pointing to the turbulence of the late 1960's and the emotional fall out of the Second World War and that sense of anger, apathy and discontent that has seemingly been passed down from generation to generation ever since).
The use of music here is much more stripped-down than it was on Fay's first studio album, essentially building around our narrator's gentle piano playing, a dose of percussion, some sparse horn arrangements and the shimmering blues guitar of co-producer Ray Russell. The bursts of psychedelia arrive later, as if we're building up to something epic that will consume us during that amazing title track and the closing dissonance of Come A Day or the stark surrealism of close track, Let All The Teddies Know, which could possible be the sound of our narrator disappearing into the tender grip of madness?? The sound pre-empts the style of Nick Cave's more recent albums, particularly The Boatman's Call and certain aspects of his 2004 double-album, with the more traditional elements of rock and pop music blurring into elements of jazz and blues. The use of the flute on a number of songs, when combined with the rolling piano and the integration of trombone and trumpet is similar to the more jazz-orientated albums of Van Morrison, in particular, his masterpiece Astral Weeks, which has a similar shard of fear and paralysis running through it's dark, ethereal and strangely poetic imagery, and reminds me of recent albums like Neutral Milk Hotel's masterwork In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, or the Bright Eyes album Lifted (or The Story Is In The Soil...), both of which create the same kind of bizarre imagery, fear and concern, over simple chord structures and a dizzying bombardment of horns.
Fay's lyrics are extraordinary, with references to dust filled rooms, the apocalypse, the book of revelations, God, Christ, laughing men, and Adolf (whether Hitler or Eichmann is irrelevant... we still get the sense of fear and genocide that Fay is working towards with lyrics like "please, don't take the sun from the sky, don't let them damage my eyes, please don't let my marigolds die, though I will know they're not mine"!!). Time Of The Last Persecution is certainly something of a lost masterpiece... a fantastic album from a unique performer, one who "flew under the radar" and chose to fade away from the spotlight, rather than becoming another dull rock and roll cliché. In his sleeve notes, Fay talks in length about his troubles with the record companies and his inability to secure a contract after his first two albums failed to generate any serious success, and likens the sense of grief and fear to the sentiments expressed on albums like American IV by Johnny Cash, Dylan's Slow Train Coming and the Procol Harum album Home.
The fact that a songwriter with Fay's vision and ambition could go thirty-plus years without a record contract (whilst fresh-faced no-talents continue to knock out twelve-track odes to mediocrity) is one of the great tragedies of the British music industry. Time Of The Last Persecution is a bleak, thoughtful and intelligent album that tries to make sense of the pettiness and senselessness at the heart of our modern society, with Fay, still lost and frightened, having seen something "from which there was no going back", managing to put into words the kind of horrors that most of us, if we're lucky, will never truly experience.