For those of you that were disappointed or just couldn’t justify shelling out for the 19 CD Sandy Denny Boxset from Island records released back in 2010 which has since fetched prices of upto £1,500 on ebay then light is at the end of the tunnel in the form of a new limited edition (3,500 copies) boxset released from Island Records. Sandy Denny: The Notes & Words – A Collection of Demos and Rarities was released at the end of last month and comprises of a more palatable 4 CDs covering 75 tracks as well as rarities, outtakes, home recording demos and the first recording of her classic ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes‘ from 1967.
The first CD in the collection begins with 17 tracks from ‘Early Home Demos‘…the opener for which set the mood for me. A fantastic cover of Jackson C. Frank’s ‘Blues Run the Game‘. Jackson C. Frank, Sandy’s one time boyfriend had one of the most tragic and heart-breaking life stories I’ve ever read. His style of playing has a clear influence on her music as can be heard on the first recording of ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’, he also encouraged her to give up nursing and pursue music as a full time career.
Also featured on Disc one are her first recordings for Island Records from 1968 by which time she had a natural affinity for traditional song as she ably demonstrates on her beautiful version of ‘She Moved Through the Fair’. Thanks to the likes of Bill Leader there was a steady roll of recordings already out there to inspire artists at this time not to mention a thriving folk scene and as will be seen, Sandy took that influence and encouraged others along that path.
Disc two deals mainly with her time spent with Fairport Convention and then Fotheringay. Fairport were looking for a replacement for Judy Dyble when Sandy auditioned, a moment I would have loved to have seen…as Fairport’s Simon Nicol put it, 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.”
Although not many, and here-in lies the fine balance of this release, there are some great outtakes featured. Of special note is ‘The Ballad of Easy Rider‘ which is blindingly beautiful. Another rare outtake is the epic ‘A Sailor’s Life‘ recorded before Dave Swarbrick joined the band. There are also those brief personal glimpses such as Sandy laughing during a failed count-in on ‘Come All Ye‘ a first take which sounds a lot more laid back than the version that made it onto Liege and Lief, an album that still stands the test of time. Interestingly it was Sandy that encouraged Fairport to dip into the British Folk tradition, her influence was huge and their enthusiasm was boundless, releasing three albums in one year, something that is virtually unheard of today.
When Sandy left Fairport in 1969 she formed Fotheringay and the recordings featured include rare studio demos (‘Winter Winds‘ and ‘The Pond and the Stream‘), also included is ‘John the Gun‘ from Fotheringay 2, an album that only got to see the light of day in 2008 after Jerry Donahue resurrected it from Island’s vaults. The band dissolved when Joe Boyd left to take up a job at Warner Brothers which saw Sandy embark on her solo career. One demo which stands out from this period is ‘Lord Bateman‘, a track that was thought to have been lost. What makes it so special is that Sandy sings unaccompanied…it is a stunningly emotional song that highlights her voice in all its glory, it moved me close to tears.
Disc three concentrates on her solo career including her solo debut ‘The North Star Grassman and The Ravens‘ which includes some acoustic demos including ‘The Optimist‘ on which Sandy is accompanied by Richard Thompson.
Some trivia relatng to the boxset design: the demo track ‘Wretched Wilbur‘ was originally titled ‘Seeds of Honesty‘ which are the dried flowers show on the album cover.
These acoustic demos are lovely but the cream is in song selections from Sandy, considered her best solo album. A demo version of ‘The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood‘ features a low drone accompaniment and like her earlier unaccompanied version of ‘Lord Bateman‘ this track also shines for the same reasons. The alternative take of ‘No End‘ recorded at Walthamstow Assembly Hall in London is highlighted for demonstrating how Sandy worked, changing her phrasing and vocal inflections…she announces part way through “I know, I’m going to swap the second and first verse around”. As it states in the notes: she was never a creature of routine.
The final disc settles on 1974 when Sandy re-joined Fairport Convention (1974) following her marriage to Trevor Lucas who was a member of the band. Five home demos feature, three of which never made it onto any album. This was a busy time for the band who embarked on a world tour which included an appearance at L.A. Troubadour from which recordings feature, including a lovely cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Knocking on Heavens Door‘, Sandy nails it perfectly.
The remainder features alternative versions from her final album ‘Rendezvous‘ which was finally released in 1977. One track of particular interest is ‘Full Moon‘ on which Acker Bilk’s clarinet is replced by one of our finest violin players, Dave Swarbrick, who performs a lovely lilting solo. Also featured, as you’d expect, is Sandy’s final recording: ‘Moments’, recorded on 20th May 1977 and this version features Ralph McTell. The lyrics are especially poignant:
If I had my life to live again
I would choose to be with you my friend
Time moves slowly and it goes so fast
And who knows how long the days will last
The final track, ‘Makes me Think of You‘ was Sandy’s last original composition, the lyrics for which were the final entry in her notebook.
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.
The original 19 CD boxset was a daunting prospect but this new condensed version will have a greater appeal to both fans and newcomers. This is clearly what Island had in mind as the boxset booklet is equally light on text, beautifully designed with a 40 page booklet consisting of a one page intro to each CD followed by a tracklisting page, the remainder is filled with some rare and beautiful photographs such as Sandy performing with John Renbourn at Central Hotel, East Ham in 1966. It’s a gem of a release and should find a home in any folk music lover’s collection.
Sandy Denny: The Notes & Words – A Collection of Demos and Rarities is released on UMC/Island 29 Oct 2012
You can order it from our store here
- Blues Run The Game
- It Ain’t Me Babe
- East Virginia
- In Memory (The Tender Years)
- I Love My True Love
- They Don’t Seem to Know You
- Gerrard Street
- Seven Virgins
- A Little Bit Of Rain
- Go Your Own Way My Love
- Cradle Song
- Who Knows Where The Time Goes
- Motherless Children
- You Never Wanted Me
- Milk and Honey
- She Moves Through The Fair
- Now and Then
- Are The Judges Sane
- Mr. Lacey – Fairport Convention
- The Ballad Of Easy Rider – Fairport Convention
- A Sailors Life – Fairport Convention
- Come All Ye – Fairport Convention
- Matty Groves – Fairport Convention
- The Way I Feel – Fotheringay
- The Sea – Fotheringay
- Winter Winds – Fotheringay
- The Pond and the Stream – Fotheringay
- John The Gun – Fotheringay
- Late November – Fotheringay
- Next Time Around
- Lord Bateman
- The Optimist
- Wretched Wilbur
- Crazy Lady Blues
- Northstar Grassman and the Ravens
- It’ll Take A Long Time
- For Nobody To Hear
- Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood
- The Lady
- Bushes And Briars
- The Music Weaver
- No End
- Whispering Grass
- Dark The Night
- Until The Real Thing Comes Along
- The King And Queen Of England
- After Halloween
- Sandy’s Song (Take Away The Load)
- Stranger To Himself
- By The Time It Gets Dark
- Down In The Flood – Fairport Convention
- Knocking On Heaven’s Door – Fairport Convention
- Like An Old Fashioned Waltz – Fairport Convention
- One More Chance
- What Is True? – Fairport Convention
- No More Sad Refrains
- I Wish I Was A Fool For You
- Gold Dust
- Candle In The Wind
- One Way Donkey Ride
- I’m A Dreamer
- Still Waters Run Deep
- Full Moon
- Makes Me Think Of You