Sandy Denny Biography

Alexandra Elene Maclean Denny, 6 January 1947, Wimbledon, London, England, d. 21 April 1978, London, England. A former student at Kingston Art College where her contemporaries included John Renbourn and Jimmy Page, Sandy Denny forged her early reputation in such famous London folk clubs as Les Cousins, Bunjies and the Scots Hoose. Renowned for an eclectic repertoire, she featured material by Tom Paxton and her then boyfriend Jackson C. Frank, as well as traditional English songs. Work from this early period was captured on two 1967 albums, Sandy & Johnny (with Johnny Silvo) and Alex Campbell And His Friends. The following year the singer spent six months as a member of the Strawbs. Their lone album together was not released until 1973, but this melodic work contained several haunting Denny vocals and includes the original version of her famed composition, ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’.

In May 1968 Denny joined Fairport Convention with whom she completed three excellent albums (What We Did On Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking, Liege And Lief) that invented English folk rock virtually single-handedly. Many of her finest performances date from this period, but when the band vowed to pursue a purist path at the expense of original material, the singer left to form Fotheringay with her partner Trevor Lucas. This accomplished quintet recorded a solitary album before internal pressures pulled it apart, but Denny’s contributions, notably ‘The Sea’, ‘Nothing More’ and ‘The Pond And The Stream’, rank among her finest work.

Denny’s official debut album, The North Star Grassman And The Ravens, was issued in 1971. It contained several excellent songs, including ‘Late November’, ‘Blackwaterside’ and the expansive ‘John The Gun’, as well as sterling contributions from the renowned guitarist Richard Thompson (also a former member of Fairport Convention), who would appear on all of the singer’s releases. 1973’s Sandy was another memorable collection, notable for the haunting ‘It’ll Take A Long Time’ and a sympathetic cover version of Richard Fariña’s ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’, a staple of the early Fairport Convention’s set. Like An Old Fashioned Waltz, which included the gorgeous ‘Solo’, closed this particular period. Together, these albums confirmed Denny as a major talent and a composer of accomplished, poignant songs.

During this period Denny recorded an album of rock ‘n’ roll songs with the Bunch, essentially an ad hoc collection of Fairport Convention-related artists testing out the newly opened Manor studio. She also duetted with Robert Plant on ‘The Battle Of Evermore’, the third track on Led Zeppelin’s hugely successful fourth album, and sang on the soundtrack to Peter Elford’s award-winning film Pass Of Arms. She also married Lucas and, despite her dislike of touring, joined him in a new line-up of Fairport Convention after guesting on the 1973 album Rosie. A poor live set and the disappointing Rising For The Moon followed, but Denny and Lucas then left in December 1975.

Although her alcohol intake was giving cause for concern, a period of domesticity ensued before Denny completed Rendezvous, a charming selection that rekindled an interest in performing. During this time she gave birth to her daughter Georgia. Plans were made to record a new set in America, but things went horribly wrong. Her marriage to Lucas was disintegrating. During a visit to her parents home in Cornwall during March 1978 she tumbled down the stairs, allegedly drunk. Although it was a serious fall, cutting her head as she fell on a stone floor, she was not taken to hospital. Less than a month later she was found collapsed on the stairs of a friend’s home. Four days later, on 21 April 1978, she died in hospital from a cerebral haemorrhage.

Sandy Denny was insecure and often lacked belief in her own talent, but she is recalled as one of the UK’s finest singer-songwriters and her work has grown in stature over the years. Her effortless, smooth vocal delivery still sets the standard for many of today’s female folk-based singers.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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