Where has Bill Fay been all my life? It’s a serious question that I hope one day to have all the answers to. For now, I’m stuck with this amazing album that seems to have come out of nowhere with nothing to do but smile and be grateful. From 1967 to 1971, Fay was a working singer/songwriter in England who put out two records that didn’t sell at all. After being dropped from his label, he fell into obscurity. The only work he had done was about half a record worth of demos for the follow up to Time Of The Last Persecution. Luckily there were some people who discovered his records years after their release and have been singing Bill Fay’s praises for years-most notably a gentleman some may know named Jeff Tweedy.
Tweedy can be heard singing “Be Not So Fearful” during the documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, and Wilco have covered the song many times at shows. As payback, Fay sings a beautiful cover of Wilco’s “Jesus, etc.” and Tweedy joins him to sing a verse on the song “This World.” Despite well-known and intelligent songwriters like Tweedy and Will Sheff talking him up, it wasn’t until now more than 40 years after his last record, that Fay returned to the studio to record an album.
I think Life Is People speaks for itself as to why come back now? Why bother recording again if you haven’t had anything to say for forty years? Bill Fay does have something to say, and he knows that he won’t be here forever. He deals a lot with familiar themes that others touch on all the time, but there is an urgency to this album. Fay needed to say all these things before it’s too late. In that way it reminds me a lot of Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind and Warren Zevon’s The Wind. We all know Zevon passed away just a couple weeks after that album’s release. Dylan found himself in the hospital right before his album came out, and I remember feeling for the first time in my life like someone outside of my family’s death might have a deep impact on me. There was something about both of those albums; like the writers knew their time was up (of course Zevon really did know).
It’s with this same point of view that Fay brings us Life Is People. It’s on one side an affirmation of life and the beauty constantly surrounding us. On the other is the acceptance that at any moment it could all end.
Fay’s voice is older and sometimes struggles to get the words out. He’s been matched up with his old drummer Alan Rushton and Ray Russell, who played with him on Time Of The Last Persecution. He’s also joined by some great studio musicians out of England like Matt Deighton, who’s worked with Oasis, and keyboardist Mike Rowe. The backing band provides a comfortable foundation for Fay to stand on while he delivers the brilliant lyrics he’s written.
“Be At Peace With Yourself” gives us the best peek behind the curtain as Fay tells us everything he needs to say in a sweet, gospel-like tune. His message is clear as day-live every day like it’s your last. Be good to everyone and try to make the world a better place than when you got here. “At the end of the day, ain’t nobody else gonna walk in your shoes quite the way that you do. So be at peace with yourself, keep a spring in your heel. Keep climbing that hill.”
That song comes just before the crown jewel of the record-Fay’s version of “Jesus, etc.” It’s a stripped down vocal and piano version that rips away all the added production and gives us one of the best-written songs of the last 20 years. The deep, scratchy vocals only add to the somber keys. The way Fay holds out the words “Don’t cry” in the second verse kills me every time.
The words in “Cosmic Concerto” sum up Fay’s outlook on life pretty well: “Like my old dad said, life is people, life is people. In the space of a human face there’s infinite variation. It’s a cosmic concerto, and it stirs my soul.”
I really can’t speak highly enough of Life Is People. My only regret is that Fay hasn’t been making music this whole time. Who knows how many great songs we may have missed out on…but maybe nothing inspired him until now. Maybe this is the culmination of his life that he’s given to us. If so, it was a life well lived. Hopefully we will hear from him again, but if this is the last music Bill Fay makes, his legacy will remain solid as a rock.
I leave you today with Bill Fay’s words: “It’s time to leave and say goodbye. At least for now. You fought the battle most of your life, and you still fight it now. Soon you’ll be leaving for the coast, but it’s a coast no man can tell. It’s the end of life on this earth, and my brother I bid you fare thee well.”