SANDY DENNY-WHO KNOWS WHERE TIME GOES?
Sandy Denny-Who Knows Where Time Goes?
On the 21st of April 1978, Sandy Denny passed away aged just thirty-one. That day, the career of one of the finest British folk singers of her generation was cut tragically short. Music lost a hugely talented singer and songwriter. There was no doubt about that. Sandy Denny stood head and shoulders above many of her contemporaries, including some she had shared a stage with. The loss of Sandy Denny was a tragedy
Music was in mourning at the loss of Sandy Denny. She had achieved so much in a short space of time. This included a brief spell with The Strawbs, before becoming the lead singer of Fairport Convention. However, Sandy left Fairport Convention in December 1969 to hone her songwriting skills. That was the plan.
Not long after her departure from Fairport Convention, Sandy decided to form a new band, Fotheringay. So in the early 1970, Sandy began putting together a new band. One of the first musicians she brought onboard was guitarist Trveor 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.
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. Critics and record buyers eagerly anticipated the release of Fotheringay.
They weren’t disappointed. 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.
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 split-up and what would eventually become Fotheringay 2 was shelved. It wasn’t released until 2008. With Fortheringay now consigned to musical history, Sandy Denny embarked upon a solo career.
Sandy Denny signed to Island records, and soon, began to work on to release her debut solo album,The North Star Grassman and The Ravens. For Sandy Denny, this was the start of a new and exciting chapter in her career.
The North Star Grassman and The Ravens.
After Fotheringay split-up, Island Records were keen for the latest signing to enter the studio. Sandy Denny, Island Records believed, could become one of the company’s biggest selling artists. So Sandy entered the studios in March 1971.
By then, Sandy Denny was maturing as a songwriter. That was what she set out to do, when she left Fairport Convention. For The North Star Grassman and The Ravens, Sandy wrote eight of the eleven songs, including Late November and John The Gun which had been recorded for the Fortheringay 2 sessions. Among Sandy’s other compositions, were The Sea Captain, The Optimist, Next Time Around, Wretched Wilbur, The North Star Grassman and The Ravens and Crazy Lady Blues. They joined a rework of the traditional song Blackwaterside, Bob Dylan’s Down In The Flood and Charles Robins’ Let’s Jump The Broomstick. These songs were recorded over a three month period, with some familiar faces.
The recording sessions began in March 1971, at Sound Techniques, with Sandy Denny, John Wood and Fairport Convention’s Richard Thompson tanking charge of production. Just two songs were recorded there Blackwaterside and Let’s Jump The Broomstick. Then things were moved in-house and the rest of the sessions took place at Island Studios, in London.
At Island Studios, Sandy was accompanied on some of the tracks, by the rest of Fotheringay. Other musicians were drafted in when needed. This included Buddy Emmons on pedal steel guitar; drummer Roger Powell; bassist Tony Reeves; violinist Barry Dransfield and Ian Whiteman on piano and flute organ. Royston Wood and Robin Dransfield added backing vocals on John The Gun. Richard Thompson played accordion, bass, electric and acoustic guitar. His vocal featured on Down In The Flood. Harry Robertson arranged the strings on Next Time Around and Wretched Wilbur. By May 1971, The North Star Grassman and The Ravens was complete. It would be released four months later.
Before the release of The North Star Grassman and The Ravens, critics had their say on Sandy Denny’s debut solo album. With its mixture of Sandy Denny compositions, and cover versions, it was a truly captivating album. Sandy’s vocals were compelling, as she breathed meaning and emotion into lyrics. Among the highlights were John The Gun, Late November, the wonderfully wistful Next Time Around and The North Star Grassman and The Ravens. That’s not forgetting Down In The Flood, where the interplay between Richard Thompson’s guitar and Sandy’s vocal is masterful. The only song some critics felt let the album down slightly, was Let’s Jump The Broomstick and Down In The Flood. Still, though, The North Star Grassman and The Ravens was a hailed a musical masterpiece and minor folk rock classic. Sandy Denny it seemed, could do no wrong.
When The North Star Grassman and The Ravens was released in September 1971, the album didn’t sell in the huge quantities that Island Records had hoped. They seemed to envisage Sandy Denny enjoying the commercial success that Joni Mitchell was enjoying. That wasn’t to be. However, Sandy Denny enjoyed the same critical acclaim that her American counterpart was enjoying.
There was no rest for Sandy Denny, after she returned from a tour to promote the release of her debut album, The North Star Grassman and The Ravens. Two weeks later, in November 1971, Sandy began recording his sophomore album Sandy at Sound Techniques and Island Studios.
