CULT CLASSIC: SANDY DENNY-LIKE AN OLD FASHIONED WALTZ.

Cult Classic: Sandy Denny-Like An Old Fashioned Waltz.

Sandy Denny left Fairport Convention in December 1969, and in early 1970, decided to form a new band. The new band became Fotheringay, who released their eponymous debut album in June 1970. Critics hailed Fotheringay a masterful debut, and the album sold well upon its release. This looked like the start of another successful chapter in Sandy Denny’s career.

Buoyed by the success of Fotheringay, the band began work on their sophomore album in November 1970. As the sessions continued into December 1970, it was thought that everything was going to plan and Fotheringay’s sophomore album would soon be completed. Sadly, in January 1971, it was announced that Fotheringay were no more and the band split-up. What would eventually become Fotheringay 2 was shelved and the album wasn’t released until 2008. 

With Fotheringay  now consigned to musical history, Sandy Denny decided to embark 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, had the potential to quickly become one of the company’s biggest selling artists. When Sandy Danny entered the studios in March 1971, it was with the weight of expectation on her shoulders.

By then, Sandy Denny was maturing as a songwriter. This was what she had planned to hone her songwriting skills after she left  Fairport Convention in December 1969. By March 1971 she was an accomplished songwriter and had written eight of the eleven songs on The North Star Grassman and The Ravens. This included Late November and John The Gun which had been recorded for the Fotheringay  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 Denny was accompanied on some of the tracks by the musicians that were previously part of Fotheringay. Other musicians were drafted in when they were needed. This included drummer Roger Powell, bassist Tony Reeves, Buddy Emmons on pedal steel guitar, violinist Barry Dransfield and Ian Whiteman on piano and flute organ. Royston Wood and Robin Dransfield added backing vocals on John The Gun. Co-producer Richard Thompson played accordion, bass, electric and acoustic guitar and sang on Down In The Flood. Harry Robertson arranged the strings on Next Time Around and Wretched Wilbur. That talented band spent two months recording The North Star Grassman and The Ravens which was completed by May 1971, and was 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 Denny’’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 songs 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 same commercial success that Joni Mitchell was enjoying in America. Sadly, that wasn’t to be, although Sandy Denny was enjoying the same critical acclaim that her American counterpart was enjoying. This would continue on her sophomore album Sandy.

Sandy.

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 Denny began recording his sophomore album Sandy at Sound Techniques and Island Studios. 

By then, Sandy Denny had been busy, and had written eight new songs that would feature on Sandy. 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 band that featured familiar faces and new names. 

The first change was that Trevor 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, were the studios that were used. 

Just like with Sandy Denny’s debut album, recording took place at Sound Techniques and Island Studios. When the first sessions took place in November 1971, Sandy Denny 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 Denny’s band was John Kirkpatrick who played concertina on It Suits Me Well. With the lineup of the band finalised, the recording of Sandy got underway.

With an all-star band for company, Sandy Denny recorded the ten songs over five sessions held 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. 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, and Sandy was almost ready for release.

Before that, critics received their advance copy of Sandy, and Sandy Denny and the A&R executives at Island Records awaited their verdict.The critics were won over by Sandy, and noted that th promotion of Trevor Lucas to the position of producer had paid off. He managed to successfully combine the two disparate 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; and the pedal steel and Hammond organ were its future. However, key to the success of Sandy were Sandy Denny’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, and when Sandy was released in September 1972, history repeated itself when Sandy was the commercial success that Island Records was hoping for. This was a huge disappointment for Sandy Denny, 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 had given Sandy Denny time to think about where her career was heading.

When she returned home, Sandy Denny had done a lot of soul-searching and decided that she wanted to make her impression musically. That was no surprise as Sandy Denny had been rubbing shoulders with two of Britain’s biggest musical exports, Led Zeppelin and The Who. She had performed with both bands, and saw how the other half lived. By the end of the tour, Sandy Denny had 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 Denny was still disappointed by the commercial failure of her first two albums. It seemed folk rock wasn’t going to make Sandy Denny rich. That was when she realised that she would have to broaden her appeal if she wanted to enjoy the commercial success she wanted.

