Live review: The Lady: A Homage to Sandy Denny
Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Saturday 19th May, 2012
It is strange how you become a fan of an artist’s music through avenues other than the artist’s music itself and this is true for me of Sandy Denny. I was intrigued by her predecessor in Fairport Convention, Judy Dyble, having read she had been the featured vocalist on The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp. And being a fan of early King Crimson, of whom this was an early incarnation, I picked up a copy of Fairport Convention’s first album to hear Ms Dyble’s recording debut.
Later, I discovered the second Fairport album What We Did On Our Holidays featured the debut of Judy’s replacement Sandy Denny. I had heard the record once before and thought about getting it until I came across a compilation called The Music Weaver: Sandy Denny Remembered which featured several recordings from this album.
The first song of Sandy’s I heard was Solo which had been covered by Fish on his album Songs From The Mirror and this was my way in so to speak.
The tribute to Sandy Denny tour had been put together by Andrew Batt who was responsible for a 19 CD box set of her recordings released last year. As he said in his introduction to the evening a lot of the reasons for the tour was to bring Sandy’s music to a new audience as he felt it had a lot to say to people of future generations.
First to perform at this all star revue was Lavinia Blackwell of Trembling Bells, an artist I had previously been unacquainted with. The song selected to introduce the evening A Sailor’s Life was also one I was unfamiliar with but it featured the astonishing talent of original Fairport violin player Dave Swarbrick. Lavinia’s vocals were reminiscent of Olivia Sparnenn from Mostly Autumn and on this and the next song Late November she truly excelled in not only bringing the song to life but giving it something of her own.
Green Gartside is probably most famous for his 1980’s hit Wood Beez recorded by his band Scritti Politti. He seemed a bit uncomfortable as he took to the stage deliberating over plugging the lead into his guitar. North Star Grassman and the Ravens the title track of Sandy’s debut solo album was well interpreted by the band ensemble but I don’t think Green’s voice suited the song, being a bit airy fairy.
Don’t Stop Singing is an album of Sandy’s lyrics put to music by Thea Gilmore and for most of the evening it felt that for Thea this was what the evening was about. None of the songs she performed gave any indication that they had Sandy’s hand in them and just seemed a vanity showcase for the bland Ms Gilmore.
The next performer Sam Carter we were reliably informed had been recognised as best newcomer at the BBC Folk Awards a couple of years back. His performance was as vague as the song he sang which I can’t remember.
Maddy Prior was perhaps the most important figure in attendance this night as she was a contemporary of Sandy’s through the 1970s with her band Steeleye Span. Perhaps my only reservation was that their styles were dissimilar Maddy being more of a roll out the barrel type songstress compared to the more considered style of Sandy Denny. However her performance of Fotheringay was well informed although it was John The Gun from North Star Grassman and the Ravens that stirred the audience more.
I was later told that Ashley Hutchings original member of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band was in attendance to support his son Blair Dunlop who had taken on the mantle of the latter band. Having recently read of him he has a knowledge of music beyond his 20 years though he has a long way to go as do a lot of the young musicians who were playing this show. Maybe it is because there is no heart and soul left anymore in respect of the copycats who represent the cream of the music industry. Blair tackled The Sea and It’ll Take A Long Time but neither sounded like the songs they once were.
To close the first half of the evening came Joan Wasser who has the alternative stage name of Joan As Policewoman. I get the impression she is being marketed as the next Lady Gaga given her stage persona. It was a bit uncertain but seemed played like that. Her chosen pieces included The Lady, which was very well performed coming across a bit like Carole King in her prime.
To begin the second half was Ben Nicholls another name unfamiliar to me but his rugged approach to Matty Groves was in keeping with the song’s style. Then Thea Gilmore returned with another plug for her album and I also discovered that her sister plays in the new Albion Band alongside Blair Dunlop.
Sam Carter was accompanied for his second performance by Dave Swarbrick who was very rarely involved in the show. Shame as he was perhaps the greatest musician of the night with his showcase of some of the best violin playing I’ve ever seen. Perhaps on a par with Stephane Grappelli who was probably the major exponent of the instrument.
The show probably hit its greatest heights from Lavinia Blackwell’s performance of The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood for which she was accompanied by Maddy Prior and Thea Gilmore on the harmony vocals. Dave Swarbrick was also on hand for the soaring strains at the end of the piece.
My favourite performance of the evening was from P.P. Arnold who has a career stretching right back to the early 1960s and is probably most famous for the original hit recording of The First Cut Is The Deepest. I’m A Dreamer sounded incredible in this lady’s hands and for me at this point the show became more a celebration than a memorial. Like An Old Fashioned Waltz went down extremely well also.
Maddy Prior also excelled with her interpretation of Solo which is probably the song that stands out the most from Sandy’s back catalogue as it sounds both old and new and completely original too.
To close the show we had the return of Green Gartside and Joan Wasser with performances of Nothing More and Next Time Around. They were then joined by the complete ensemble of players for a rousing version of Sandy’s signature tune Who Knows Where The Time Goes which was a brilliant way to end the evening.
I must also mention the band who were made up of members of Bellowhead who did well in reproducing the sound of Sandy’s records. And pride of place must go to lead guitarist Jerry Donahue who blessed many of Sandy’s recordings with Fotheringay and Fairport Convention.
© 2012 Nick Payne
Nicholas Payne has been involved in music from an early age, having first sung at a seaside talent show aged four, mostly forgetting the words to Rupert The Bear in front of a bemused big band. His success singing duets (There’s A Hole In My Bucket, and Soldier, Soldier) at school with classmate Elizabeth Murray lead Nicholas to form a Goodies-type trio with friends David Jones and Nicholas Cantlay, which in later years evolved into a Beatles/Bowie styled band The Flashing Raincoats. His final band as a teenager was called Wraith. For many years Nicholas pursued a career as an actor, and performed alongside future Benidorm star Tony Maudsley in The Canterbury Tales. In more recent years he’s compered poetry and music nights across the North West of England, and supported John Cooper Clarke. Nicholas is currently gigging with his band Tiger Lily, writing a sitcom with friends, and performing solo with just his guitar and a few stories thrown in for good measure. With a degree majoring in video production, his last great ambition is to be a filmmaker. Watch this space.
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