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Re: I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 11:05 am
by Chris P
Adam Blake wrote:Most of my writing is up on my neglected blog anyway : http://ab77blues.blogspot.co.uk


yep I read your (beautifully recounted) Ari piece again the last month or two (and commented below it), but I'll be darned if I can find it now. No search facility on your blog? & excruciating navigation potential! or is that just me. Which company does 'blogspot', I'd like to give them a rocket on user friendly sites

Would also like to read the Sandy one, if you've posted it there. Could you supply links Adam?

Re: I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 1:07 pm
by Adam Blake
I couldn't find your comment, Chris. But I can't navigate that blog. Judy set it up for me some years ago and I am a helpless buffoon. As regards my Sandy essay - here you go. Slightly embarrassed at the writing now, and I don't necessarily agree with myself anymore (her songwriting has grown on me over the years) but there are a couple of points that I made that seem worth re-iterating:

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This is a piece I wrote in 1988. I wished that Lester Bangs had written an obituary for Sandy Denny so I decided to try and write one myself. Revised slightly in 2000.

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For Sandy Denny

What’d she have to go and die for? This woman, this heartbreaker. Wasn’t it enough that she could make me weep over songs that were moribund 100 years before I was born? Anyone else falls down a flight of stairs and they maybe bruise their hip or sprain their ankle. Not Sandy Denny, oh no, she had to have a cerebral haemorrhage and die. God, what a waste. What a stupid, senseless, criminal waste. Maybe she’d done all her best stuff anyway, and was doing us all a favour. That’s harsh. So what? Aren’t we always callous? What do we care if we make the parents cry and the friends spit blood? But in this case it’s inappropriate. Harshness in this discussion would only indicate a profound misunderstanding of Sandy Denny’s life and art. What matters is that she breathed life into a dead culture: with the purity of her voice and the sincerity and warmth of her spirit she brought eyesight to the blind, caused the lame to walk, the dumb to talk. Suddenly all those poor dead soldiers, those star-crossed lovers, those cruel sea captains, wicked goblins, calculating witches – all those forgotten ciphers of the long dead, pagan, oral culture of these islands found a voice, true and penetrating. Tam Lyn stirred in his yew tree, poor Nancy wailed for her lover – slaughtered on the banks of the Nile, Lord Donald fulfilled his murderous wrath at his faithless wife and the hapless Matty Groves; they and their companions in our ancient folklore lived again, to inform and amuse and distress a generation they would scarcely have believed possible.

She didn’t just sing folk songs, in fact, her own songs and the songs of her contemporaries far outnumber the traditional elements in her catalogue. But I would always be scanning the label for a Trad.Arr. Denny, or better still, a Trad. Arr. Fairport, because it was her work with Fairport Convention that will be treasured as long as there are people with, as Jimi Hendrix put it, “any kinda hearts and ears”. She joined them in 1968, even though she thought their album was “dreadful”, because she was fed up with trudging round the folk clubs on her own. And there it is on the first track of the first album she made with them, that voice: so calm and serene, so human and accessible. But it’s not just that. That may be the most important thing but there’s also the musicology bit – which does apply. She had an unerring, impeccable knack for phrasing. Tie-ing a note across an irregular number of beats, Sandy always finished what she started with breath and time to spare. She had the very, very rare gift of being able to make time do her bidding. I don’t want to start using words like rallantando and sostenuto because then it gets esoteric and piss-elegant and also, far worse, misses the point. Sandy wasn’t employing the devices of a trained, professional singer, she was singing from the heart and if she held onto a note, it was because the words she was singing were especially important. She had no academic reverence for these songs. No stifling kid-gloves or suffocating archivist awe. She sang them because she liked them, because they told real stories and brought with them messages from dead ages. When Sandy sings on ‘A Sailor’s Life’: “She wrung her hands, and she tore her hair, she was like a young girl in gra-a-a-a-ave despair”, the anguish of the lover precariously perched in a little boat on an endless ocean becomes so real it hurts – and then the centuries melt and one human being’s mortal dread becomes another’s art becomes another’s tears. That was Sandy Denny’s achievement.

