Sandy Denny formed Fotheringay after leaving Fairport Convention in 1969. She had been on three of their four albums (Judy Dyble sang on their debut), and in her time with the band, the musical direction had shifted from interpretations of American artists like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell to a more British influenced sound. Before Fairport Convention had released their classic Folk Rock album Liege And Lief in 1969, Denny had decided to leave to concentrate on her own writing and Fotheringay were born. The name of the band came from the first track on the second Fairport Convention album, What We Did On Our Holidays and in turn refers to Fotheringay Castle where Mary Queen Of Scots was imprisoned by Elizabeth 1st before she was executed on the 8th February 1587 for treason. The band only released one album in Denny’s lifetime (another album appeared in 2008), and she would eventually return to Fairport Convention with half of Fotheringay. Tragically in 1978 Denny died of a brain haemorrhage after a fall and one of the great British voices was lost. She was 31 years old.
The album begins with Denny’s, Nothing More, and her haunting voice immediately takes you to another place, somewhere that you can feel invisible things. This moody Folk Rock is warm and welcoming – you close your eyes and drift away with the band as the song builds from sparse piano and guitar. Denny takes you into a dialogue with a man who cannot trust the people around him and wishes to be alone. It’s a melancholic gem leading into the soft descending acoustic guitars of her second song on the album the fatalistic, The Sea, her delivery is both powerful and sensitive, drawing you into a world of impending doom.
Trevor Lucas who plays acoustic guitar and sings on the album would marry Denny three years later in 1973. He sings the third track, The Ballad Of Ned Kelly with a mahogany voice box, (you can actually see the grain of the wood)! The ballad tells the story of the outlaw who would rather die than be captured. Lucas was an Australian who had played in Folk Rock band Eclection with Fotheringay drummer Gerry Conway, he remains virtually unknown in Australia. He died of a heart attack in his sleep in Sydney in 1989 aged just 45.
Winter Winds has Denny singing her mysterious lyrics over a yearning melody and Jerry Donahue’s intricate harmony guitar:
Winter winds they do blow cold,
The time of year, it is chosen.
Now the frost and fire,
And now the sea is frozen.
He who sleeps he does not see
The coming of the seasons,
The filling of a dream
Without a time to reason.
When she walked through evil
O’er the paths of broken illusions,
Carefully now she lives,
For she has mended her confusion.
(Copyright © 1970 Warlock Music Ltd.)
Peace In The End, a Lucas/Denny co-write features some tasteful folk country guitar from Donahue. It seems to be about people from different worlds learning to live together. Lucas gets a bad rap by a lot of people in write ups I have seen, my opinion, not only is he underrated and the real thing but I can hear his Australian bush country authenticity, something missed by almost everyone.
Side Two opens with a full band version of Gordon Lightfoot’s song, The Way I Feel, with Lucas taking the lead. Gerry Conway (drums) and Pat Donaldson (bass) really get to cut loose on this track. Jonathan Wilson also recorded this track on his Gentle Spirit album, reviewed here:
If you want to hear the original song by Gordon Lightfoot (as it seems to be a popular cover), here it is:
The Pond And The Stream the last of the Denny compositions on the album reminds me of The Man With The Child In His Eyes On Kate Bush’s first album, The Kick Inside 1978, written when she was 13 in 1975. Go listen:
A tenuous connection, perhaps?
It’s a classic Denny dialogue song. Two people fruitlessly trying to find a way to be together.
Too Much Of Nothing sung by Lucas, is written by Bob Dylan and was unreleased when this album came out, eventually showing up on The Basement Tapes in 1975.
The traditional Banks Of The Nile, (allegedly about the Napoleonic wars), closes the album with Denny singing the pain of a woman left behind by a soldier gone to war. Telling him that she will come too and march with him.
Oh, but I’ll cut off my yellow hair, and I’ll go along with you.
I’ll dress myself in uniform, and I’ll see Egypt too.
I’ll march beneath your banner while fortune it do smile,
And we’ll comfort one another on the banks of the Nile.
But your waist it is too slender, and your fingers they are too small.
In the sultry suns of Egypt your rosy cheeks would spoil.
Where the cannons they do rattle, when the bullets they do fly,
And the silver trumpets sound so loud to hide the dismal cries.
It’s another classic dialogue song that Denny interprets so well, sung with enormous feeling and cementing the genre in the annals of Folk Rock history.
Overall it’s a beautiful, heartfelt, warm and inviting record of longing and searching, probably missed by most people who haven’t thoroughly investigated Denny’s genius.