From: Pam Winters, 6 January 1998
Fifty-one years ago today, a baby was born in London. I'm sure her parents loved her. She completed a family straight out of popular song: "A boy for you, a girl for me/Can't you see how happy we will be!" But beyond that little family, no one paid much attention.
Everybody changes somebody's life. A few people, sometimes in spite of themselves, change a lot of lives. Some go on changing lives well after their own lives have ended.
Alexandra Elene Maclean Denny, in a way, has accomplished as much in the 20 years since her death as in the 31 years that preceded it. Those of us who never knew her are nonetheless lucky that she was here for a little while, and that her music is here still.
I'm going to play something joyous tonight, something that would have made Sandy laugh to think about singing it. Maybe "Down in the Flood" or "Until the Real Thing Comes Along." That's the Sandy I like best, the one who laughed. "She was a real character," people have told me, with affection in their voices. And I've watched their eyes glance back as if maybe they could glimpse her again. Listen, listen: she's still there, in a way, if we want her to be.
People celebrate their own birthdays, but especially since Sandy's not around, we should all celebrate 6 January in her honor. So happy birthday to all of you, especially to those who were fortunate enough to know her. Happy birthday to us all.
Pam wrote: "Everybody changes somebody's life. A few people, sometimes in spite of themselves, change a lot of lives. Some go on changing lives well after their own lives have ended. Alexandra Elene Maclean Denny, in a way, has accomplished as much in the 20 years since her death as in the 31 years that preceded it. Those of us who never knew her are nonetheless lucky that she was here for a little while, and that her music is here still."
May be lucky is not exactly what I feel. Honoured for being touched by the marvellous voice she had and even more by something she seemed to carry somewhere between mind and soul (still thinking...) that give to her songs this touch of inaccessible beauty over sadness and hope. I guess she was such a character...
Right, this merit my contribution to cheers in birthday date memory. To all of you too! Hoping reading soon more on your book. Emmanuelle
From: Emmanuelle, 17 April 1998
"the most important problem of lonely people is
that's the use of freedom when you're alone
that's the problem that they cannot solve in any way
freedom has to be shared with another guilt lover
for not to let freedom look like the coldness of a dead planet..."
When love is one's way, one never feel alone because freedom becomes then a permanent state and is warmed by the burning light inside...
Dear Levent, I often think of you and every Sandy Denny's friends and lovers meeting on your "super-line"... I should be with you more but with heart, but I prefer to use the web-way as less as possible. Today is a special day because my friend Denis called me from the studio where he just finished the out-take for "his" version of the Sandy's song "Jan The Gitan" -in french! it should the third of her song translated, isn't it?... For the moment this is a "rough" work not meant for being edited. He told me that it was a way for an homage in this particular day of memory of her tragical accident, homage that he wanted to share with you all.
I hope you're as well as I am on my own way and wish you the best. Still loving you all.
It was twenty years ago today... I was driving home during the final days of my university career, when a red traffic light forced me to stop at the top of Hampstead High Street. Out of habit, I looked over to the other side of the road, at the entrance to the underground station; a rack of newspapers was standing there, and I could read the Melody Maker headline - Sandy Denny dead. I immediately wheeled the motorbike over to the other side of the road, and bought a copy of the deadly MM (which I had given up reading, after the rise of punk). The rest you all know.
Ten years ago, I was doing guard duty on the kibbutz and so was listening to the radio (I never listen normally, but one has to listen to something to help the time pass whilst guarding); a young South African immigrant called Charlie Solomon dedicated his entire 10pm show to the memory of Sandy. I had never even considered the possibility of Sandy being played on Israeli radio, so the fact that she received an hour was totally incomprehensible.
I shall play "Autopsy" again; I have listened to that song probably once every two weeks for the last 28 years, and its beauty never fails to move me. Keep well,
I'm no touch typist, but heres the transcription of todays article (Guardian, G2, pp.8-9)
A Wound That Never Healed
Sandy Denny, the British Baez, died tragically at 31. Now two decades later, we are finally realising how good she was. Robin Denselow reports:
Twenty years ago this week the finest British female singer of the last three decades died after a tragic accident. Sandy Denny fell down the stairs of a friend's house, struck her head, and went into a coma. She never regained consciousness. She was 31. At the funeral, a lone piper played The Flowers Of The Forest. I was one of the small group of her friends and fans who stood around the grave that day wondering how she would be remembered.