She left the Fairports after three albums – their best by far - and put her own Fotheringay band together. This didn’t last long, leaving only one album which contains The Banks of the Nile – possibly her greatest recorded performance. She made a couple of classy but patchy solo albums, rejoined Fairport, left again, made another classy but patchy solo album, and then fell down those fucking stairs.

Trouble is, I think she was one of those people who don’t realise how gifted they are. Modest, unassuming, diffident, infuriating. The plain fact is that her performances of her own and her contemporaries’ songs weren’t as good as her singing folk. Perhaps it was because the traditional material was not her own that she could approach it so unselfconsciously, with such sublime effortlessness. Whatever, singing her own songs against the big, professional productions on her solo albums she was never so impressive as when she sang folk songs in front of the amiable clutter of the Fairports. Easy to say she turned slick but it wouldn’t be true. Anyone who rushed out to buy the big boxed set when it came out will testify that the giggly, nervous woman who introduces track one – recorded at her last ever gig – was neither slick nor professionally polished in any way.

People are so damned reverent. The compilers of that boxed set were far too close to Sandy the person. Everyone I know who bought it never plays it. Like me, they taped the tracks they wanted and let the box gather dust. The Fairport albums, however, are worn and scratched and dog-eared. The compilers of the box wanted us all to know what a sensitive and brilliant songwriter Sandy was. The message reads that her finest work consisted of obscure lyrics, finely crafted arrangements, tasteful string sections etc etc – but this is chaff compared to one line from The Banks of the Nile or She Moved Through the Fair, or even her devil-may-care roistering versions of Bob Dylan’s Million Dollar Bash or Down in the Flood.

The point is that Sandy Denny is dead but when she was alive she recorded some dozen or so folk songs that are quite timeless and transcendent; representing, as they do, the finest flowering of British folk singing and which, on their release, succeeded in imbuing the musical manifestations of an ancient, indigenous oral tradition with new life, at a time when that tradition had never been closer to extinction.

And now? Sandy’s been dead for a long time now, 22 years and counting, and the folk tradition is pretty much extinct. Now everything has inverted commas around it and how can folk survive that? No. Maybe she was singing those old, old songs for us down here through some kind of divine oversight. An oversight that took 31 years to be noticed and rectified. I can’t imagine why else she didn’t just sprain her ankle.

“So come all ye roving minstrels, and together we will try
To rouse the spirit of the earth, and move the rolling tide.”

© 2000 Adam Blake

Re: I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 3:22 pm
by Chris P
Adam's Sandy piece (I haven't read it yet) in a easier to read format at his blogspot:

http://ab77blues.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/for-sandy-denny-and-lester-bangs.html

Re: I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 5:03 pm
by AndyM
A lovely piece, Adam. Though it's noteworthy you don't even mention 'Who Knows Where The Time Goes', an omission so striking it must be deliberate. Too overplayed a track, perhaps ? (It'll be getting another outing at my funeral, just to warn you.)

Re: I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 5:13 pm
by Adam Blake
AndyM wrote:Though it's noteworthy you don't even mention 'Who Knows Where The Time Goes', an omission so striking it must be deliberate.



Not consciously, but I wanted to make the point that her singing of traditional folk songs was more important than her own songwriting - a point with which I am inclined to disagree nowadays (critical hindsight is a wonderful thing!) And now "Who Knows..." has assumed the dimensions of a traditional folk song - and quite rightly so.

Re: I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 5:19 pm
by AndyM
I think you were right about the superiority of the trad stuff, with the lone & miraculous exception of WKWTTG, which outstrips her other compositions by such a margin it's a little spooky.

Re: I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 6:38 pm
by Chris P
oh come on fellers, some of Sandy's own songs are simply beautiful & kinda cosmically & wondrously human if melancholy and really truly evocative. North Star Grassman album's great. But I prefer mi uppers! I look forward to reading Adam's Sandy writing before too long, even if it is now a snapshot of an earlier take

edit: super-human writing to my cognitive & emotional faculties. I had read it before but a long time ago. I'm in awe of the musical analysis as well & so pleased that a musician & a diviner has written it down, for us youngsters & mere musical tinkerers! I hope all Sandy appreciators and newcomers to this country's musical table on the planet at least get a chance to read this. Sing, sing. Sing on, through oceans, trees and water (other locations are available!)

