Tuesday, 26 April 2016

"I've Always Kept A Unicorn: The Acoustic Sandy Denny" by SANDY DENNY (2016 Universal/Island 2CD Remasters featuring 1970) - A Review by Mark Barry...

SANDY DENNY featuring Fairport Convention, The Strawbs, Fotheringay, The Bunch, 
Richard and Linda Thompson, Trevor Lucas and Ralph McTell

"...Wondering if you know how much you mean to me..."

This 2CD set features "Fotheringay" from 1970

On page 2 of the booklet for 2016's "I've Always Kept A Unicorn: The Acoustic Sandy Denny" is an omen of reissue greatness. Sandy is sat at home on an armchair with her acoustic guitar in hand and a huge plaster-cast on her right leg which is in itself plonked up on a stool (fell off stage at the Toad Hall Folk Club in East Ham, October 1967). She's having a chat with her poodle Lucy who is stood left of her on a nearby table wondering what's that white thing on mummy's leg with her toes sticking out of it. The black and white picture is both laugh-out-loud funny and strangely poignant at one and the same time.

With all the po-faced accolades thrown at this wonderful British vocalist (the only singer to have ever duetted with Led Zeppelin) – I think it's all too easy to forget that Sandy Denny was once funny – had a sense of humour – and engendered enormous affection for precisely that. There's warmth, humanity and even ordinariness in that quirky photo. And I suspect the compilers of this double-dip into her softer Acoustic side know this and want to reclaim her as a 'person' as much as celebrate her musical legacy. There's a lot on this fab 2CD vault's trawl so let's get to the shaggy dog stories...

UK released 22 April 2016 (29 April 2016 in the USA) – "I've Always Kept A Unicorn: The Acoustic Sandy Denny" by SANDY DENNY on Universal/Island 536 735-0 (Barcode 600753673508) is a 40-Track 2CD Anthology of Demos, BBC Recordings and rare album versions with 3 Previously Unreleased Tracks and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (71:58 minutes):
1. Who Knows Where The Time Goes
1967 Recording first released 1973 in the UK on the "All Our Own Work" LP on Hallmark SHM 813

2. You Never Wanted Me (Saga Album Version)
3. Milk And Honey (Re-Recorded Version)
Tracks 2 and 3 by SANDY DENNY – both are Jackson C. Frank covers
Tracks 2 and 3 originally recorded 1967 for the "Sandy & Johnny" album by Sandy Denny and Johnny Silvo on Saga EROS 8041. However, track 3 is the 're-recorded' version that first appeared in 1970 on the "It's Sandy Denny" compilation LP on Saga Eros SAGA 8153

4. Autopsy (Demo)
5. Now And Then (Demo)
6. She Moves Through The Fair (Acoustic Master)
7. Fotheringay (Acoustic Master)

8. The Pond And The Stream (Demo)
9. Winter Woods (Demo)
10. Wild Mountain Thyme (BBC 'Sounds Of The Seventies' Recording)
11. The Lowlands Of Holland (BBC 'Folk On One' Recording)
Tracks 8 to 11 by FOTHERINGAY

12. Wretched Wilbur (Demo)
13. The Optimist (Demo)
14. Late November (BBC 'One In Ten' Recording)
15. The North Star Grassman And The Ravens (BBC 'Paris Theatre' Recording)
16. Next Time Around (BBC 'Paris Theatre' Recording)
17. John The Gun (BBC 'Paris Theatre' Recording)
Tracks 12 to 17 by SANDY DENNY

18. Love's Made A Fool Of You (Demo)
19. When Will I Be Loved (Demo)
20. Learning The Game (Demo)
Tracks 18 to 20 by THE BUNCH and are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED - feature Richard Thompson and Trevor Lucas on Guitars.
Tracks 18 and 20 are Buddy Holly covers - Track 19 is by The Everly Brothers - Linda Thompson sings on Track 20

Disc 2 (73:30 minutes):
1. Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood (Demo)
2. After Halloween (Demo)
3. The Lady (Demo No. 2)
4. Bushes & Briars (Live on the BBC 'Bob Harris Show')
5. The Music Weaver (Demo)
6. No End (Demo – Piano Version)
7. Solo (BBC 'John Peel Session' – Acoustic Version)
8. Like An Old Fashioned Waltz (BBC 'John Peel Session' – Acoustic Version)
Tracks 1 to 8 by SANDY DENNY

9. The King And Queen Of England (Demo)
10. Rising For The Moon (Demo)
11. One More Chance (Demo)
12. Sandy’s Song (Take Away The Load) (Demo)
13. What Is True? (Demo)

14. Blackwaterside (Live on 'Marc Time')
Track 14 by SANDY DENNY

Author of "I've Always Kept A Unicorn: The Biography Of Sandy Denny" – MICK HOUGHTON knows and loves his subject. The text is full of fan-pleasing and illuminating stories as well as a comprehensive range of black and white photos - Sandy young and pretty in a local park in 1967 to outside of the Island Studios in 1974 looking quite the lady about town in her dapper furs. Having said that - you'd have to say that the track lists on Page 3 and 4 that simply list the titles line-by-line don't give you any info as to what came from where – either on original vinyl (if any) or what posthumous CD compilation they first appeared on. There are very cramped writers credits on Pages 18 and 19 – but outside of that – good luck working it out. For instance only by delving into Houghton's liner notes do you suddenly find out that Ralph McTell plays guitar on the "Moments" Demo or that Linda Thompson duets with Sandy on her cover of The Everly Brothers Classic "When Will I Be Loved" - newly discovered Bunch demos from the vaults. I had thought the three 'Previously Unreleased' tracks bookended Disc 1 would be badly recorded filler – but they're shockingly good and professionally recorded too (no dodgy bootleg feel here). Genuinely good stuff...

PASCHAL BYRNE has done the superlative remastering – a name synonymous with dozens and dozens of quality reissues for Esoteric Recordings and at least five or six of Universal's 3CD Box Sets overviews for labels like Deram, Decca, Vertigo, Island, Polydor and more. This is a man who knows his way around a tape or two and given the vintage and sparseness of these 'quiet' recordings – there was a danger of being hit with walls of hiss on every song. But that's just not the case. Only two are particularly bad – "Blackwaterside" and "No More Sad Refrains" from the Marc Ellington's Grampian Radio Show 'Marc Time' and there's some speaker distortion on the beautiful "After Halloween" (another highlight on Disc 2). On a slight downside - it seems a shame that someone didn’t see fit to do a track-by-track proper credit – advising what guest musicians play on what so collectors and fans can work out their bearings. Outside of that – Mick Houghton’s liner notes are properly excellent and include interviews with Linda Peters (as she was back then) that give first hand accounts of the young Denny wowing audiences and pernickety producers like Glyn Johns with her 'one take' wonders.

To the music - by rights this double-CD set should really be called 'The Acoustic and Piano Album' (most on Disc 2 are lone Piano demos) – and it has to be said that truthfully no matter how much you love the woman's voice and music - 40 tracks of this is hard to take all in one sitting. But if I pick say 10 tracks to form one coherent LP (see idea below) – the effect is sublime and actually approximates that 'long lost acoustic album' the liner notes keeps alluding to. There's also a marked jump up in audio quality when you get to Disc 2 (most of the Demos are exclusively on Piano and recorded with real fidelity).

35-seconds into "Who Knows Where The Time Goes" and I'm already tearful. It's been 40 years since I played that Hallmark LP from 1973 with The Strawbs (1967 recordings belatedly released). I know everyone adores the Fairport version – but there's something about this raw acoustic take that brings out the beautiful melody. Speaking of magic Houghton quite rightly name-checks the truly stunning "No End" – 7:34 minutes recorded 3 December 1972 in the beautiful audio vastness of the Walthamstow Assembly Hall in my own London's E17. "No End" hurts - it's atmospheric and powerful and technically the best recording by far across the 2CDs (done on a 12-foot Bechstein Grand Piano). It tantalises a fan - you can only dream of what would have happened had someone recorded a whole album with these fabulous acoustics and that instrumental simplicity.

Other highlights - I'd also cite Bryn Haworth's "Moments" which Sandy had from him before he got to release his own warm version on the "Grand Arrival" LP on A&M Records in February 1978. "Moments" is a beautiful song that seems to suit Sandy's particular longing. Mary Black's 1987 LP/CD "By The Time It Gets Dark" on Ireland's Dara Records was the last time I heard this fantastic song - another genius Denny melody and a happy tale amidst the personal darkness that dominates so much of the music on here. Those who are used to the full band versions of "I'm A Believer" and the "Full Moon" outtake (2005 CD reissue) from the much-maligned "Rendezvous" LP (1977) will have their faith restored by the gorgeous stripped-down piano-only demos presented here - her voice full of passion and love. Damn was she good...

Whatever way you look at it (and that slightly hippy-dip title aside) – "I've Always Kept A Unicorn" by Sandy Denny is surely a shoe in for 2016 'Reissue Of The Year' in any genre. Well done to the team who put it together and its No. 1 Bestseller status is thoroughly deserved.

"...Wondering if you know how much you mean to me..." - Sandy sings on the lovely "Full Moon". We miss you beautiful lady...

A track list for my mock Acoustic & Piano Sandy Denny LP – "Not Long Before The Dawn"
Title taken from lyrics in the song "No End"

Side 1.
1. By The Time It Gets Dark
2. After Halloween
3. No End
4. Moments
5. I'm A Dreamer

Side 2:
1. Bushes And Briars
2. Full Moon
3. One Way Donkey Ride
4. Sandy's Song (Take Away The Load)
5. Who Knows Where The Time Goes

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