Sandy was the first great female British singer of the rock era, an unlikely, genial and slightly chubby star whose quiet persona changed utterly once she started singing. Until Sandy came along, the music scene of the sixties had been dominated almost completely by men and by bands, apart from the odd blues singer like Maggie Bell and traditionalists like Norma Waterson.
It was a time when everything and everybody seemed to be connected - there were rock bands experimenting in underground clubs like UFO, and there were eccentrics like Roy Harper or the Incredible String Band emerging through the folk circuit. Sandy managed to combine both these scenes, changing the face of British music almost by accident.
She became the leading vocalist of the new and vibrant British folk-rock scene after she sang a few of her favourite trad songs to her band, Fairport Convention, one night in a dressing room. "We thought, 'What could we do that was different?' said Sandy, "so I sang them some songs." No one in the band seemed to realise the importance of the experiment at first, but Fairport's blend of traditional narrative songs and a sturdy rock band backing became one of the distinctive English rock styles of the sixties and seventies.
Then she moved on, concentrating on her own melancholy songs, many of them obsessed with death, their oblique lyrics utterly at odds with her jovial self. Again, she was moving the British music Scene into new territory, and in the process she became an icon, a home-grown answer to both Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell.
She hasn't been forgotten, 20 years on, but it's the sort of anniversary this self-effacing lady might have expected. Fairport Convention, who produced their greatest work when Sandy and Richard Thompson were part of the line-up, are "not planning to do anything special", but they did revive her best known song Who Knows Where The Time Goes on an album last year. Island records are marking the occasion with a series of releases, starting with Gold Dust, a recording of her last concert at London's Royalty Theatre in November 1977. Unfortunately it would't be in the shops until a month after the anniversary has passed.
It's unfortunate too that there's been a dispute over another "new" Denny album. Released by Strange Fruit, The BBC Sessions 1971-73, was withdrawn on the day it was released after a contractual dispute between record companies. It was special because it's the only recording on which Sandy can be heard playing solo. It's a tribute to Denny's lasting appeal that even this album-that-never-was found its way onto several "best of the year" listings at Christmas.
That might have amused her, in her droll fashion, and she would have been flattered that everyone from Blur to Sonic Youth currently claim to be Denny fans. But she would have acted as if she didn't quite believe it, for despite her achievements she remained painfully modest, even insecure about her work. If she was ever aware of the extent of her talent, she never showed it.
She may have acted at times as if she had no real confidence in herself, but once she started singing she displayed an emotional intensity that was applied to anything from the traditional songs to ragtime or her own haunting ballads.
It's easy to see why she was never quite treated as a superstar in her lifetime (even if she was voted Britain's best female singer time and again in the music press), why she suffered so badly from the whims of pop fashion, and why fellow musicians so admired her. As her latest live releases show, there was a timeless quality to her work. Her career started in a typical mid-sixties fashion. A student at Kensington Art College, she started on the folk circuit. "I liked singing", she told me, "but I was frowned on by the more ethnic folkies." She got bored "flitting around the country by myself. Finding my way to obscure pub", so she joined a then-struggling band, The Strawbs, with whom she recorded one album, before auditioning for Fairport Convention. She confessed, after she'd got the job, that she thought they were American. They certainly sounded that way, with their West Coast blend of soft-rock and Dylan songs. But while she was with them, they developed their interest in folk-rock. Sandy's strong, flexible voice was a match for both the rousing guitar work of Richard Thompson and the fiddle-playing of Dave Swarbrick. But her own song-writhing was developing too, and Who Knows Where The Time Goes was to be a bestseller for the American singer Judy Collins.
Denny moved on, just as the Fairports were becoming famous. At the end of 1969 she started a new band, Fotheringay, with the Australian guitarist Trevor Lucas, whom she was to marry three years later. Soon she moved on yet again, this time to a solo career. She was now the most important woman on the British music scene, but typically refused to act the part. Then 23, she lived in Fulham with Lucas, three cats and an enormous dog, and seemed happy to sit around, making tea, telling jokes, and talking about anything other than her career. I once asked if she was ambitious. "No, yes. Well, I just plod. It just happens." She wouldn't discuss what her songs were about. "They are biographical. About 10 people can understand them. I just take a story and whittle it down to essentials. I wouldn't write songs if they don'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 a bit more elusive than that." She elaborated by attacking John Lennon for being too explicit. "He really blew his cool when he explained exactly how he wrote Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds." It wasn't worth pursuing the subject much further.