Sandy had been busy, and written eight new songs. This included It’ll Take a Long Time, Sweet Rosemary, For Nobody to Hear, Listen, Listen, The Lady, Bushes and Briars, It Suits Me Well and The Music Weaver. These songs joined covers of Bob Dylan’s Tomorrow Is A Long Time, and the traditional song The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood, which Richard Fariña had written lyrics for. These songs were recorded by a familiar faces and new names.
The first change was that Trveor Lucas had been hired to produce Sandy. John Wood who had played such an important part in the sound and success of The North Star Grassman and The Ravens was relegated to engineer. Similarly, Richard Thompson’s only part in Sandy was playing on five songs. However, one thing hadn’t changed, where the studios that were used.
Just like with Sandy Denny’s debut album, recording took place at Sound Techniques and Island Studios. The first sessions took place in November 1971 Sandy was joined by British folk royalty, including Fotheringay bassist Pat Donaldson. He was joined by four members of Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson on mandolin, acoustic and electric guitar, vocalist Linda Thomson, violinist Dave Swarbrick and Trevor Lucas on acoustic guitar. They were joined by some new names.
This included The Flying Burrito Brothers’ pedal steel player Sneaky Pete Kleinow. He was joined by organist and pianist John Bundrick. Both men played on It’ll Take A Long Time and Tomorrow Is A Long Time. The final member of Sandy’s band was John Kirkpatrick who played concertina on It Suits Me Well. Now the recording could get underway.
With her all-star band for company, Sandy recorded the ten songs over five sessions help during November 1971 and then in April and May 1972. Once the ten songs were recorded, the strings and horns were added.
Harry Robertson was brought in to arrange the strings on Listen, Listen, The Lady and The Music Weave. One change was the addition of on one of the tracks on Sandy. So, Allen Toussaint was drafted in to arrange the horns on For Nobody to Hear. Rather than travel to Britain, Allen Toussaint recorded the horn section at the Deep South Studio in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Once the strings and horns were added, and Sandy was mixed and mastered, the album was ready for release.
Before that, critics received their advance copy of Sandy. The promotion of Trevor Lucas to the position of producer had paid off. He managed to combine the two sides of Sandy Denny’s music. This was the traditional folk sound, and the more modern folk rock sound. Part of this was in the choice of instruments. Traditional instruments like a mandolin and acoustic guitar harked back to folk music’s past; while the pedal steel and Hammond organ were its future. However, key to the success of Sandy were Sandy’s skills as a singer and songwriter.
Some of Sandy’s finest moments were on Listen, Listen, where strings and a mandolin accompany her vocals, and on The Lady, where Sandy delivers a heartfelt vocal. Then on Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood, the lushest of strings provide the perfect backdrop for Sandy. It was a similar case with the horns on For Nobody to Hear. Bob Dylan’s oft-covered Tomorrow Is A Long Time takes on new meaning thanks on Sandy. Critics were calling Sandy a minor classic. Surely the album would bring commercial success Sandy Denny’s way?
Sadly, it wasn’t to be. When Sandy was released in September 1972, history repeated itself. Sandy was the commercial success that Island Records were hoping for. Again, Sandy Denny had failed to find mainstream success. It was a huge disappointment for Sandy, and it would nearly two years before she returned with her third album Like An Old Fashioned Waltz.
Like An Old Fashioned Waltz.
After returning from a tour where she was promoting her sophomore album Sandy, Island Records wanted Sandy Denny to head back into the studio. The recording then touring schedule was relentless. However, the tour gave Sandy time to think.
She decided that she wanted to make her impression musically. Sandy Denny had been rubbing shoulders with two Britain’s biggest musical exports, Led Zeppelin and The Who. She had performed with both bands, and seeing how the other half lived, decided that she wanted to enjoy a taste of the commercial success both bands were enjoying. This was music to executives at Island Records’ ears. However, Sandy was disappointed by the commercial failure of her first two albums. It seemed folk rock wasn’t going to make Sandy rich. So Sandy had decided to broaden her appeal.
In her heart of hearts, Sandy Denny knew her music had to change if it was to appeal to a much wider audience. So for her third album Like An Old Fashioned Waltz, Sandy decided to make some changes. Elements of pop and jazz would join her usual folk rock sound on her next album, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz. Despite deciding to change direction musically, Sandy decided to stick with Trevor Lucas who had produced Sandy.
It would’ve been awkward if Sandy Denny decided to change producer, as Trevor Lucas and Sandy were married during 1973. The only change Sandy made, was to bring John Wood back as co-producer. They would co-produce Like An Old Fashioned Waltz in London and Los Angeles.