Re: I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 7:38 pm
by Adam Blake
Thank you, Chris. It's OK, but it's difficult to write about something with which you feel a strong emotional tie. Sandy's music has a very special place in my heart and I thought then that the only way to approach it is by wearing that heart firmly on my sleeve. But it's been a long time now, and I have learned a bit more about folk music in the interim - how much Sandy got from Anne Briggs for a start - and also I find that some of her own songs affect me almost as much as her trad folk singing - "Sweet Rosemary", "It Suits Me Well", "No End", "Bushes And Briars", "Crazy Lady Blues" - they are all perfect in their way. But Andy is right about "Who Knows Where The Time Goes" - it is an absolute classic, and a standard. One of the best English songs of the last 50 years. That she wrote it when she was 19 is a little spooky. The muse was most definitely channeling her and not the other way round.

Re: I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 7:54 pm
by Chris P
by the way 1988!!!

you wrote that when you were even younger than you are now. Gobsmacking ennit(innit)! For ree-al! Your music teachers must have been really special, and boy, can you write Adam

Listening to Judy C's Who Knows Where The Time Goes album now

Re: I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 8:44 pm
by NormanD
A Night of Sandy Denny

To celebrate the publication of I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny by Mick Houghton (March 5), Faber Social will be presenting of night dedicated to all things Sandy.

Please join us on Tuesday March 3 2015 at one of London’s last original folk clubs, The Troubadour, for a night of music, discussion and film featuring:

Lavinia Blackwall (Trembling Bells) playing the music of Sandy Denny

Mick Houghton in discussion with Simon Nicol (Fairport Convention), Joe Boyd and Mark Cooper (BBC)

Plus screening footage of Sandy and a gallery of rare photographs and sketches.

We will also have early copies of I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn for sale on the night.

March 3 2015

The Troubadour, 263-7 Old Brompton Road, London, SW5 9JA

Doors 19:00. Programme starts at 19:30
- See more at: http://fabersocial.co.uk/2015/01/a-nigh ... mUrU5.dpuf

Re: I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 8:48 pm
by Adam Blake
Sadly, I have a gig that night. Hope someone goes and can report back.

Re: I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

PostPosted: Sun Mar 01, 2015 8:54 pm
by Chris P
NormanD wrote:A Night of Sandy Denny
Please join us on Tuesday March 3 2015 at one of London’s last original folk clubs, The Troubadour, for a night of music, discussion and film


I would hope that they have arranged for some filming. This needs to go beyond london, for sandy's legacy and people even younger than Joe Boyd and Mick Houghton

Re: I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2015 3:48 pm
by john poole
An extract from the book is available to read for free (but you have to register) on Rock's Backpages
http://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/A ... on-c-frank

Re: I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2015 6:15 pm
by Chris P
from Joe Boyd's newsletter:

I went straight from the BBC to the Troubadour in Earl’s Court for the launch of Mick Houghton’s biography of Sandy Denny, I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn.
(published by Faber & Faber). It was a stirring evening, with rare colour footage of Sandy in her prime, a panel including myself, Simon Nicol, Mark Cooper
(the man responsible for the Jools Holland Show and the extraordinary endless supply of excellent music documentaries Friday nights on BBC4) and Mick
Houghton. After the chat, Ashley Hutchings’ talented son Blair Dunlop sang two of Sandy’s songs, then accompanied Lavinia Blackwall (from Trembling
Bells) who sang four more of them, including a heart-stopping take on “Solo”. I first heard Lavinia six years ago when she took part in my Incredible String
Band tribute concert at the Barbican and have been enjoying her ever-maturing singing since then.

Re: I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

PostPosted: Wed Mar 18, 2015 7:33 pm
by Chris P