Wrestling With The Angel, Chapter 10

If you’re a new visitor to this blog, the purpose of my Wrestling With The Angel series (or category) is to highlight and share individual songs that are on a list of mine entitled: Devastatingly Great Songs. The title phrase, “Wrestling With The Angel,” is my paraphrase of a line from a poem by Herman Melville called “Art.” You can read the complete poem in my archived post of November 4, 2011: “The Source.”

1967, 1968 and 1969 were banner years for folksinger and guitarist Sandy Denny.

Sandy – born Alexandra Elene MacLean Denny on January 6, 1947 in Merton Park, London, England – started 1967 as a student at London’s Kingston College of Art (where musicians John Renbourn, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page were among her classmates). She was also a frequent and increasingly popular performer on the London area’s extensive circuit of Folk music clubs.

Sandy made her first professional recordings in early 1967 for Saga Records. Those sessions resulted in the release of two albums: Alex Campbell & Friends in March and Sandy and Johnny in April. (Alex Campbell was a Scottish folksinger/guitarist and Johnny Silvo was a British Folk and Blues singer/guitarist.) Among Sandy’s contributions to those albums were her renditions of “Pretty Polly” and “The False Bride” (both traditional Folk songs) and “The Last Thing On My Mind” by the contemporary American songwriter Tom Paxton.

In mid 1967, Sandy was performing one evening at The Troubadour folk club in London. Dave Cousins, leader of The Strawbs, a British Folk/Rock group, was in the audience. Years later, Cousins wrote about that evening: “She was sitting on a stool playing an old Gibson guitar, about eighteen, wearing a white dress, a white straw hat, with long blond hair and singing like an angel. I don’t know what came over me but I went up to her immediately afterwards, introduced myself and invited her to join The Strawbs.”

Sandy left art school behind and, in July 1967, travelled with The Strawbs to Copenhagen, Denmark to record their first album. Among the 13 songs the band recorded for that album was a Sandy Denny original. That song, only the second song Sandy had written, was called “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?”

That album, All Our Own Work, was unfortunately not released until 1973.

In early 1968, however, a tape of “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?” from the All Our Own Work sessions ended up in the hands of David Anderle, a producer for the Amercian record company, Elektra Records.

In June of 1968, David was producing an album for Judy Collins at Elektra’s studios in Los Angeles, California. He played the tape of Sandy Denny singing “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?” for Judy on a little tape player in his office. In her 2011 autobiography, Suite Judy Blue Eyes: My Life In Music, Judy remembered that time: “I was ready to catch the gems when they fell into my lap.”

“Who Knows Where The Time Goes?” became the title song of Judy Collins’ eighth album, taking its place among songs by Ian Tyson, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Released in November, 1968, the LP “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” sold over 500,000 copies in the United States and in 1969 was certified as a Gold Album.

Meanwhile in England in June of 1968, Sandy Denny had left The Strawbs and, wanting to “do something more with my voice,” took an audition with the Folk/Rock band Fairport Convention. Fairport Convention had just released their first album and were looking for a vocalist to replace Judy Dyble, their original lead singer, who’d left the band.

Simon Nicol – singer, guitarist and founding member of Fairport Convention – has often recounted that among the many who auditioned, Sandy Denny stood out “like a clean glass in a sink full of dirty dishes.”

Sandy Denny immediately joined Fairport Convention in a London recording studio to begin the five months of work it would take to produce the band’s second album. Released in January 1969, What We Did On Our Holidays featured a new Sandy Denny original, “Fotheringay,” as the first track on the LP.

That same month, Fairport Convention began work on their next album, Unhalfbricking. That album, released in July 1969, contained two songs by Sandy Denny: “Autopsy” and the now internationally-well-known, “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?”

Here is that recording.

Listen, listen.

 

The musicians on that recording are: Sandy Denny, vocals; Richard Thompson, electric guitar; Simon Nicol, acoustic guitar; Ashley Hutchings, bass guitar; and Martin Lamble, drums. The couple standing by the gate in the picture on the album cover are Sandy Denny’s parents.

In 2007, that recording of “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?” was selected by the listeners of BBC Radio 2 as their “Favorite Folk Track Of All Time.”

“Who Knows Where The Time Goes?” – the Fairport Convention version – has been on my list of Devastatingly Great Songs right from the start. Over the past week though, as I put the finishing touches to my 40th year in the business of being a music teacher, I’ve been thinking about, listening to and singing “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?” quite a bit.

“Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving…”

P.S.: Sandy Denny has been described as “the pre-eminent British Folk Rock singer.” She was voted the “Best British Female Singer” in 1970 and 1971 by the readers of Melody Maker magazine. In 1971 she became the only guest vocalist on a Led Zeppelin studio album when she sang with Robert Plant on the song “The Battle of Evermore.” Between 1971 and 1977 she recorded four solo albums, each containing mostly her own songs.

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On April 21, 1978, Sandy Denny passed away from injuries sustained as the result of a fall down a flight of stairs at a friend’s apartment in London.

In 2010, Universal/Island Records released Sandy Denny, a limited edition, complete retrospective box set of her work containing 19-CDs and a 72-page hard cover book.

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