For Like An Old Fashioned Waltz, Sandy Denny had written eight new sings. The only cover versions were Doris and Fred Fisher’s Whispering Grass and Until The Real Thing Comes Along Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin and L.E. Freeman. Sandy remembered them from her father’s record collection, and gave them a jazzy makeover. These songs were recorded in Sound Techniques and A&M Studios, Los Angeles, between May and August 1973. Again, the great and good folk were present. Sandy Denny was joined by former Fotheringay bassist Pat Donaldson, and six members of her former group Fairport Convention. This included Richard Thompson on mandolin, acoustic and electric guitar, guitarist Jerry Donahue, bassist Dave Pegg, drummer Dave Mattacks, violinist Dave Swarbrick and Trevor Lucas on acoustic guitar. They were joined by some old faces and new names.
The old face was John Bundrick, who played on Sandy. This time around, he played organ, piano and clavinet. New names included bassist Danny Thompson, who had previously worked with Nick Drake and John Martyn. Joining Danny Thompson was drummer Gerry Conway and saxophonist Alan Skidmore. Sandy’s band was shaping up nicely. Other new names included Diz Disley on acoustic guitar; organist Jean Roussel and pianist Ian Armit. They were part of a band that spent three months recording Like An Old Fashioned Waltz in L.A. and London. The album was completed in August 1973. This meant that Like An Old Fashioned Waltz would be released in late 1973. Or it should have been.
That was if Sandy Denny hadn’t dropped a bombshell. She was rejoining Fairport Convention. From Autumn 1973 to June 1974, Sandy toured with Fairport Convention. Eventually, Island Records scheduled the release of An Old Fashioned Waltz for June 1974.
When critics heard An Old Fashioned Waltz, they were struck by what was a very personal album. Many of the songs dealt with things that preoccupied and worried Sandy Denny. This included everything from loss and loneliness, the changing of the season, a fear of the dark and ironically, the passing of time. Like An Old Fashioned Waltz was a very different album from her two previous albums. Jazz and pop stylings featured on an album where the lushest of strings joined a subtle piano in creating a ruminative and wistful album. Highlights included the album opener Solo, Friends, Dark The Night, At the End Of The Day and No End, which gave some insight into who Sandy Denny was as a person. However, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz divided the opinion of critics.
While some reviews were positive, the usual suspects like self-styled Dean of American Rock Critics wasn’t impressed. In his Village Voice review he called Like An Old Fashioned Waltz a “slugging album.” Other critics took a more favourable view of Like An Old Fashioned Waltz. Some felt this was the album was destined to change Sandy Denny’s fortunes.
It wasn’t to be. When Like An Old Fashioned Waltz was released in June 1974, commercial success eluded the album. Whispering Grass was chosen as the lead single, and was released in 1973. This was a strange choice, as it wasn’t one of the stronger songs on the album. Unsurprisingly, it failed to catch the attention of record buyers. Worse was to come when the release of Like an Old Fashioned Waltz as a single was cancelled. For Sandy Denny, her dreams of becoming one of the biggest names in music had come to nothing. So, Sandy rejoined Fairport Convention for the third and final time.
Sandy embarked upon a world tour with Fairport Convention. Trevor Lucas, Sandy’s husband had also rejoined Fairport Convention. For the time being, her solo career was on hold. Then as 1975 drew to a close, Sandy’s thoughts turned to her solo career, and her fourth album Rendezvous.
As 1975 gave way to 1976, Sandy began writing Rendezvous. She penned Gold Dust, Take Me Away, One Way Donkey Ride, I’m A Dreamer, All Our Days and No More Sad Refrains. The other three songs on Rendezvous were cover versions. This included Richard Thompson’s I Wish I Was a Fool For You (For Shame of Doing Wrong); Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s Candle In The Wind and Jack Rhodes and Dick Reynolds’ Silver Threads and Golden Needles. Recording of these songs began in April 1976.
By then, Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas had decided to try one more time, to move Sandy’s music towards the mainstream. This would mean Rendezvous would feature a contemporary rock sound. Rendezvous was recorded between April and June 1976 at Island Studios Basing Street and Hammersmith; CBS Studios in London; Strawberry Studios in Stockport and Sound Techniques in Chelsea, London. Accompanying Sandy was a band the featured over thirty musicians and backing vocalists.
This included Sandy Denny’s former colleagues in Fairport Convention, guitarist Jerry Donahue and Richard Thompson, bassist Dave Pegg, drummer Dave Mattacks and Trevor Lucas on acoustic guitar. They were joined reggae guitarist Junior Murvin, John Bundrick on synths and piano; Steve Winwood on organ, piano and clarinet and former Fotheringay bassist Pat Donaldson. Adding backing vocals were Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle; Kay Garner and Clare Torry; Sue Glover and Sunny Leslie. Even The Silver Band made a guest appearance on Silver Threads and Golden Needles. Much of Rendezvous had been recorded between 23rd of April and 7th of June 1976 at Basing Street and Island Studios.