In her heart of hearts, Sandy Denny knew her music had to change if it was going to appeal to a much wider audience. So for her third album, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz, Sandy decided to make some changes. She decided to incorporate elements of pop and jazz into 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 had decided to change producer, as Trevor Lucas and Sandy Denny had married during 1973. The only change Sandy Denny 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 songs. This included Solo, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz, Friends, Carnival, Dark The Night, At The End Of The Day and No End. The only cover versions were Doris and Fred Fisher’s Whispering Grass and Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin and LE Freeman’s Until The Real Thing Comes Along. Sandy Denny remembered the two songs  from her father’s record collection, and gave them a jazzy makeover. These songs were recorded in Sound Techniques, in London, and A&M Studios, Los Angeles, between May and August 1973.

Again, the great and good of folk music were present for the recording of Like An Old Fashioned Waltz.  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 familiar faces and new names.

The familiar face was John Bundrick, who played on Sandy. This time around, he played organ, piano and clavinet on Like An Old Fashioned Waltz. New names included bassist Danny Thompson, who had previously worked with Nick Drake and John Martyn. Danny Thompson was joined by drummer Gerry Conway and saxophonist Alan Skidmore. Sandy Denny’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. Eventually, the album was released by August 1973, and executives at Island Records planned to release Like An Old Fashioned Waltz in late 1973. 

That was until Sandy Denny dropped a bombshell, when she announced that she was rejoining Fairport Convention, and embarked upon a tour that lasted from autumn 1973 to June 1974. Suddenly, Island Records’ plans were in disarray and they had no option but to postpone the release of Like An Old Fashioned Waltz. 

Eventually, Island Records rescheduled the release of An Old Fashioned Waltz for June 1974. By then, Sandy Denny had just returned from touring with Fairport Convention. Somewhat belatedly, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz was about to be released. 

Before that, critics had their say on Sandy Denny’s much-anticipated third album. When critics heard Like An Old Fashioned Waltz, they were struck by how personal album it was.

Like An Old Fashioned Waltz finds Sandy Denny laying bare her soul and sharing her deepest secrets and fears. Many of the songs on An Old Fashioned Waltz 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 also a very different album from her two previous albums, with its jazz and pop stylings. 

Especially the covers of Whispering Grass and Until The Real Thing Comes Along, which were given a jazzy makeover by Sandy Denny and her band. Stylistically, these two songs showed a different side to Sandy Denny, and jazz suited the twenty-seven year old singer-songwriter. However, the rest of Like An Old Fashioned Waltz was quite different.

On a number of tracks 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. Like An Old Fashioned Waltz was also a quite beautiful and extremely personal album from Sandy Denny which had won over the majority of critics.

While some reviews were positive, the usual suspects including the 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, and believed that this was the album that was destined to transform Sandy Denny’s fortunes.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be, and 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. For Sandy Denny this the commercial failure of Like An Old Fashioned Waltz and the single Whispering Grass was a huge blow.

Worse was to come when the release of the sophomore single Like an Old Fashioned Waltz was cancelled. For Sandy Denny, her dreams of becoming one of the biggest names in music had come to nothing. With her dreams in tatters, Sandy Denny rejoined Fairport Convention for the third and final time.

It wasn’t just Sandy Denny that embarked upon a world tour with Fairport Convention. So had her husband and producer Trevor Lucas. With Sandy Denny touring the world with Fairport Convention, her solo career was put on hold.

For Sandy Denny, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz was the one that got away, and was an album that had the potential to transform her career and introduce her music to a wider audience. Sadly, that wasn’t to be, bur since then, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz has been reappraised by critics and nowadays, is regarded as a cult classic that showcases the considerable talents of the late, great Sandy Denny who is remembered as one of the finest folk singers of her generation.

 

 

 

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