What’s New for the 30th of April: a tale about a book that doesn’t exist, Sandy Denny live, some British folk rocker bios and just maybe a bit more…

Come all ye rolling minstrels,
And together we will try
To rouse the spirit of the air
And move the rolling sky.

‘Come All Ye’, composed by Sandy Denny

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So you want to know about the Sandy Denny bio that Reynard was alluding to in our Pub? Well I can’t give any specifics about it but I can tell the tale by changing the names of all involved. A writer for an American music magazine, call it Frest, decided to write a biography of Sandy Denny, who died as the result of a fall down the stairs at her home even though her death was some weeks later. The Coroner’s Inquest found mid-brain trauma to be the cause of her death. She was just over thirty years old when she died, a tragedy for a folk musician of high esteem with work with Fairport Convention, Fotheringay, the Strawbs and otherwise.

The writer got an advance from a well-regarded publisher here in Britain and set out doing interviews and such. So far, so good. And then our writer turned in a draft, which was when the shit started piling up. It’s been speculated on who was Denny’s pusher, and the writer decided to say who it was, a speculation at best. (I read the draft — the evidence was scant at best. And I no longer remember who it was.) The publisher hit the roof and said that bit had to go (the writer refused), so the publisher got a ban from it being published anywhere and demanded the not-small advance back. And that’s where the story ends.

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First up is Clinton Heylin’s No More Sad Refrains: The Life and Times of Sandy Denny in which I had forgotten that our reviewer Chris does reference that zombie biography: ‘In some ways it’s apposite that a book written about an artist as emotionally charged and mercurial as Sandy Denny should itself have had a difficult and rocky genesis. Some people, myself included, were expecting a biography of Sandy written by Pam Winters to be issued by Helter Skelter last year. It’s not my place as a reviewer to pass judgment on the disagreements which caused that project to flounder, and led to Clinton Heylin writing this book. Nevertheless, I include these comments to clarify the situation for those readers who do not know the background, why a biography did not appear last year, and why the author of this book, Clinton Heylin, is perhaps not the same author that they may have expected. It also helps explain the rather unusual comments in Clinton Heylin’s acknowledgments. Maybe one day that full story will unfold, but I shall keep my thoughts and comments on the book in hand. ‘

Fairport Unconventional was one of those astounding box sets Free Reed did. And I’m just looking at this tasty treat: ‘As amazing as the music lovingly collected in this box set is, the one hundred and seventy page book is in its own way even better. Shaped to fit the box set as you can see by the photo of the box set, it’s a full history of the band as written by Schofeld who’s very obviously a diehard fan as he amusingly with an introduction entitled ‘Fairport Convention: A recipe for success’ which includes this choice tidbit: ’11 lead guitarists, 11 lead vocalists, 6 fiddle players, 7 drummers, 5 keyboard players, 2 bass players’ which makes the band not all that different than any band that’s lasted thirty-five years such as the Breton fest noz bands.’

Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span are the of my fav British folk rock(ish) bands, so it’s apt that Lars has a review of Brian Hinton and Geoff Wall’s biography of Ashley Hutchings: The Guv’nor & the Rise of Folk Rock as he helped birth both of those groups: ‘To some of us the subject of this book is, if not God, at least the musical equivalent to the pope. Name a group you like and have followed over the years, and there is a fair chance that Mr. Hutchings was there to start it, or at least influence the starting of it. He is in one way or another responsible for a very large number of the records in my collection, and yes, we are certainly talking three figures, here.’

Scott Allen Nollen’s Jethro Tull: A History of the Band, 1968-2001 gets a superb look see by Kate: ‘Scott Allen Nollen has proven his devotion as a Tull fan in the countless miles travelled and the hours passed collecting details and interviewing band members and other associates. He has included nostalgic pictures of the band, some of which were borrowed from Ian Anderson, the often frenzied flautist who, despite some controversy, became the Fagin-like front man for the band. After ten long years of research, here is a comprehensive and entertaining story of the much misunderstood Jethro Tull. The authenticity is underlined by the thoughtful and honest foreword written by Ian Anderson himself.’

Richard ends our English folk rock biographies by looking at Patrick Humphries’ Richard Thompson: The Biography: ‘Biographies of musicians are always dangerous propositions. Too many are tell-alls that insist on concentrating on lurid details and scandal, to the point where the reader forgets that the book is about a musician. Others go the other way, and are so slavishly and obviously creations of the PR machine that they’re essentially worthless as sources of fact. Books of both these sorts tend to cluster around hugely successful acts, and to clutter bookshelves right around holiday time.’ And let’s just say this this is decidedly not the biography this artist deserves.

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Dave leads off our music reviews with a look at the Burning Bright box set: ‘The title comes from the William Blake poem, “Tyger, Tyger” and the reason is…that Tyger is Ashley Hutchings’ nickname. Having said that…let me next alert all and sundry that Free Reed is the greatest box-set compilation maker in the world, nay, universe! There is such a wealth of material in one of their sets that to properly appreciate it one must spend quality time with it to savour each mouth-watering delectable. And it’s not simply the music, although they are called Free Reed MUSIC, but the posters, and especially the books that are prepared and accompany each package are filled with enough photos, posters, memorabilia and biographical text to keep all your senses busy. Stick your nose in the book…it even smells good! One warning though…if you don’t like the sound of the concertina, approach this one carefully…but…the concertina grows on you, and this is five hours of definitive British lfolk music.’

He also has a look at another box set, The Time Has Come: 1967-1973, by a band that evokes Autumn for me: ‘By my recollection it was The Pentangle when they started. And then they lost the definitive article and were just Pentangle. Whatever they called themselves, they were like fish out of water at the time. My friends didn’t listen to them at all. We were all more into The Who, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix. The loud stuff. The flashy stuff. But now, years later, I find myself listening to this mix of jazz, folk, blues, and traditional music far more than I listen to those other bands.’

Deborah offers up the best look ever at Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief: ‘1969 saw the release of two albums that gave me a case of musical whiplash: Pentangle’s Basket of Light and Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief. (If memory serves, the third leg in that triad of bands, Steeleye Span, was still a year away from formation.)’ Go ahead and savour every word of this fascinating remembrance of things long past.

If there be a First Lady of English folk rock music for the past near fifty years, it must be Maddy Prior, whose singing has defined this tradition more than any other vocalist has. Deb has two looks at her, …And Maddy Dances and Comfort and the Unexpected: In Conversation with Maddy Prior. Trust me when I say that each of these articles will enlighten you more about Maddy than a hundred articles in the English music press ever could!

Richard extolls the virtues of the first box set to cover Richard Thompson’s career. Watching the Dark was released in 1993, and covered some of the high points of RT’s music on record from the Fairport years through the early 1990s. And he notes, ‘The oldest recordings in this compilation date back to 1969 when Thompson was only 20 years old and a member of Fairport Convention, a group whose earliest influences were the Byrds, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Jefferson Airplane. In due course, the band began to include in its repertoire traditional songs from the British Isles or self-composed songs drawing on that tradition.’

Speaking of Richard Thompson box sets, Gary was pleased when the English archival label Free Reed released RT: The Life and Music of Richard Thompson in 2006. It has six CDs with more than 100 tracks, mostly live and unreleased rarities, and a generous book with history, photos, discography, and more. ‘It’s just the sort of thing that the longtime fans have been clamoring for for years, and for the most part, they should be happy,’ he says. ‘No, ecstatic.’

Gary notes that ‘I daresay that many, if not most, readers of Green Man Review know all there is to know about Fairport Convention. If you’re not among them, there’s no dearth of information about this most venerated of English folk rock bands elsewhere in GMR, including a recent omnibus review. So I’ll skip any long historical introduction and say that Who Knows Where the Time Goes is a solid addition to the band’s discography.’

If you’ve not heard Steeleye Span in their full glory, here’s my suggestion From a few years back: ‘Are you looking for that perfect Winter Holiday gift for your lover of English folk rock? Oh, do I have a gift that’s perfect! EMI has just served up A Parcel of Steeleye Span. This triple disc set contains the entirety of their first five albums for Chrysalis, from 1972’s Please to See the King to 1975’s All Around My Hat with Parcel of Rogues, Commoners Crown, and Now We Are Six being the recordings in between. This completely remastered collection has 46 tracks in all, including a number of very tasty bonus tracks.’

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For our musical coda, I’ve got  ‘Matty Groves’ as performed by Fairport Convention at the Nottingham University on the 27th of  November 1974 with Sandy Denny being the vocalist. It’s definitely not soundboard quality but it’s hard to find performances of her that are fair to use.

About Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I'm the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library here in Kinrowan Hall if the Neverending Session is elsewhere. I'm a violinist too, so you'll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.
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