Gold Dust

From: Olivier Le Dour, 29 May 1998

I am sure that many readers will find the following piece downloaded from today's "Irish Times" website interesting.


A mysterious album called The BBC Sessions, on the Strange Fruit label and featuring the voice of Sandy Denny, was released for a period of 24 hours last year. Various lawyers from various record companies had it pulled from the Shelves of the record shops after its all-too-brief availability, but still The BBC sessions made it on to many a critic's "best albums of the year" list. The fascination with Sandy Denny continues apace. Called the finest British female singer of the last three decades (and when the competition includes Maggie Bell, Norma Watterson and June Tabor, that ain't half bad) she helped break down the "folk" and "rock" boundaries, mainly through her work with Richard Thompson in Fairport Convention, and was seen as a home-grown answer to Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell.

Now cited by both Blur and Sonic Youth as "the best female rock singer ever", her life has disturbing parallels with that of Nick Drake: both were English singer-songwriters, both were fixated on morbid themes, both died at an early age and both have only been truly acknowledged decades after their death. It wasn't just her awesome voice that propelled her into "retro cult", it was the quality of her s ongwriting - lyrical and romantic but always with a Emily Dickinson type twist, she's probably best remembered for Who Knows Where The Time Goes (famously covered by Judy Collins) but there's a lot more to her than that.

Born in 1947 and attending the same art college as Jimmy Page, she first made a name for herself on the thriving folk club circuit in London in the 1960s. Singing Tom Paxton covers as well as a rake of her own stuff, she soon tired of the folkie purists, or the "ethnic folkies" as she called them, and after one too many solo tours of Britain, she joined the then-unknown Strawbs (way before their Part Of The Union mini-success).

Tiring of their limited sound, she auditioned for the band that were then the talk of the town, Fairport Convention. Innocently, she presmumed the band to be American due to their West Coast sound of soft folk-inflected rock and Byrds-like arrangements, but Sandy's strong, earthy voice soon brought them to a different level; she is credited with curbing some of their "ethnic" excesses and helping the band to cross over to contemporary music territory.

Interestingly, she left the band when they decided they would take the purist path at the expense of original material, and she went on to form Fotheringay, who may only be a footnote in the history of popular music, but a pretty impressive footnote they remain. Her songwriting came to attract as much, if not more, attention as her voice, mainly because of her other-worldly lyrical ability. "The songs are biographical but only about 10 people can understand them," she once said. "I just take a story and whittle it down to essentials. I wouldn't write songs if they didn't mean something to me, but I'm not prepared to tell everyone about my private life like Joni Mitchell does.

I like to be more elusive than that. Take John Lennon, I think he really blew his cool when he explained exactly how he wrote Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds." Towards the end of her life, she resumed her solo career, and albums like North Star Grassman And The Ravens (1971), which features the song John The Gun, remain as evocative and eloquent as ever - her powerful voice and poetic lyrics would probably have her sounding like Portishead, or maybe Garbage, if she was around today.

On the eve of a massive American tour in 1978 and aged just 31, she fell down the stairs of a friend's house and lapsed into a coma from which she never awoke. A 1977 live album has just been released and is doing very nicely, thank you; and as more and more people get switched on to her wondrous voice and words, expect more and more of her material to be re-released, pending lawyers sorting everything out. Shameful that it took us 20 years to realise just how good she was.

Gold Dust - Sandy Denny Live At The Royalty has just been released by Island/ Polygram Records.

From: John Penhallow, 30 May 1998

A 1977 live album has just been released and is doing very nicely, thank you; and as more and more people get switched on to her wondrous voice and words, expect more and more of her material to be re-released, pending lawyers sorting everything out. Shameful that it took us 20 years to realise just how good she was.

There's an unsustantiated optomistic statement for you!! I can assure all Sandy fans in this group that there is no more in the cupboard worthy of a CD release. All I want to see is a settlement of the BBC Sessions between Polygram, the BBC and Strange Fruit so that all those new fans drawn in by the publicity of Mojo, Irish Times and the Guardian get another chance to buy the CD as a "follow-up" to Gold Dust, hopefully by Christmas. This is just my optimistic wish that's all.

Reasonably assessed, without a fans heart overruling one's head, take another look at the Attic Tracks cassettes and tell me if there is anything in there that would gel as an album with a meaning for both fans and Sandy's attractions. Sure there's some interesting demos and the All our Days choral and orchestral versions but they formed part of the Rendezvous sessions and belong on an extended re-issue of Rendezvous to make any sense and that's just unlikely to happen.

This Gold Dust release is like "The End" - all that remains is the lost Fotheringay BBC sessions and their abandoned second album tracks like John the Gun as mentioned in the Mojo article and by Jerry D as a version with his dad taking a sax solo, but they are not surfacing despite many hours of research by Martin Jonas and others. The Attic Tracks CD was the mop up CD of the best of the outtakes" and it still is very enjoyable as 70 minute roundup record of varying styles and performances of Sandy and Trevor - many that didn't "fit" with the albums being completed at the time they were recorded or were just bits of fun to warm up their hands before getting serious.

I don't think anyone would be too interested in the early BBC demos as Sandy's singing style was still in early development and better songs and performances are still available on the Mooncrest and Strawbs CDs. Real long term fans can still purchase the AT3 cassette and, if pestered, I'll run off an AT1 to order although the master is getting old and I'm not going to reassemble it again.

Let's just enjoy what we've got as listed in Mojo's discography and hope that enough new fans buy enough of the catalague each year to keep them in print. Keep those reviews and comments on Gold Dust happening - Liz and I sure love reading them - and when we get our stock - hopefully next week - we'll be able to discuss favourite track, most improved song over the bootleg or AT3 version, Jerry's best solo and if you reckon any song is preferred to the original studio version.
From: Levent Varlik, 5 January 1999

Today I've received a mail from the Fairport List about the correct track listing of Sandy's Gold Dust. I'm copying the info below with the "possible" permission of Brent Burhans.

The actual sequence of the concert: 9, 14, 5, 8, 3, 10, 6, 11, 13, 7, 12, 1, 2, 4, 15, 17, 16. I assume the first performed song was CD track 9 (Solo), the second performed song was CD track 14 (Grassman).

That is correct. Program the "Gold Dust" CD in the above order, and you will have the correct sequence of the actual concert, according to John Penhallow. 

After comparing the sequencing of "Gold Dust" to that of the original cassette release, the bootleg CD and Clinton Heylin's listing in "Sad Refrains: The Recordings Of Sandy Denny 1966-1977", I wrote John asking for the actual performance order of the concert, which he kindly provided me. It makes for a different listening experience, though one does have to ignore the abrupt gaps in the between-song applause caused by resequencing the CD. Beginning the concert with 'Solo' is a considerable change from beginning with 'For Shame Of Doing Wrong', for instance. As for the end, I think that WKWTTG was probably the first of two encores ('No More Sad Refrains' being the second), rather than the last song of the concert. With virtually all the between-song applause and chat missing, it's hard to tell for sure. Is the "concert" better because of the resequencing? Not to my ears, but I readily admit to being a "purist". As with the "improvement" of the overdubs, I prefer the un-improved original, including the original performance order of the concert; not the order that someone-20 years later-thinks would sound better.

From: John Rees, 7 August 2013

I have done a bit of an update on the Wikipedia Entry for Sandy's "Gold Dust" album here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_Dust_%28Sandy_Denny_album%29 and raised a few unresolved issues on the associated "talk" page. Any assistance with / comments on these would be welcome! Regard - Tony Rees, Australia

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