Young Sandy Denny was born and raised in the 'genteel environs' of leafy South West London and its suburbs, notably Kingston upon Thames. Her early life has often been misconstrued, since it's been said she had a strict upbringing, but that was not the case at all. After flirting with the idea of becoming a nurse (Denny spent some months at the Royal Brompton Hospital) she enrolled on a foundation course at Kingston College of Art but abandoned her studies once she discovered she preferred singing the songs of folkies like Tom Paxton and the traditional airs and ballads that were sweeping through the underground as part of the mid-sixties folk revival. After the promising but short lived period when she sang with Alex Campbell, Denny won a residency at the legendary Troubadour club where she came to the attention of the Strawbs. Purely by chance Judy Collins, already on the way to stardom in 1968, heard a publishing tape of Sandy's 'Who Knows Where The Time Goes' and promptly covered what would later become Denny's best-known song. It was a stroke of luck all round because it gave the 20-year old immediate kudos even before anyone really knew who she was.
For the rest of the decade Denny sang, wrote for and inspired Fairport Convention, channelling them towards the folk repertoire she'd studied at Cecil Sharp House. Both a student and an accomplished teacher, you'll find Sandy approaching greatness with Fairport on What We Did on our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and the monumental Liege & Lief.
Restless again she then formed Fotheringay with boyfriend and future husband Trevor Lucas and began honing her piano playing to the extent that she composed most of her own material that way thereafter.
In 1971 Sandy came of age with the intriguing album The North Star Grassman and the Ravens, which includes the luscious 'Next Time Around', a clever if elusive kind of letter to her previous boyfriend, Jackson C. Frank. Another telling tale here is the foreboding dream of 'Late November', dealing with the awful death of Fairport drummer Martin Lambie, which she claimed to have seen in a vision.
1972's simply titled Sandy soon followed and came on the eve of her first solo tour. Demos took place at Richard Branson's state of the art Manor Studio in glorious Oxfordshire (the Cotswolds and the Chilterns would figure large in her life) with Lucas at the desk. Anxious to promote Denny as a true star, rather than a windswept folk artist, her management got David Bailey to take her portrait, a somewhat airbrushed affair - though it had the advantage of seeing her full-on, eyes straight ahead and in your face. The album was and is a masterpiece, enhanced by startling contributions from Richard and Linda Thompson, Dave Swarbrick, Sneaky Pete Kleinow (of the Flying Burrito Brothers) and boasting an Allen Toussaint horn arrangement that elevated the song 'For Nobody To Hear' into transcendental realms. Her interpretation of Bob Dylan's 'Tomorrow Is A Long Time' (also covered by Rod Stewart) could be said to be definitive.
Denny was a star after all, something she craved for her voice, if not for her private life. Tony Blackburn even made her single 'Listen, Listen' his pick of the week, all this at a time when the power of pop radio was at its zenith.
Like her other solo works, Sandy comes with splendid bonus material, so here you'll find a fine live version of 'It'll Take a Long Time', and some choice demos.
Like an Old Fashioned Waltz saw Denny aiming even more firmly at mainstream acceptance. She was a driven artist who was seldom satisfied with any one thing. Tackling standards like 'Whispering Grass' and 'Until the Real Thing Comes Along' (with veteran string arranger Harry Robinson) and sitting them next to immaculate self-penned songs such as 'Like an Old Fashioned Waltz' (later covered by Emmylou Harris) Sandy pitched herself at the pop market while never quite losing her folk roots, which you can marvel at in 'Dark the Night' and 'At the End of the Day'. The remaster also includes her Byfield home demo, 'King and Queen of England', and her solo piano reading of 'No End'.