She recorded three mostly introspective solo albums between 1971 and 1973, but she was still as restless as ever. She made an excursion into rock theatrics, appearing alongside The Who and playing the part of The Nurse in Tommy, proving again that her clear, exquisite voice was a match for any rousing backing. For a while she rejoined Fairport Convention (which now included her husband), but quit once again to make another solo album, Rendezvous, in 1977. By then she was panning to move to America with Lucas and their daughter, Georgia, who was born nine months before her death. She never had a chance to relaunch her career in the States, where the most English of singers might, ironically, have reached a wider audience.
Yesterday's Daily Telegraph piece about Sandy is below.
Mark Hudson reveals the tragic tale of the British Joni Mitchell; Sandy Denny
The word sexy is appended these days to every kind of musical performe -not just half- clad techno divas and gravel-voiced soul men, but octogenarian Cubans, classical cellists, even Early Music sopranos. But Sandy Denny?
Twenty-seven years after her death, Denny's status as a pre-eminent folk voice remains undiminished. Her anthem "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" is one of the great English songs. But sexy? Aren't female folk singers all plain-speaking earth mothers? Isn't there something about folk in general - and British folk in particular- that is wilfully un-erotic?
Yet here's the then 20-year-old Denny, gazing fresh-faced yet pensive from a new collection of her earliest recordings, looking subtly yet undeniably sexy. These songs from 1967 have a heart-rending purity and sincerity that make her later recordings with Fairport Convention and others sound opulent by comparison.
There's the sense here of potential unfulfilled, not just by Denny, but by folk as a whole. If Denny, for all her influence, remains an unsung figure, isn't that how the folkies like it?
Younger singers such as Eliza Carthy and Kate Rusby have earned folk a new respect, but they've remained very much inside the genre. Yet attitudes to folk are changing. Martin Scorsese's Dylan documentary highlighted the singer's need to move on from folk's restrictions, and had the unintended effect of making this music's idealism and wilful marginality seem intriguing and admirable.
Denny's story is about the conflict between remaining on those cosy margins and reaching out for a mainstream success that she was too insecure ever to fully grasp. "Musically, she was the business," says producer Joe Boyd, who worked on four of Denny's albums. "Who Knows..." was the first song she wrote. She knew she was good musically. Yet in every other way, she was very lacking in confidence."
Born and raised in Wimbledon, Alexandra Denny made her folk club debut as a student at Kingston College of Art. Before long, she had outgrown that insular circuit, and joined folk-rock band Fairport Convention.
She was instrumental in moving the group away from imitating the Byrds and Jefferson Airplane towards British traditional music. Yet her time with the Fairports highlighted the conundrum of whether she was a traditional performer or a singer-songwriter of the kind exemplified by Joni Mitchell. There's no reason she couldn't have been both, but the fact that many folkies still deny Denny was ever a real folk singer is indicative of how folk torments itself over such issues.
In 1969, just as Fairport were on the brink of mainstream success, Denny left to form Fotheringay, with her boyfriend (later husband) Trevor Lucas. On one level it made sense: Fairport wanted to take a more traditional direction, while Denny wanted to concentrate on her own songs. Yet, on another level, you get a sense of self-doubt smothering her potential.
She was twice voted best female singer by Melody Maker -an almost unimaginable accolade in the early 1970s. Yet it was the American Judy Collins who had a big hit with "Who Knows Where The Time Goes", not Denny herself, whose biggest exposure came through her appearance on the Led Zeppelin song "The Battle of Evermore".
"She wanted in a way to become more mainstream," says Boyd. "But her high standards didn't allow her to do anything cheesy. Yet when she did compromise, it had the effect of diluting her talent without delivering mainstream success."
Denny died at 32 after falling down a flight of stairs. This was a tragic accident, yet it's difficult not to see her as martyred by being British, female and folk. "She could be very lively and funny," says Boyd. "But she was insecure. She didn't see herself as glamorous, and she bent herself out of shape to accommodate her personal relationships in ways a man probably wouldn't have done."
Most singing is masked by style, but there is nothing between you and Denny - her cool, exquisitely unaffected delivery is redolent both of a timeless pastoral England and her mundane, suburban upbringing. But did she finally have what it took to reach the level of American peers such as Joni Mitchell?
"Musically, certainly," says Boyd. "If she could have played extensively in America, she would have found a big audience that wasn't prejudiced against folk the way the British are. But to do that, she would have had to have flown a lot, and she was terrified of flying."