From today, for one week, Folk Radio UK will be celebrating the music of Sandy Denny by including tracks throughout the day from the leading lady of British folk rock! Tracks being played include rare outtakes, demos and home recordings.
Fortune shone its light on Sandy in 1968, after failing to find a band that stretched her vocally, she managed to get an audition with Fairport Convention who were looking for a replacement for Judy Dyble. In the words of Fairport member Simon Nicol she didn’t audtion for them, they auditioned for her, her strong personality and confident musicianship made her stand out from the other hopefuls “like a clean glass in a sink full of dirty dishes.” Her interest in traditional British folk and her fine compositions brought changes to Fairport Convention. The three albums that followed her arrival are considered to be the first landmarks in her short career. Relelasing three albums in one year is pretty much unheard of today. What We Did On Our Holidays; Unhalfbricking and the famous Liege & Lief are all great albums and have stood the test of time incredibly well. Sandy was credited with moving the band towards exploring traditonal British folk which has given her the key figure status in the development of British folk rock. Up until this point Fairport had never performed a traditional song and Richard Thompson had yet to emerge as a composer.
Sandy left Fairport in 1969 to further her songwriting skills and went on to form her own band: Fotheringay which included her boyfriend, Trevor Lucas. They released one self-titled album and left one unfinished which was finally released in 2008. The band dissolved when Joe Boyd left to take up a job at Warner Brothers in California. Sandy went on to release a number of solo albums which set her aside as one of Britain’s finest singer / songwriters. She was supported by many fine musicians whom we recognise as leading lights on the British folk scene today including: Richard Thompson, Dave Swarbrick, Robin and Barry Dransfield. Other musicians included John (Rabbit) Bundrick, Allen Toussaint, Diz Disley, Steve Winwood and Acker Bilk.
The release of Sandy in 1972 is considered her best solo release and it also marked her last traditional folk recording. Sandy married Trevor Lucas in 1973 and returned to Fairport Convention in 1974 where Trevor was a member. They embarked on a world tour and released Fairport Live Convention and a studio album, Rising for the Moon in 1975. In the same year Sandy and Trevor left and recorded what was to be her final album titled Rendezvous which was released in 1977. Critics considered the album over-produced whilst others recognised a widening of influences and experimentation, including an eight minute orchestral tribute to the English pastoral style of Vaughan Williams called All Our Days.
In the mid-seventies Sandy moved to the village of Byfield in Northamptonshire and gave birth to her daughter, Georgia, in July 1977. A UK tour to promote Rendezvous in the autumn of 1977 marked her final public appearance. The closing night at the Royalty Theatre in London on 27 November 1977 was recorded for a live album, Gold Dust, which due to technical problems in the recording of the electric guitar, was belatedly released in 1998 after most of the guitars had been re-recorded by Jerry Donahue.
Sadly, in March 1978, Sandy suffered a cerebral haemorrhage from tumbling down the stairs of her parents’ home in Cornwall. She died four days later on 21 April 1978 at the young age of 31.
Sandy Denny left behind some of the finest recordings made in the history of British folk music. I don’t know how anyone cannot be moved by her music so putting together tracks to celebrate her life has been a pleasure. Enjoy!
For a complete discography we recommend the one put together at The Bees Knees here