Having started hanging around with rock royalty in the guise of Led Zeppelin and The Who, Sandy's own cravings for limelight took flight, although the experience was disastrous for her health. 1977's Rendezvous is, however, a triumph of control and phrasing. Some of it recorded 'live' in Basing Street ('Full Moon', 'No More Sad Refrains' and 'I'm A Dreamer' were all cut and scored in a matter of hours) she sounded like a woman on a mission. It is certainly audacious. Aside from her deciding to sing 'Candle in the Wind', and the gospel country classic 'Silver Threads and Golden Needles' first made famous by Wanda Jackson, she attempted a wide range of other material which can be heard on the remastered with bonus cuts issue. There are lovely takes on Lowell George's 'Easy to Slip', and Bryn Haworth's 'Moments' (her final studio recording) as well as demos and hard to find items like 'Still Waters Run Deep', a single B-side.
That latter title has added poignancy, of course, because Sandy Denny was taken from us far too young. She lived her life hard but she left a great amount of timeless music and gifted the world her chiming bell of a voice. Sure, she was a folk singer, probably the best of all, but she also had soul and the mark of greatness at her fingertips and in her throat.
Sandy Denny's second post-Fairport solo offering, produced by then-future husband Trevor Lucas, is a beautiful blend of the traditional style with which she is most often associated and a slightly more lavish sound that would become more prevalent in her later work. Lucas does an excellent job of balancing the two and creates an exquisite backdrop for Denny's gorgeous songs and majestic voice. Nearly every track has the radiance and timelessness of her best Fairport work, along with an accessibility she had merely hinted at prior to this. "Listen, Listen," with its soaring chorus and bed of strings and mandolin, the lovely "The Lady," and the layered a cappella vocal arrangement of Richard Fariña's "Quiet Joys of Brotherhood" (featuring Dave Swarbrick's haunting solo violin coda) are perfect examples of Denny's enormous talents, and only a few of the many pleasures found here. Touches such as lush strings, Allen Toussaint's horn arrangement on "For Nobody to Hear," Sneaky Pete Kleinow's steel guitar and former Fairport partner Richard Thompson's guitars and mandolin bring out the many dimensions in Denny's music without obscuring it. Sandy also boasts her best collection of original material, as well as terrific covers of Dylan's "Tomorrow Is a Long Time," featuring Linda Thompson Peters on backing vocals, and the aforementioned "Quiet Joys of Brotherhood." If you're simply looking for a quick introduction to a wonderful songwriter and one of the finest voices in popular music, go for the single-disc best-of collection, but if you would like to hear Sandy Denny's definitive (solo) musical statement, search out Sandy.
Words: Brett Hartenbach
With Like an Old Fashioned Waltz, Sandy Denny expands on the more polished moments that her previous work, Sandy (1972), had suggested. The tone throughout most of the record is melancholy and personal, with gentle piano, rich strings, and barely a trace of her British folk roots. "Solo," one of her best songs, opens the album with a sense of apprehension and yearning, while cuts such as the beautifully vivid title track, the longing "At the End of the Day," and the evocative closer "No End" nicely follow suit. The Ink Spots covers "Whispering Grass" and "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" break the mood a bit, but it's a testament to the breadth of Denny's talent that she's able to make this sort of jazz-inflected pop work for her. These two songs seem to hint at a new direction that never really materialized in her final years, though an entire album of Ink Spots tunes was actually rumored at one point. As Sandy Denny's last solo work for four years, Like an Old Fashioned Waltz remains an intimate and moving record.
Words: Brett Hartenbach
Rendezvous is a 1977 album by English folk rock singer-songwriter Sandy Denny, and was her last release before her death. Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas left Fairport Convention at the end of 1975 and Denny embarked on Rendezvous in the spring of 1976. Trevor Lucas produced the album with a contemporary rock sound designed to turn Denny into a mainstream act. The album is now generally thought to be overproduced with an excess of strings, backing vocals and instrumental overdubs. Despite this the album is felt to contain some of her finest compositions, and showed someone continuing to widen and deepen their songwriting craft, and who was responsive to new influences; Gold Dust with its Caribbean feel, the soulful torch songs Take Me Away and I'm A Dreamer and, most ambitious of all, a seven-minute orchestral tribute to the English pastoral symphony in the style of Vaughn Williams called All Our Days recorded live at CBS Studios.
