THE SHORT-LIVED STORY OF FOTHERINGAY.

THE SHORT-LIVED STORY OF FOTHERINGAY.

When Sandy Denny left Fairport Convention in December 1969, the reason she gave, was that the wanted to hone her skills as a songwriter. However, less than a year after her departure from Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny formed a new group, Fotheringay. Although Fotheringay were a short lived band, they certainly made a lasting impression on British folk music.

The Fotheringay story began in 1970, not long after Sandy Denny’s departure from Fairport Convention. Sandy decided to put together a new band. One of the first musicians she brought onboard was guitarist Trevor Lucas. 

He had been born in Australia, but was now based in Britain. Trevor was now a familiar face in the British folk scene. Previously, Trevor was a member of Eclection. That’s when Trevor met Sandy Denny. The pair started dating in May 1969, and eventually, married in 1973. However, Trevor’s career began back in Australia, in the early sixties.

Back then, Trevor Lucas was a solo artist. He released his debut solo album See That My Grave Is Kept Clean in 1964. Then on New Year’s Eve Trevor boarded a ship and made the journey from Australia to Britain. That’s when he became a member of Eclection, and met drummer Gerry Conway.

Eclection were a folk-rock band, who were formed in 1967, and broke up two years later in 1969. However, by then, Trevor Lucas and Gerry Conway were firm friends. They renewed their musical partnership in Fotheringay.

Gradually, Sandy’s new band was taking shape. The final pieces in the musical jigsaw were two former members of the Poet and the One Man Band. Guitarist Jerry Donahue had moved from Manhattan to Britain,  where he quickly became stalwart of the folk scene. This wasn’t surprising.  Jerry’s father was big band saxophonist Sam Donohue. However, Jerry wasn’t inspired by his father. Instead, Gerry McGee, Earl Scruggs, Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy inspired Jerry, who in 1970, joined Fotheringay with Edinburgh born bassist Pat Donaldson.

By 1970, Pat Donaldson was a familiar face in the London music scene. He had moved to London in the early sixties. Since then, he had been a member of Bob Xavier and the Jury,  Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band and the reformed Dantalian’s Chariot. Fotheringay was just the latest group the twenty-seven year old bassist work with. 

With the lineup of her new band finalised, all Sandy Denny needed was a name for the band. She decided on Fotheringay, after Fotheringay Castle where Mary Queen Of Scots was imprisoned. With its lineup complete and a name in place, Sandy Denny’s new band could begin work on their debut album.

Fotheringay.

Sandy Denny didn’t waste any time recording Fotheringay’s debut album. She wrote four tracks and cowrote Peace in the End with Trevor Lucas. He also penned The Ballad of Ned Kelly. Other tracks included covers of Gordon Lightfoot’s The Way I Feel, Bob Dylan’s Too Much Of Nothing and Banks of the Nile. These ten tracks were recorded between February and April, 1970 at Sound Techniques, in London with Joe Boyd producing what became Fotheringay. 

Once Fotheringay was completed, the album was released in June 1970. It was one of the most eagerly awaited albums of the year. Both critics and record buyers  awaited with interest the release of Fotheringay’s eponymous debut album with interest and anticipation. Here was a group that had the potential, to be one of the biggest and most successful folk group.  

On the release of Fotheringay, critics weren’t disappointed. Quite the opposite. Critics hailed the album a masterful debut. Sandy Denny was back, and better than ever. Her enchanting, ethereal vocal was complimented by a tight, talented band. They won not just the critics, but record buyers.

Fotheringay sold well upon its release in June 1970, and reached number eighteen in Britain. Good as this was, it wasn’t good enough for Island Records. Their expectations and Fotheringay’s differed. Island Records hoped the album would be one of the label’s biggest selling albums. That wasn’t the case. This resulted in Island Records’ pressurising Sandy to embark upon a solo career.

Sandy Denny dug her heels in. She was determined to continue with Fotheringay. So work began on what was meant to be Fotheringay’s sophomore album.

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Fotheringay 2.

