England - Full Moon 184 - 09/12/11
I thought we had visited the Sandy Denny universe for the last time with the massive 19 CD box with her more or less collected recorded
works by the end of last year. But no! One of the treasures that was unearthed for the Sandy Denny box was an acapella version of a traditional folk song called "Lord Bateman". There also exists an instrumental band version of the song, meant for Sandy to record her vocals onto, but it never happened. It is longer and performed at a different speed compared to the acapella version. The instrumental was not included in the Sandybox for an obvious reason; she didn't contribute to the recording. Now it has been included as one of the bonus tracks of the new deluxe North Star Grassman And The Ravens album that was released some months ago. The remaining bonus tracks on this third CD edition of her first - and in my opinion best - solo album, can be found on the previous CD edition of the album, her Live At The BBC box and the Sandybox. So for old fanatics like me who want the Sandy-collection to be as complete as possible, the instrumental "Lord Bateman" is the bait.
But there is more flogging of the dead horse - or heroine - pick your choice. Fotheringay was Sandy's and her husband to be Trevor Lucas' band project in 1970, after she had left Fairport Convention and before she started her solo career with North Star the following year. Essen 1970 was recorded live (surprise-surprise!) at a festival in the German town on October 23rd 1970. The band was well rehearsed by then, in an interesting period before they started to record the second album, that wasn't completed before 2008. It includes five songs from the debut album, three from the second and a non-studio album song, a version of Chuck Berry's "Memphis Tennessee". Trevor sings the lead on four songs. The traditional steady British folk-rocker "Eppie Moray" and "The Way I Feel" by Gordon Lightfoot where Sandy helps out, are quite good. Trevor's own "The Ballad of Ned Kelly" and Dylan's "Too Much of Nothing" sound pretty awful in an unsuitable American folky way. To include the old rocker "Memphis Tennessee" might seem like fun, but wasn't the best of ideas. Not even Sandy's voice can save it. The remaining four songs, on the other hand, are great. Sandy is in charge on her own epic "The Sea" and "Nothing More". They demonstrate that her songwriting abilities were at a creative peak around the Fotheringay era. "John The Gun" is another strong song of hers, in the folk-rock tradition with a pacifist message. The traditional "Gypsy Davey" is another excellent folk-rock number.
This doesn't sound too bad, but there is a huge BUT here. The album booklet states that this is a semi-professional recording and that guitarist Jerry Donahue has been involved to re-master and improve the sound. He did a wonderful job with Fotheringay 2, but Essen 1970 is another story. It sounds like a mediocre bootleg, recorded with one microphone in the middle of the crowd. Lots of reverb and lots of wool wrapped around the vocals and instruments that makes you suffer. After listening a few times to this album, it was a big relief and delight to put on disc 14 of the Sandybox with bonus Fotheringay tracks, including some of the same songs recorded live in a more than decent way at a festival in Holland four months earlier.
The verdict seems inevitable: avoid this album if you're not a real die-hard Sandy/Fairport/Fotheringay-fan or find some sick pleasure in dodgy bootleg-sounding recordings.
I'd also recommend fans to avoid the deluxe North Star Grassman And The Ravens album because of the immoral timing by Island Records of this release to milk the market to the last drop. At least wait until it hits the bargain-bins, or restrict yourselves to download the instrumental "Lord Bateman". For curious newcomers the deluxe North Star might be a great introduction to the music of Sandy Denny.
Later this moonth will see the release of yet another Sandy-album, called 19 Rupert Street, recorded along with her friend Alex Campbell in his home in Glasgow in August 1967. It's a reel-to-reel-recording and I have a lot higher hopes for this. Strawbs-leader Dave Cousins, who will release the album on the Strawbs-label Witchwood Media, seems very enthusiastic about it. And in October Thea Gilmore will release an album with unknown lyrics by Sandy that was unearthed during the preparation of the Sandy box. The complete Sandy story is yet to be written.
Copyright © 2011 JP