When Sandy Denny departed Fairport Convention, insisting that she wanted to concentrate upon her own songwriting rather than pursue the band's exploration of traditional English music, she never meant she also intended abandoning the folk idiom itself. Although all but two of the songs on this, her first post-Fairport project, are indeed original compositions, it is readily apparent that, like former bandmate Richard Thompson, her greatest talents lay distinctly within the same traditions as the poets and balladeers of earlier centuries, while the fact that fully one-half of Fotheringay itself would eventually join Fairport illustrates the care that went into the band's formation. Even the group's name resonates -- "Fotheringay" was also one of Denny's best-loved Fairport songs. Listening to the album, too, one can see and hear the mothership all over the show, from the tight dynamics of "The Sea" to the simple beauty of "Winter Winds" and on to the showpiece "Banks of the Nile," a Napoleonic Wars-era ballad set firmly in the storytelling mold of "A Sailor's Life," "Tam Linn," and the post-Denny Fairport's own "Bonnie Bunch of Roses." The presence of producer Joe Boyd and guest vocalist Linda Peters complete the sense of a family affair.
One could argue Sandy Denny left Fairport Convention at just the right time -- her final album with the group, 1969's Liege & Lief, was both a masterpiece and a millstone, a brilliant work they would never top -- but her instincts were not as keen in terms of launching her solo career. Denny not unreasonably wanted a showcase for her own songwriting, but after leaving Fairport she opted to join Fotheringay, a talented folk-rock band but one that was neither as interesting nor as visionary as Fairport. Fotheringay splintered during the recording of their second LP, and Denny seemed to still be finding her footing as she set out to make her first solo album. The North Star Grassman and the Ravens was co-produced by Denny, fellow Fairport alumnus Richard Thompson and John Wood, and the interplay between Denny's vocals and Thompson's understated but striking lead guitar work is one of the best things about the record. With a gifted crew of U.K. folk-rockers backing her up, the sessions confirmed that Denny was still one of the most gifted and thoughtful vocalists to emerge from the British folk community, and she was also a talent to be reckoned with as a songwriter: "John the Gun," "Late November," and the title tune are only a little short of brilliant.
Words: Mark Deming
Like fellow Briton Nick Drake, Sandy Denny is one of the rare lesser-known artists whose extraordinary talents have been duly represented on disc over the years. No More Sad Refrains: The Anthology joins or replaces a number of previously available compilations, including an excellent box set, a couple of single disc best-of's, and Attix Tracks, an assortment of archival recordings. Though it may not be as expansive as the multiple disc set Who Knows Where the Time Goes, No More Sad Refrains may be the best introduction to Sandy Denny's career to hit the market: more affordable, while still covering 34 songs over two discs (as opposed to 43 over three), including a few rarities. And though the collections overlap on nearly two-thirds of the songs selected, less than a third are the same recordings, and these have been digitally remastered. The tracks are arranged chronologically from her first record with Fairport Convention in 1969 to 1977's Rendezvous, concentrating on her exquisite songwriting, along with a handful of well-chosen covers ("Banks of the Nile" is curiously the only true traditional song included). And while it may emphasize her solo years, her work with Fotheringay and the one-off rock & roll tribute The Bunch, is given a good overview as well. In regards to her time with Fairport Convention, with the exception of two cuts and an outtake from their seminal British folk-rock record Liege and Lief, it seems to be presented merely as a reference point (one song from each of her first two albums with the group), completely skipping her second time around with the band (only a pair of solo demos from this period are included). Fans who will have a majority of the material included here will be enticed by the previously unreleased demo version of "Stranger to Himself" and rarities such as "Here in Silence" and "Man of Iron," which were taken from the soundtrack to the movie Pass of Arms and issued as a single in 1972. Still, No More Sad Refrains is seemingly aimed more at the uninitiated than devotees, though it does an admirable job of covering a lot of territory and trying to please both. Either way, this is a fine retrospective of a terrific songwriter and what may well have been the most stunningly beautiful voice in British folk and pop. Included is a 22-page booklet featuring musician credits, photos, and informative liner notes by Denny biographer Clinton Heylin (No More Sad Refrains: The Story of Sandy Denny), who is also responsible for compiling a book documenting her recordings Sad Refrains: The Recordings of Sandy Denny.