A total of eleven tracks were meant to feature on Fotheringay’s sophomore album. This time, Sandy Denny only wrote two songs. Trevor Lucas and Pete Roach penned Knights of the Road and Restless.Among the other tracks were traditional songs, a cover of Bob Dylan’s I Don’t Believe You and the Dave Cousins’ composition Two Weeks Last Summer. These eleven tracks were recorded by an expanded lineup of Fotheringay.

Joining the usual lineup of Fotheringay was Linda Thompson. She was going to add backing vocals when the sessions began in November 1970. The sessions continued into December 1970. Everyone thought that things were going to plan. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

In January 1971, it was announced that Fotheringay were no more. The band broke up and what would eventually become Fotheringay 2 was shelved. The songs were in various states of completion. Fotheringay 2 wasn’t an album in the true sense of the word. There was a lot to do before Fotheringay 2 could be released. However, back in 1971, it seemed unlikely that  Fotheringay 2 would be released. This would change in 2008.

Although Fotheringay 2 wasn’t complete, and to some extent, was work-in-progress, a decision was made to release the album in 2008. Using editing and modern recording techniques, the album was completed by Jerry Donohue and the other surviving band members. By then, several of the tracks had been released.

The two Trevor Lucas and Pete Roach compositions found their way onto two Fairport Convention albums. Knights of the Road featured on the 1973 album Rosie; while Restless found its way onto the 1975 album Rising For The Moon album. Fairport Convention even decided to record the Bob Dylan song I Don’t Believe You for their album Nine. Despite recording I Don’t Believe You, it never made it onto Nime when it was released in 1973. By then, Sandy Denny had recorded several Fotheringay songs for her solo albums.

When Sandy Denny was choosing material for her debut album The North Star Grassman And The Ravens, the decided to cover a trio of tracks that had been recorded for Fotheringay 2. Late November, John The Gun and The North Star Grassman And The Ravens all found their way onto Sandy Denny’s 1971 debut album. Then for Sandy’s 1974 album Rendezvous, she decided to record Silver Threads and Golden Needles. Belatedly, the song made its debut. So would Fotheringay 2 in 2008.

When Fotheringay 2 was released, the long lost album was well received. It was a reminder of Fotheringay’s potential. If they had stayed together, they could’ve become one of the great British folk bands. That critics said, was apparent by listening to Fotheringay 2. However, critics wondered what Fotheringay 2 would’ve sounded like if more time had been spent on the album? Would Fotheringay 2 have become one of the great British folk albums?  Sadly, that wasn’t to be and it was a case of what might have been.

If Fotheringay hadn’t split-up in January 1971, would they have become a serious rival to Fairport Convention for the title of Britain’s premier folk-rock band. While that might seem unlikely, Fotheringay had something Fairport Convention didn’t…Sandy Denny. Her enchanting, ethereal vocal was at the heart of the sound and success of Fotheringay. So was her songwriting skills.

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That’s why Sandy Denny left Fairport Convention. She wanted to improve as a songwriter. While she formed Fotheringay not long after leaving Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny was already a talented songwriter. She got the chance to shine on Fotheringay’s 1970 eponymous debut album. Not only did Sandy pen four tracks, but she wrote Peace in the End with Trevor Lucas. It seemed away from Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny was maturing as a singer and songwriter. Maybe, it was because was Fotheringay was her band? No longer was she surrounded by strong personalities who maybe, overshadowed Sandy. Given time, Sandy Denny’s new group could’ve rivalled Fairport Convention.

Sadly, that wasn’t to be. When Fotheringay reached a respectable number eighteen in 1970, this wasn’t good enough for Island Records. They started whispering in Sandy Denny’s ear, encouraging her to embark upon a solo career. While this wasn’t what Sandy Denny wanted, it would be financially advantageous to Island Records. However, Sandy Denny wanted to continue with Fotheringay. Sadly, Fotheringay was short-lived.

In January 1971, the announcement came, that Fotheringay had split-up. Island Records got their wish. Sandy Denny embarked upon a solo career. 

