Travelling the west coast of Scotland in horse and carriage, Vashti Bunyan gazed out at a land enchanted with glow worms and galaxies. Penning her debut album after her time in the Hebrides, Just Another Diamond Day was released in 1970 after only three days of recording. However, it massively underperformed in sales. Devastated by the album’s commercial shortcomings, Vashti abandoned music altogether until thirty years later in 2000, where she re-released the album upon garnering a cult following.
Part of what makes Just Another Diamond Day so magnificent is that it was largely undiscovered for so long. Yet upon hearing just a few seconds into the first song, Vashti’s travels are immediately conjured up, complete with quaint, pastoral flutes. It’s easy to see the Scottish influences throughout, especially on “Iris’s Song For Us”. In the third verse, Vashti sings in Scottish Gaelic, taught by her neighbours in the Hebrides.
Perhaps the most brilliant diamond of the album is the second track, “Glow Worms”. It tells of a quiet, soft love, nestled in the remote hills of Scotland. Vashti and her lover “whisper fairy stories till they’re real” and choose a fearlessly joyful life, “long past sadness that was in our way”. It’s a perennial love that lasts all seasons, “into summer and the next year’s snow”.
Just Another Diamond Day is not just a counterculture couple’s sojourn into the countryside, but represents a rite of passage. Vashti alludes to her life on the road in “Timothy Grub”, where she and her boyfriend ventured into the woods and “stayed there a while in the trees and the rain”, until the local police chased them off. In “Jog Along Bess”, she rescues lonely and city-dwelling dogs from their misery and whisk them into the country where they frolic in hayfields. The isolation from industrial British life is palpable - sounds are incorporated not from the music industry, but the folk songs, language, and nature Vashti encountered along her journey.
For years, I had no idea that this album was inspired by Scotland, yet the imagery and sound were so fitting and powerful that I automatically associated the songs with the land. When I travelled to the Cairngorms this winter, “Diamond Day” was on repeat. It mimicked the snow that had lightly dusted the mountain peaks and the sun that occasionally peeked through clouds.
Above all, it is the perfect album for St Andrews, in any season. Diamond days persist, in the cold winter, love makes “the alder burn for me and cut the bird filled thorn for me”. In the summer, chasing a dragonfly leads to an expedition “all across an ancient sky”. Scotland exists in a dreamscape, imbued with the magic that inspired countless myths.
Before Taylor Swift took her lover away to the lakes, before Lizzy McAlpine let go in the mountains, there was Vashti Bunyan, tucked away in the hills of the Hebrides, loving life in Scotland and quietly enjoying each diamond day as it came.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons