Celebrating the life and music of Sandy Denny

by zteve

Sandy Denny was lead singer with Fairport Convention, Fotheringay and the Strawbs and also recorded and performed as a solo artist.

Sandy was one of the finest singers of her generation and one of the most influential personalities in the founding of British Folk Rock. As well as having a fine and unique singing voice and style, she was a talented songwriter and a great inspiration to the musicians she performed with. Her death in 1978 was a sad loss to her family, friends, fellow artists and her fans.

Although she has gone her influence and music live on and many of her numbers have been covered by many international artists over the years. In more recent times there has been a growing interest in her songs with many of her old numbers being released again along with present day singers covering her songs. There have also been tribute tours comprised of some of Sandy's old friends and some of today's younger singers and musicians playing, remembering and celebrating her music and life.

Sandy sings - Milk and Honey

Where the Time Goes

The rise of a legend


Her full name was Alexandra Elene MacLean Denny and she was born in the Nelson Hospital, Kingston Road, Merton Park, London, on the 6th of January 1947. Her musical abilities were present from an early age learning to play classical piano while attending Coombe Girls' School in Kingston upon Thames. Indeed it could be rightfully said she had music in her blood as her Scottish grandmother was a singer of traditional songs.


Folk clubs and pubs

She spent a short period training to be a nurse at the Royal Brompton Hospital but gave this up in September 1965 to study at Kingston College of Art.  Here she became increasing interested in folk music and connected with the campus folk club.  Sandy made her first public performance at the Barge, Kingston-Upon-Thames and went on to work the folk clubs in the evenings performing traditional folk songs as well covering Tom Paxton songs and heavily influenced American material.


Sandy had a unique voice and singing style and a charismatic personality and she came to attention of the BBC.  On 2nd of December 1966, she made her debut with the BBC at Cecil Sharpe House, the home of The English Folk Dance and Song Society, on a programme called the Folk Cellar.  She sang Fhir a Bhata and Green Grow the Laurels, two traditional songs and went on to make many other appearances for the BBC.


Early Recordings


In 1967, she went on to record with Alex Campell and Johnny Silvo for Saga Records a mixture of traditional and contemporary songs, some by her boyfriend, Jackson C. Frank, an American singer-songwriter.   These songs were released as Alex Campbell and his Friends and Sandy and Johnny and later put together as the album It's Sandy Denny  which was released in 1970 and reissued in 1978 under the Mooncrest label as The Original Sandy Denny.  In 1995, a complete compilation of her Saga recordings were issued on Where The Time Goes.




Among her influences of the time were folk singer Anne Briggs and traditional British folk music along with American bands and artists such as the Byrds, Paul Simon, and Jefferson Airplane.


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With Fairport Convention and solo, Sandy Denny displayed one of contemporary music's finest voices; she also composed her own material, including "Who Knows Where The Time Goes"...

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Sandy Denny: Reflections on Her Music

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Sandy Denny

High Quality Content by WIKIPEDIA articles! Sandy Denny (6 January 1947 - 21 April 1978), born Alexandra Elene Maclean Denny, was an English singer and songwriter, perhaps best ...

Sandy and the Strawbs

With recording and performing playing an increasing role in her life she gave up her studies to dedicate herself to her music.  In 1967, a member of the Strawbs saw her perform at The Troubadour folk club and was so impressed he invited her to join them.  She worked with them on an album in Copenhagen which was released in 1973 as All Our Own Work, by Sandy Denny and the Strawbs, featuring a solo version of her best known and most widely recorded song and composition Who Knows Where The Time Goes.  The American singer, Judy Collins covered this song and used it as the title track of her album.  This gave Sandy international recognition as a song writer before she had achieved widespread fame as a singer.  

Sandy Denny sings - You Never wanted me (1967)

Sandy sings - The North Star Grassman And The Ravens

Fairport Convention

In 1968, back in England, Fairport Convention were looking for a replacement for Judy Dyble and invited Sandy to join them after she had auditioned.   Sandy was a bubbly and lively person whose presence in the group had an energizing effect on its members.  She wanted to find a band that could stretch her vocal talent in ways in which she thought the Strawbs could not.   In Fairport Convention she found such a vehicle.


As well as a bringing a unique singing voice and style Sandy also wrote and had a great repertoire of traditional folk songs she had performed on the folk circuit. She was to have a great influence on the band members and their music who were to go on become founder members of British Folk Rock music. 


Together with the Fairports she recorded four albums. Three of these; What We Did on Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking and the highly influential Liege and Lief were studio albums, but Heyday was a compilation of their radio broadcasts.


Liege and Lief was to be the defining album and sound of the emerging British electric folk rock movement.  By interweaving traditional songs and tunes and complementing them with traditional and electric instruments Fairport created a distinctive British sound.   Many of the Tracks such as Tam Lin, Matty Groves and Reynardine tell stories and brought the best out of Sandy’s singing and her ability to hold the attention of an audience.


The members of Fairport Convention were all fine musicians in their own right but Sandy was to have a spectacular effect on their music.  Before she joined much of their material was cover versions of Bob Dylan, the Byrds, and other American bands, but Sandy’s arrival was to change that for the better. 


Thanks to her encouragement and enthusiasm the other band members began to experiment with their own writing while also using traditional songs creating a new exciting and distinctively British sound.


With the growing success Fairport Convention were enjoying most of the band were eager to perform in America. However, Simon Nicol, a founding member of the band, says that Sandy was not as keen as she did not want to be parted from her boyfriend Trevor Lucas and that she did not like flying.


Sandy was also always looking for ways to evolve as an artist and she wanted to develop her song writing.   Possibly for these reasons, she was to leave Fairport Convention around the end of 1969 to form Fotheringay with Trevor Lucas who she would marry on September 20th 1973.  Other band members were guitarist, Jerry Donahue, bassist, Pat Donaldson and drummer Gerry Conway.   The group made only one complete album Fotheringay before splitting around the end of 1970.  Some of her most accomplished songs such as The Sea, Nothing More and The Pond And The Stream, appeared on this album. A second album, Fotheringay 2, was completed from unused material from the album and released by Jerry Donahue in 2008.


The name of the band came from a song titled Fotheringay that she had written in 1968 about the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots in Fotheringay Castle. The song had been on Fairport’s 1969 album, What We Did on Our Holidays.

Her Legacy

Over the next three years she performed as a solo artist and was to record three albums; North Star Grassman and the Ravens, Sandy and Like an Old Fashioned Waltz.   The BBC later released The BBC Sessions 1971-73, a compilation of live studio tracks they had recorded with her.


Sandy duets with Robert Plant on The Battle of Evermore, Led Zeppelin IV


Sandy was the only female singer to guest on one of Led Zepplin’s albums singing a duet with Robert Plant on The Battle of Evermore, a song from their 1971, album Led Zeppelin IV.   The album’s cover, from a  suggestion by Jimmy Page, had  four symbols chosen by each of the four band members.  For her contribution to The Battle of Evermore Sandy was awarded a place for a symbol and she chose a symbol of three triangles connecting to each other at their points.


A return to Fairport Convention


During 1974, she and her husband, Trevor Lucas performed again with Fairport Convention and some of these appearances were recorded on Fairport’s Live album.  She also made significant contributions to the band’s Rising for the Moon album.  She also seems to have overcome her anxieties about travelling to America as in 1974 she and her husband toured there with the Fairport Convention line-up of the day.




In 1977, Sandy was to once again leave Fairport Convention and recorded Rendezvous, a solo album which achieved minimal success.  In 1977 she had given birth to a baby daughter, Georgia, and she and her husband were considering moving to the USA to build new careers.


Tragedy strikes


Sadly, this was never to be.   Sandy suffered a brain haemorrhage after falling down stairs which caused her to fall into a coma.   Tragically she never recovered and passed away at the age of 31 on the 21 April, 1978.  Her final resting place was to be Putney Vale Cemetery.


Posthumous releases


After her death,  Gold Dust - Live at the Royalty a recording of her last concert which was at the Royalty Theatre, on 27th November, 1977.  Later The Attic Tracks were also released.


She was to win the prestigious Melody Maker’s Best Female Singer in 1971 and 1972 an outstanding achievement in itself.

In a public vote conducted by the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2006, Liege and Lief, by Fairport Convention was voted the Most Influential Folk Album of All Time. Georgia Lucas, the now grown-up daughter of Sandy and Trevor Lucas accepted the award.   This was followed by a rendition of Matty Groves by members of the 1969 line-up, Dave Swarbrick, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings, with lead vocals by Chris While.

In 2007, Sandy’s song, Who Knows Where The Time Goes, received the audience vote for Favourite Folk Track Of All Time and the award was accepted on behalf of Sandy by Simon Nicol.

A tribute tour - he Lady: A Homage to Sandy Denny

In May 2012  her last three solo albums are set to be re-released by Universal, timed to correspond with a tribute tour titled, The Lady: A Homage to Sandy Denny. The line-up includes many of her old friends and contemporaries as well as some of the top folk singers and musicians of  modern times. 

The tour highlighted all her old songs as well as some new material that Thea Gilmore had made a significant contributed to.  This was a collection of Sandy’s unfinished songs that she was asked to work on by the widow of Trevor Lucas, Elizabeth Hurtt-Lucas, who had found some lyrics of Sandy’s in a box.  Thea put music and arrangements to Sandy’s words resulting in the highly praised album, Don’t Stop Singing, by Thea Gilmore and Sandy Denny.

If she was alive today Sandy would be the grandmother of the twin daughters of Georgia - Ariel Rose and Jahmira Jade.

Sign of the Fates

Sandy's choice of symbol for the Led Zeppelin IV album
Threefold symbol
Threefold symbol

The Battle of Evermore

This Fairport Convention and Robert Plant but not Sandy singing the duet with Robert, even so it is an excellent version

Sandy Denny on Kindle

I've Always Kept a Unicorn: The Biography of Sandy Denny

I've Always Kept a Unicorn tells the story of Sandy Denny, one of the greatest British singers of her time and the first female singer-songwriter to produce a substantial and en...

No More Sad Refrains: The Life and Times of Sandy Denny

Clinton Heylin's biography No More Sad Refrains, draws on hours of interviews with Sandy's closest friends and musical collaborators, access to her diaries and unreleased work, ...


Sandy Denny - Gold Dust

Gold Dust - Live At The Royalty (The Final Concert)

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Gold Dust: Live at Royalty

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References and thanks

Sandy Denny – The Official Website

Fairport Convention Official Website
Liege and Lief

Fairport Convention Official Website
Simon Nicol


Sandy Denny

The thumbnail image is Portrait of Sandy Denny in 1972 by David Bailey.

Led Zeppelin IV

Wikipedia - The Battle of Evermore

Updated: 09/12/2012, zteve
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Telesto on 11/26/2014

A fitting tribute, well said.

Terrapin on 01/27/2014

Love Sandy esp with the Fairports.

zteve on 08/07/2012

Mira, thank you, I greatly appreciate your comments

Mira on 08/07/2012

I like her voice and singing style. Also like her accompaniments. Thank you for introducing me to her music!

zteve on 07/13/2012

Jane thanks for your comments which are greatly appreciated. Yes, I agree that greater emphasis should go on her music and when I get time I will address this. Thanks again!

jane on 07/13/2012

Also, the 'Homage to Sandy' (at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester) in May, was a lovely look at aspects of her genius......could do with some greater focus on her songs so as to inform those who missed her.

jane on 07/13/2012

Excellent biographical information. Excellent choice of artists, thanks!

zteve on 06/19/2012

Yes she was a great talent and her contribution and influence on British Folk Rock music was immense. Thanks for commenting!

Tolovaj on 06/19/2012

I have to admit I have never heard about Sandy Denny. Boy, I was missing!
I checked the video and she sings great, looks great and it is too bad she died at so early age. Thanks for introduction!

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