When the everyone arrived at the studio, Harry Robertson had arranged the strings on Candle In The Wind, I’m a Dreamer and All Our Days. Steve Gregory had arranged the horns on Take Me Away. Even The Silver Band’s appearance on Silver Threads and Golden Needles required the Robert Kirby to be brought onboard. John Wood again, returned to the role of engineer as Trevor Lucas produced Rendezvous. Now the sessions began. Straight away, there was a problem.
During these sessions, Sandy Denny’s voice no longer had neither the same purity nor ethereal quality. During the Fairport Convention tour, she had been drinking and smoking heavily. Eventually, this took its toll. However, still Sandy could still unleash a powerful vocal whilst always in control, and could breath life, meaning and emotion into lyrics. Sandy was still a great singer and storyteller. She recorded her parts, and took her leave. Little did Sandy know she would never enter a studio again.
Despite Sandy Denny having recorded her vocals, Rendezvous was still not complete. Another session took place between the 9th and 18th of June 1976. By then,Trveor Lucas was at the overdubbing stage. He added layers of string, and also overdubbed layer after layer of backing vocals and instruments. This would prove controversial.
With the album completed in July 1976, the original album title was Gold Dust. The release date was scheduled for October 1976. However, the release date kept being postponed. When the album was eventually released in May 1977, the album was called Rendezvous. It was an album that didn’t win over critics.
Many critics felt Rendezvous had been overproduced. This was a result of Trevor Lucas overdubbing of layers of strings, backing vocals and instruments. There were too many strings, backing vocalist and the lead guitars threatened to overpower Sandy’s vocals. That was a great shame, given the quality of Sandy’s songwriting, and vocals. If Trevor Lucas had taken a less is more approach, Rendezvous would’ve been a much better album. However, it was not without some fine moments.
Among them, where Gold Dust took on a Caribbean influence. Take Me Away and I’m A Dreamer became soulful torch songs. All Our Days was a seven minute pastoral epic, which seemed to draw inspiration from Vaughan Williams. I’m A Dreamer, All Our Days and No More Sad Refrains all showcased Sandy Denny’s talents as a singer and songwriter. However, when Rendezvous was released in May 1977, it was to mixed reviews.
When Rendezvous was belatedly released, the album passed record buyers by. It became Sandy Denny’s least successful album. The dream was almost over.
Not long after the release of Rendezvous, Island Records quietly dropped Sandy Denny. Despite being without a record label, she went ahead with plans to record a live album, Gold Dust.
After the release of Rendezvous, Sandy Denny headed out on tour to promote the album. The last date on the tour was at the Royalty Theatre in London on 27th November 1977. That night the tapes rolled.
Sandy Denny accompanied by her band, worked their way through the seventeen songs. Closing the set was a spine-tingling version of one of Sandy’s best songs Who Knows Where the Time Goes? That proved to a poignant way to end what was Sandy’s last public performance was on Gold Dust, which was released somewhat belatedly in 1998.
After 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.
Despite her relatively youth, Sandy Denny had platted a huge part in the British folk scene. She had played a huge part in the success of Fairport Convention, and founded Fotheringay. Their music has only recently received the recognition it deserved. So to some extent have Sandy Denny’s solo albums. It’s only recently that they’ve been reevaluated and started to finds a wider audience. They’re a a reminder of British folk music’s greatest ever folk singer, Sandy Denny, who passed away thirty-nine years ago. As Sandy Denny sang in her finest song Who Knows Where Time Goes?
SANDY DENNY-WHO KNOWS WHERE TIME GOES?
- Posted in: Folk ♦ Folk Rock ♦ Rock
- Tagged: Fairport Convention, Fotheringay, Fotheringay 2, Gold Dust, Like an Old Fashioned Waltz, Rendezvous, Sandy, Sandy Denny, The North Star Grassman and the Ravens, The Strawbs
Fine tribute to one of the best voices ever … so natural and expressive, so unlike today’s inhuman vocal gymnastics!
Glad that you enjoyed the article. Sandy Denny certainly had a wonderful voice. It’s tragic that her career was cut short. Who knows what heights she might have reached.
I’ve another artist that might interest you, Bob Theil a Scottish singer-songwriter. In 1982 he released an album So Far, which is an Acid Folk cult classic. It’s one of my favourite albums, and is well worth a checking out. Sometimes, Bob Theil reminds me of Jackie Leven, another great singer-songwriter. Enjoy.
Cheers, Derek, will certainly give this a listen …
Here’s another one to add to your list, Robin Lent’s Scarecrow’s Journey. It’s a really rare LP, but is available on CD. It’s another Acid Folk cult classic. I was listening to it again earlier, and it’s an excellent album. Hope you enjoy the albums.
Cheers, Derek, will look him up!