Words: Brett Hartenbach
2010's mammoth, highly collectible and very limited, 19-disc Sandy Denny box set was truly a thing to behold, presenting the entirety of her career from studio to stage to front porch. It was a completist's dream, but it came with an exceptionally high price tag, which makes the appearance of 2011's Notes and the Words: A Collection of Demos and Rarities a real gift for fans, especially those who already own the complete studio recordings, whether solo or with Fotheringay, Strawbs, or Fairport Convention. The handsome, limited-edition four-disc box skims the cream from the top of the myriad rarities, BBC sessions, demos, and outtakes that made the previous collection so remarkable (an intimate bedroom recording of Jackson C. Frank's "Blues Run the Game"; an early demo of Like an Old Fashioned Waltz's "Carnival" with previously unheard melodies and lyrics; a blistering alternate studio take of a Dave Swarbrick-less "Sailor's Life," and alternate versions of Fairport classics like "Matty Groves," "Come All Ye," and "Fotheringay"), resulting in a wonderful window into one of English folk music's most magnificent voices.
Words: James Christopher Monger
Widely regarded as one of the most important folk-rock singers of her generation, former Fairport Convention vocalist Sandy Denny's solo back catalog appeared destined to consist of just four studio albums following her untimely death from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 31. However, due to the discovery of 20 sets of unrecorded lyrics by writer/artist Phil Smee (who was granted access to a treasure trove of manuscripts and notebooks for a BBC box set), her small but influential canon of work has now been unexpectedly added to 33 years on. Issued with the responsibility of setting her highly personal words to music is British singer/songwriter Thea Gilmore, a longtime admirer who has often been compared to the late troubled star, and as evident on 2004 covers album Loft Music and her recent track-by-track interpretation of Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding, has plenty of experience performing other artists' work. It's an inspired matchup. Assisted by regular producer Nigel Stonier, Gilmore avoids the temptation to plant the poetic lyrics into a contemporary setting and instead serves up ten timeless folk-rock arrangements that could well have been composed by Denny herself. The heartbreaking balladry of "Song No. 4" ("I'm in such a terrible state/And my country's just like me") and the eerie chamber folk of "Pain in My Heart" superbly reflect Denny's apparent demon-battling frame of mind; "Georgia" is a beautifully poignant lullaby to the daughter she would tragically never get to know; while the lushly orchestrated opener "Glistening Bay," the rousing country swing of the title track, and the upbeat Celtic-tinged ode to homesickness, "London," would all have comfortably fit onto her 1977 swan song, Rendezvous. Far from tainting Denny's legacy, Don't Stop Singing is a unique and affectionate eulogy that helps to build upon it even further.
Words: Jon O'Brien
One of the finest singers Englnd has ever produced, Sandy Denny was a linchpin of the original Fairport Convention. Delivering, a radical mixture of Dylan covers and Renaissance music, she helped make Fairport leaders of Britain's '60s Folk explosion. Her very earliest recordings were straight Folk workouts with mostly just voice and guitar digging into a revealing selection of cover tunes and her last recordings suggesting a never-developed Jazz direction. This CD features the best of her BBC recordings, regarded by many to contain her finest works and is compiled from the critically acclaimed Live At The BBC four disc box set and is a wonderful introduction to Sandy's BBC recordings and is considered by many to contain some of her finest recordings.
Gold Dust: Live at the Royalty captures Sandy Denny's final concert. The show (performed on Sunday, November 27, 1977) was intended to be the first date of an 11-city tour, but it turned out to be her last show ever. It certainly wasn't the way anyone wanted Denny to leave the stage, but it remains an affecting, surprising farewell. There are familiar items, to be sure, but the concert also finds her breaking new ground and moving away from traditional folk-rock to an edgier sound. These are subtle distinctions that only hardcore fans will notice, but those fans will find Gold Dust a minor treasure.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine