Bill Fay - Life Is People

Perhaps all these years later he will finally get the credit he deserves.

Rating: 7

Bill Fay is a name that may not be immediately familiar in the pantheon of great British songwriters. In the early 1970s, he released two solo albums rich with the song writing tradition established by the likes of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. However, Fay’s tales of existential wonder and ruminations on all aspects of the human spirit failed to truly capture a wide audience and he was dropped by his record label. Those early recordings were left to gather dust, becoming treasured cult relics, as he stepped back from music for almost 40 years of wilderness. ‘Life Is People’ is his first studio recording for 40 years and it finds a man eager to make up for lost time.

Fay’s return to making music is in part prompted by a number of proclamations of his influence from similar like-minded contemporary musicians. Wilko and their frontman Jeff Tweedy have frequently espoused about him, and indeed he returns the favour here with a cover of their song ‘Jesus, Etc’. ‘Life Is People’ also features contributions from guitarist Matt Deighton, who has worked with Oasis and Paul Weller, however the album is very much Fay’s own singular work.

Now into his late sixties, his weathered voice adds a certain degree of gravitas to these stately recordings. This is an album about the redemptive power of hope. Songs like the gentle country waltz of ‘There Is A Valley’ and the plaintive soulful lament of ‘The Healing Day’ almost sound like spiritual hymns, it’s hard not be affected by them.

As stirring as some of the material is, there are a number of tracks where the weighty lyrical themes are coupled with languid and ponderous melodies which drag the pace right down to a deathly crawl; ‘City Of Dreams’ is especially dreary. There are, however, two tracks that serve notice of Fay’s immense skill as a songwriter: ‘Be At Peace With Yourself’ is the perfect example of the album’s inspirational quality, a gospel choir adding ballast to a wonderfully soothing piece of soul music. ‘Cosmic Concerto (Life Is People)’ is the album’s stunning centrepiece, carrying the gospel sound from meditative begins to a euphoric crescendo on a tide of swelling strings and horns. It is a truly special piece of music.

Bill Fay has spent much of the last 40 years in reclusive retirement quietly doing what he has always done, simply writing some songs. The songs collected on ‘Life Is People’ indicate that he still has much to give. Perhaps all these years later he will finally get the credit he deserves.