Tomorrow Tomorrow


Published 2024-02-06 06:00

The temptation to mythologize Bill Fay can be overwhelming. Fay was, for decades, as prolific as he was under appreciated. Fay was, and still is, an artist disinterested in performance and promotion, while remaining as dedicated a songwriter as ever, composing stacks upon stacks of stirring, abundant new music. Fay’s unsung hero status has changed slowly, steadily, on the order of almost 25 years. With each new album comes new hosannas and evangelizers. Jeff Tweedy, Kevin Morby, Adam Granduciel and Julia Jacklin, to name just a few.

But to focus on the mythology is to distract from what’s truly special. Bill Fay writes music with the honesty and clarity of a person with much to say, but nothing to prove, and in doing so delivers songs of remarkable beauty and confidence. The Bill Fay Group, in particular, is Fay’s most significant collaborative work, he records as a member of a larger group here, and the result summons a grander sonic scale, an elegant counterweight to Fay’s instincts for the understated. "Tomorrow Tomorrow & Tomorrow" brings to bear the galactic qualities of early rock, the intricacy of jazz improv, and Fay’s earthy folk magic. For whatever might be going on amongst the instruments, Fay’s lyrics almost inevitably come back to nature, and to a matter of factness about love and loving that gives his work even more depth and power.

"Tomorrow Tomorrow & Tomorrow" has a patchy release history: recorded between 1978 and 1981, it was not released until 2005, when it appeared on CD with limited streaming and no vinyl companion. A 2006 reissue brought the album onto vinyl, but with a truncated sequence and 9 songs missing. Now, finally, "Tomorrow Tomorrow & Tomorrow" arrives in full worldwide. Available on streaming services worldwide and pressed to a double album vinyl edition, it features the album’s original 20 songs and includes rare and previously unseen photographs from "Tomorrow Tomorrow & Tomorrow’s" original recording session.

We are fortunate to have a brief history of "Tomorrow Tomorrow & Tomorrow", written by Gary Smith and Rauf Galip, missing Bill Stratton, and abbreviated from the forthcoming album notes. Both Bill Stratton and Gary Smith liked Bill Fay’s albums at the time they were released. When his 3rd album didn’t appear, Bill Stratton contacted Decca Records to find out why. They gave him a contact for Bill’s manager who said there wasn’t another contract in the offing, so put the 2 Bills in touch.

Forward to 1977, we’ve got The Acme Quartet, a trio, with Gary on guitar, Rauf on bass and Bill Stratton on drums (as Bill Fay said “their sound was such though that they could have called themselves ‘The Acme Quintet’ or ‘Sextet’”). They’d been gigging for a while and got a performance at The Fulham Arts Centre in South West London. They asked Bill Fay to come along and do a solo set. Nice grand piano for him and all had a great evening. Bill Fay asked if they’d be interested in getting together, so they hired a rehearsal room above a pub in Wandsworth and it worked out well, socially and musically.

They met regularly in Gary’s flat in Tooting, in a tiny living room, to talk and work on the music. Bill Fay had a lot of songs, and it was important for them, Gary, Bill Stratton, and Rauf, to choose what we thought were the right songs. The Acme Quartet was an intense, uncompromising group, with a lot of improvising, beyond jazz and coming out of rock music. They initially wanted to make the music extremely powerful (there are elements of this in the song "Life"). Also, by this time Gary had more or less left rock music and hadn’t expected to work with someone like Bill Fay and his music, he’d spent years doing that, but Bill Fay was different. As has been said, they all served the music.

They chose 5 songs to record as finished pieces. "Life", "Spiritual Mansions", "Cosmic Boxer", "Strange Stairway", "Isles Of Sleep", all recorded in 2 studio sessions. They sent them out to try and get a record deal. There were few really independent labels back then and punk was in the record labels’ ears. No deal.

Around this time Bill Stratton left the group. It was a difficult time, late night trains, not a lot to expect from beyond the music itself, hours in a day and they were financing everything, which wasn’t easy as they were all broke. Bazz Smith came in and generously gave his time, a brilliant drummer whom Gary and Rauf had both worked with (the same goes for Chris Merrick Hughes, John South and Dave Bernez, who gave their time and considerable skills). They knew they wanted to carry on to complete a full album, which they did.

And now, Dead Oceans who have a lot of faith in Bill’s music, wants to re-release the "Tomorrow" album. A double vinyl package. Is there any more unreleased music for the 4th side? Of course. So, they've been opening old boxes, finding CDR's, cassettes, a musical archaeological dig. This is their choice from all the music they found. Fly like a bird.

Dead Oceans, February 23rd, 2024.