The Solo Years.

Her debut album was The North Star Grassman and the Ravens. It was released in September 1971, and featured Late November, John The Gun and The North Star Grassman And The Ravens, which were meant to feature on Fotheringay 2. Critical acclaim accompanied the release of The North Star Grassman and the Ravens. Sandy Denny it seemed, could do no wrong.

A year later, Sandy Denny released her sophomore album Sandy in September 1974. It was released to the same critical acclaim as The North Star Grassman and the Ravens. However, Sandy surpassed the quality of The North Star Grassman and the Ravens. Indeed, it would prove to be the best album of her solo career.

It wasn’t until 1974, that Sandy Denny released Like an Old Fashioned Waltz followed in June 1974. The album saw a philosophical Sandy consider themes like loneliness, fear of the dark, the passing of time and even the changing seasons. Essentially, Sandy was fixating on growing old and death. That would prove ironic

When Like an Old Fashioned Waltz was released, critics noticed Sandy’s stylistic departure. Pop and folk featured heavily. It seemed Island Records were trying to turn Sandy Denny into something she wasn’t. Maybe that’s why Sandy returned to Fairport Convention.

A Return To Fairport Convention.

Sandy rejoined Fairport Convention in 1974. By then, Sandy’s husband Trevor Lucas was also a member. They joined for the Fairport Convention’s world tour. It was captured on the 1974 live album Fairport Live Convention. Sadly, Sandy and Trevor left Fairport Convention in 1975. Their swan-song was Rising For The Moon.

 The Solo Years Take 2.

Following her second departure from Fairport Convention, Sandy returned to her solo career. Soon, she began work on what before her fourth solo album Rendezvous. One of the songs Sandy recorded was Silver Threads And Golden Needles. It had been recorded during the Fotheringay 2 sessions. However, Sandy decided to review the song for her fourth solo album Rendezvous.

She released Rendezvous in May 1977. Rendezvous saw Sandy embrace a contemporary rock sound. This was very different from previous albums. Still, Rendezvous was reasonably well received by critics. However, they noted that Rendezvous didn’t match the quality of The North Star Grassman And The Ravens and Sandy. Not long after the reviews were published, Rendezvous was released. Now record buyers could have the final say on Rendezvous.

Despite touring Britain promoting Rendezvous, the album didn’t sell well. The final night of the tour took place on 27th November 1977, at the Royalty Theatre, in London. It was recorded and was meant to be released as a live album, Gold Dust. Problems with the guitars meant this didn’t happen until 1998, when Gerry Donhue rerecorded the guitars. Ironically, that ill-fated concert was Sandy Denny’s swan-song.

When Rendezvous failed commercially, Island Records dropped Sandy. She was already drinking heavily, smoking and snorting cocaine. Her behaviour became erratic. Sandy was also suffering from severe headaches. So a doctor prescribed a distalgesic. However, Sandy continued to drink. Whether this played a part in a fall she had in late March 1978 is unknown. What we know, is that tragedy struck on 17th April 1978. 

That night, Sandy Denny was admitted to the Atkinson Morley Hospital in Wimbledon. She fell into a coma, and four days later, on 21st April 1978, Sandy Denny died. The cause of Sandy’s death was a brain haemorrhage and blunt force trauma. It’s likely that when Sandy Denny fell, this played a contributory factor in her death. Tragically, Sandy Denny was only thirty-one. That day, British folk music lost one of finest voices.

While Sandy Denny is remembered for her two spells with Fairport Convention and four solo albums, often her time with Fortheringay is often overlooked. That’s a great shame, as Sandy Denny’s short-lived other group features Sandy Denny at the peak of her powers. With Sandy Denny at the helm, Fotheringay could’ve gone on to rival Fairport Convention. Sadly, they never got the opportunity to do so, and the Fotheringay story was over before it had began. It’s Sandy Denny’s “other,” sometimes forgotten and short-lived group.

THE SHORT-LIVED STORY OF FOTHERINGAY.

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