There are several reasons why Sandy Denny is often mentioned in the same breath as Nick Drake. They recorded for the same record label (Island) at the same time, they were both involved with Joe Boyd’s Witchseason production and management company, both had beautiful voices capable of great delicacy and emotion, both wrote great songs and, sadly, both died tragically young.
Alexandra Elene Maclean Denny was born in Wimbledon on January 6th 1947. She learned guitar from an early age and also played piano and sang. Whilst studying to be a nurse in the mid ‘60s she began to gain a reputation in the London folk clubs with a repertoire based on the then emerging new breed of singer/songwriter such as Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton.
Sandy began to experiment with songs of her own and soon joined The Strawbs with whom she recorded All Our Own Work in 1967. This album included the song with which Sandy’s name is most associated ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’. The song gained a wider audience after being covered by Judy Collins (the inspiration for Crosby Stills and Nash’s ‘Suite Judy Blue Eyes’) in 1968.
In 1968 Sandy replaced Judy Dyble in Fairport Convention (whose bass player Ashley Hutchings is credited with ‘discovering’ Nick Drake at a Roundhouse gig) and went on to record three classic albums with them : What We Did on our Holidays, Unhalfbricking, and Liege & Lief, the second of which includes what has become considered the definitive version of ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’.
Sandy left Fairport in 1970 and formed the short-lived Fotheringay with future husband Trevor Lucas. With one album released and a second in progress the band split and Sandy went on to sign a solo deal with Island resulting in the albums The North Star Grassman and the Ravens and Sandy. Around this time she also gained the distinction of becoming the only guest vocalist ever to record with Led Zeppelin when Robert Plant asked her to appear on ‘The Battle of Evermore’ on the band’s fourth album.
Sandy rejoined Fairport Convention briefly in the mid ‘70s but without the success or critical acclaim of her earlier work with them. Sandy Denny died on April 24th 1978 from injuries sustained after a fall down a flight of stairs at her parents’ house in Cornwall.
Where do I start?
For an introduction to Sandy’s music the best bet is to try one of the excellent anthologies No More Sad Refrains or Listen Listen. The former is more comprehensive and includes ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ (which the latter does not). For a taste of Fairport Convention with Sandy at their very best then Liege & Lief is the place to start.