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The Lady: A Homage to Sandy Denny

Royal Theatre, Nottingham
Sunday 20 May 2012

The anticipation for this the second of a short series of concerts to celebrate the songs of one of this country's finest singer-songwriters was immediately felt in the hustle-bustle of the foyer activity as Sandy Denny merchandise left the table as if it was out of fashion. As Ashley Hutchings presided over the sale of anything from T Shirts emblazoned with the Like an Old Fashioned Waltz album sleeve to Fotheringay mugs, The Nottingham Royal Theatre filled for the second performance of The Lady - A Homage to Sandy Denny, featuring a house band led by Bellowhead drummer Pete Flood and several guest singers and musicians including Thea Gilmore, Maddy Prior, PP Arnold, Green Gartside (Scritti Politti), Blair Dunlop and Dave Swarbrick. Opening with A Sailor's Life, Trembling Bells singer Lavinia Blackwall was joined by Dave Swarbrick, the man responsible for making Sandy's version of the song so exciting way back in the late 1960s and who tried to recreate some of the magic that effectively kick-started what we now know as British Folk Rock. 

With introductions by producer Andrew Batt, the house band consisting of Bellowhead's Andy Mellon, Benji Kirkpatrick and the aforementioned Pete Flood, ex-Fotheringay and Fairport guitarist Jerry Donahue, singer-songwriter Sam Carter, multi-instrumentalist Nick Pynn and bassist Ben Nicholls were joined in quick succession by a whole series of guest singers to perform some of Sandy's best loved songs as well as one or two less familiar songs. Singer-songwriter Thea Gilmore and husband Nigel Stonier performed one or two of Sandy's unrecorded songs recently brought to life on Thea's DON'T STOP SINGING album including Glistening Bay and London, which also featured American singer-songwriter Joan Wasser, more familiar to most under the pseudonym of Joan As Policewoman. 

Whilst dad was busy selling T Shirts and mugs in the foyer, his son Blair Dunlop performed one or two of Sandy's classic songs including a fine version of The Sea and It'll Take a Long Time. As each of the songs from this extraordinarily rich repertoire came out to play, there was always going to be that 'oh, I'd forgotten this was a Sandy Denny song' moment. That moment came during Joan Wasser's reading of By the Time It Gets Dark, possibly because it was never released on any of Sandy's official albums. Joan also went on to perform The Lady, the song this series of concerts are named after.   

If we thought Blair Dunlop was going to be the youngest performer on the bill tonight we had another think coming as five year-old Egan Stonier, Thea and Nigel's first born demonstrated some fiddle work, completely unfazed by the presence of Messers Swarbrick and Pynn.  

The second half of the concert opened with Dennis Hopper Choppers frontman Ben Nicholls with a banjo-fuelled Matty Groves, before The Gilmore returned to sing amongst other things the title song from her DON'T STOP SINGING record. Sam Carter joined Dave Swarbrick for a performance of It Suits Me Well before Steeleye Span's Maddy Prior stepped forward to sing one of Sandy's best loved songs Solo.  

With former Ike and Tina Turner 'Ikette' PP Arnold adding a touch of soul to Sandy's songs, including a lovely version of Like an Old Fashioned Waltz, the entire cast reassembled for the predictable finale of Sandy's signature song Who Knows Where the Time Goes. It was pretty much taken as read that there would be no further encores after what is essentially a tough act to follow. 

To anyone who has had the songs of Sandy Denny in their life from the start, particularly those who waited around patiently for the next Fairport, Fotheringay or solo album to come along, nothing can possibly compare to the real thing. A much missed voice on not only the British folk scene but indeed the music world in general, a homage to The Lady like this serves as a reminder of that rare and wonderful talent. No performer tonight attempted to copy or imitate Sandy Denny, they each made their own interpretations, and that's what made the night so special. A thumbs up from myself as well as Mr Swarb.
Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky