40 years since her passing, no other artist in popular music has ever replicated her vocal brillianceby Paul Lever / April 16, 2018 / Leave a comment
She died, a burnt-out case, 40 years ago this week. She was 31 years old. The proximate cause of her death was a cerebral haemorrhage as a result of a fall downstairs. But her life had for a long time been a downward spiral of drink, drugs and loss of control.
Professionally it seemed to be all over. Her voice had gone (she had chain smoked for years); her weight had ballooned; her recording contract had not been renewed; her last tour, an attempted comeback, had failed. The money had run out. There was no work in sight.
Her personal life was in even worse shape. Most of her friends had despaired of her and of the mess she had made of her life. Her marriage, shaky at the best of times, had run its course: the day before her death her husband had, without telling her, flown to Australia on a one way ticket, taking with him their nine month old daughter whom she had proved incapable of looking after.
Many of the rock musicians who died young in Britain in the 1970s were the best of their generation. Keith Moon was the most inventive drummer. Jimi Hendrix the most versatile guitarist.
Sandy Denny is, quite simply, the most outstanding female singer that Britain has ever produced.
Born into a middle class family in Wimbledon she began singing in folk clubs in the late 1960s while studying at Kingston College of Art (where she was, without knowing it, a contemporary of Eric Clapton). The recordings which survive of her performances then are mostly of traditional material, which she sang to her own guitar accompaniment.
In 1968 she joined the band with which she is particularly associated, Fairport Convention. They had until then played mainly American contemporary music including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen covers.
Sandy Denny transformed it. She still sang Dylan songs with them and was throughout her career one of the finest deliverers of his music. Her interpretation of “I’ll keep it with mine,” for example, which appeared on her first Fairport album What we did on our holidays is vastly more penetrating than Dylan’s own throwaway version. But following her arrival Fairport began playing her, and her fellow band member Richard Thompson’s, own compositions