Thursday, 29 August 2013

"Errors and omissions excepted"

My book on Sandy Denny was recently reprinted – an encouraging sign that interest in her work continues strong. If you’re on Facebook, may I politely ask you to “like” the book’s dedicated page? The reprint was an opportunity to fix a few typos, but otherwise the text remains the same. If there’s ever a second edition (admittedly, as Jeeves would say to an excitable Wooster, ‘the contingency is a remote one’) I’ll have the chance to correct and update then. Here, for the record...

The Australian interview footage I refer to on page 49 has now been eliminated from our inquiries. ‘Sandy Davis’ turns out to be the interviewer, not the garbled name of an interviewee, and although our Sandy is mentioned by the Fairport boys, it is only to explain her absence. The footage is now available on YouTube.

An update would also highlight the ‘Lady’ tour of last year and subsequent TV broadcast on BBC Four – Andrew Batt’s greatest coup yet in bringing Sandy’s work to the widest possible audience.

I’ve been in touch with Jean Livingstone, a Scottish singer now living in France. Under the name ‘Mona Devi’ she guested on My Kinda Folk in 1967, a series on Grampian TV hosted by Alex Campbell and Archie Fisher. Although she didn’t appear on the same show as Sandy – Jean’s fellow guests were Isla St Clair, David MacWilliams, Barbara Dickson and The Skerries – she confirmed that the programmes were recorded before transmission. This may help to unscramble the chronology of Sandy’s appearance(s) which defeated me on page 51. In the CD booklet accompanying 19 Rupert Street, Carsten Linde recalls travelling to Aberdeen for a recording of the show on 6 August 1967. This must be the edition broadcast in the Grampian region on 3 September, with guests Sandy, Johnny Silvo and Alex Sutherland. You guessed it – no copy is known to exist. Mr Linde is also emphatic that the brightly lit picture used on the cover of Sandy and Johnny (see p53n4 and the first page of colour plates in my book) was taken at the My Kinda Folk recording: there’s been some dispute about that, as the album’s August release date would make the timing extremely tight. The well-informed ‘Homage’ website opines that the cover image was taken in Birmingham during Sandy’s performance as part of ‘Folksingers for Freedom in Vietnam’ (Digbeth Civic Hall, May 1967).

The audio track of ‘White Dress’, a particularly lovely performance buried in the ITV archives for 35 years (see p52), has now been issued as a bonus track on the ‘deluxe’ reissue of Fairport’s Rising For The Moon.

The outtakes from the recording sessions for Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait album of 1970 have just appeared in the ‘Bootleg’ series. I scanned the tracklisting with interest, recalling that Dylan was supposed to have covered ‘Farewell, Farewell’ during those sessions – a ‘fact’ that I carelessly quoted in the book (p110) without checking my source. The source was Patrick Humphries’s biography of Fairport Convention. I recently asked Patrick where he got it from and he ’fessed up that it was a practical joke. He’d read that Pete Frame always put a deliberate mistake in his Rock Family Trees, so he thought he’d do the same. Not a great idea, he now admits – “it sent the Dylan fans into meltdown”. And thirty years later, Muggins here is still falling for this jape.

I suggested (on p76) that Sandy “rewrote” ‘Gypsy Davey’ to give it a happy ending. Versions usually end with the lady cold-shouldering her husband as she snuggles down with her new beau, but in the Fotheringay treatment the rejected husband finds solace with a new love “ere six months had passed away”. My authority for this was none other than Sandy herself. Introducing the song for a BBC radio broadcast in 1970, she said:

This is very similar to ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsies-O’, except that I’ve changed the words and the tune, and I’ve made it that the story’s a bit happier at the end. I’ve allowed the other bloke to get married, having had his wife leave him.

I had occasion to look at the Child Ballads recently and noticed that Ballad 200J (‘The Gypsie Laddie’), as collected in the USA in the 1840s, is very close to the wording that Sandy uses in her version, complete with this “happy” final verse:

The great lord he rode home that night,
He took good care of his baby,
And ere six months had passed away
He married another lady.

So I fear she was rather exaggerating her part in the oral tradition!

A reader, Steve Clarke, suggested that I had misdescribed her school. I referred to it (more than once) as a “grammar school” (which is how she described it herself in the World Service interview). My reader advised that it was, rather, a “secondary modern”: an important distinction in those class-conscious days. From Mick Houghton's new biography we learn that Coombe Girls' School (formerly Coombe County Secondary School for Girls) was both. Mick describes it as a "radical, bilateral school taking grammar and non-grammar streams. Sandy was in one of the grammar streams". It’s still going strong, nowadays boasting ‘academy’ status. The author Jacqueline Wilson attended the same school, a year or two above Sandy. I wonder if they knew each other?

On p9 I talk about the first time Richard Thompson heard her play ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’. What he told Heylin was he heard it “at her flat on the top floor in Gloucester Road”. I identified this – probably in error – as Stanhope Mews West. The location is more likely to be the flat she moved to later in 1968, the one round the corner in Stanhope Gardens.

The photo on p37, taken at London Zoo in 1967, should be credited to John Harrison. Other pictures from the same shoot may be viewed here.

Typo on p57: 'Mabiniog' should, of course, read 'Mabinogion'.

No doubt there will be more updates and corrections. I’m always very happy to hear from readers.

As I reported in an earlier post, the most important update is the happy news that Shelagh McDonald (pp124-7) is now back with us – not only gigging again and making new friends but with a new album scheduled to appear in late September. During her set at the Corn Exchange, Biggar, Scotland, on 21 June this year she even slipped in a Sandy cover: ‘The Sea’. Hats off to Ms McD!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Across The Purple Sky

Bryony Holden has released a tribute album to Sandy. It was released digitally on the 35th anniversary of Sandy’s death (21 April) and is well worth checking out on itunes.

It’s also available as a CD on demand from Amazon US (but not UK).

Bryony writes:

Across The Purple Sky was a labour of love, a joy of a project. For as long as I can remember, people have made comparisons between my voice and Sandy’s and although they are not the same, there are similarities. I grew up in the 1960s, and Sandy was, of course, one of the hub of influences from those paisley patterned, patchouli-scented times. I'd remained determined NOT to make a tribute for so many years but eventually gave up resisting the many requests as it seemed the time was finally right. My sister, Erin, was more than up for the task and not only lent her fine instrumental skills, but produced, mixed and mastered the project. Trying to touch on so many aspects of Sandy's work, we chose the tracks to span as much as possible in a short space, covering some of her work with Fotheringay and with Fairport. It was almost impossible to choose and we recorded more than the ten on the album. At some point, it is likely to be produced as a full CD… and those extra tracks will be added. What an amazing performer… what an amazing woman. Sandy Denny, much loved and respected muse… thank you.”

In other news, Dave Swarbrick has given an  interview to folk blogger Emma Hartley. He talks about Sandy, among other topics, reminding us how difficult it was for him to do the tribute shows in 2008 and 2012: “You’ve got to understand, I have never got over her dying.”

There was also an event at Banbury Folk Club on 19 June, “Linda Watkins and Friends Sing Sandy”, which sounded interesting for anyone in the Oxfordshire area. 

Monday, 11 February 2013

The return of Shelagh McDonald

Shelagh McDonald, 2012. Photo: Ian Anderson. From fRoots 353/354, November/December 2012

If there’s one chapter of my Sandy Denny book in serious need of update it’s the short short one on Shelagh McDonald. As I write there, Shelagh had the world at her feet in the early Seventies. A talented singer, songwriter and guitarist, a woman of striking beauty with two acclaimed albums to her name, she was hailed by Melody Maker as a worthy ‘successor to Sandy Denny’. Then she simply vanished. For over thirty years no one knew where she was or even if she was still alive. A brief reappearance in 2005 brought news of the reasons for her disappearance and a reassurance that she was happy and well, but then we heard no more. Until 2012, that is. Early last year her husband died, and out of the sad circumstances of his passing was born a desire to pick up her music again, to reconnect with her old friends and dip her toe in the waters of a much-changed music scene. The story is well told in Ian Anderson’s lengthy feature in fRoots magazine, available online, so I won’t rehearse it here. Since then she has made several low-key appearances in Scotland, and in January this year was lured down to London to make her first appearance in the capital for over forty years in a support slot to Anderson’s new duo, The False Beards. It was a top-notch night. A clip on YouTube (’Let No Man Steal Your Thyme’) shows how, despite evident nerves, her musicianship and charm have not diminished with the years.

In the fRoots interview, Shelagh talks a little about Sandy, whom she knew, pointing to a conflict between Sandy’s gregarious nature and the isolation she needed for her songwriting: ‘There was this wealth of songs in her, but she couldn’t organise her time – I felt that a lot of her friends should have respected that and given her more space.’

If everything comes to fruition, the future for Shelagh is bright: more live gigs (including one with The Razorbills), a reissue of her two albums from the Seventies (currently out of print again), possibly even recording of the many new songs she has been writing. There’s a Facebook group devoted to her, which may be the best source of information until she has a website up and running.* I only managed to snatch a few words with her at the London event but hope to interview her at some point for a magazine piece.** As for what I wrote about her in the book, well, I slightly regret making a direct comparison between Sandy and Shelagh. In my defence, I can only say that, at the time of writing, I never expected to see Shelagh perform, much less meet her. In the ‘remote contingency’ of a second edition, I shall have to eat my words, or at least chew them more slowly. 
*Postscript, 25.3.13: there is now an excellent Shelagh McDonald website where fans can keep track of her activities and promoters can get in touch with her. And another delightful clip has appeared on YouTube, this time from A' the Airts, Sanquhar: ’Rigs O' Rye’.

** This interview, conducted in July 2013, is now online at my other blog.