SANDY DENNY – I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn (Island 536 735-0)

I've Always Kept A UnicornWhat can I say that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? There’s the problem. I have to confess that I’m sometimes uneasy about the way that Sandy Denny’s catalogue has been managed. There are just three tracks among the forty presented here that haven’t been released before and they are demos from The Bunch album. Which means that the barrel has been well and truly scraped clean. There is nothing of any significance left to unearth.

The two CDs are arranged chronologically and present Sandy in acoustic mode – demos, radio sessions and stripped down masters – to offer “the best album Sandy Denny never made”. If you have a taste for Sandy rocking her socks off on ‘Down In The Flood’ you’re out of luck here. The first track is her best known song, ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’, recorded in 1967 with The Strawbs. The notes are vague about its origins but it isn’t the version that appears on the album and I suppose that it was possible to extract it from the three-track master. What it is, however, is the voice that Dave Cousins fell in love with, young, fresh and clear and it can be argued that this is the best version of the song that you will ever hear.

With All Our Own Work failing to get a release, Sandy returned to the folk clubs, recording two albums with Alex Campbell and Johnny Silvo and these are represented by two songs written by her then boyfriend, Jackson C Frank. Then Fairport Convention – two demos and two masters which presumably preceded the band’s involvement. Fotheringay is next with two demos and two radio sessions presenting Sandy solo. ‘The Lowlands Of Holland’, solo and unaccompanied, is particularly lovely.

The next six tracks come from her first solo project – two demos, a radio session and three from the BBC’s In Concert programme and the first disc closes with the three demos from The Bunch – guitar and vocal tracks featuring Linda Peters on ‘When Will I Be Loved’.

The second set continues Sandy’s solo career and adds her second stint with Fairport. It opens with ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’, which the band tried out but which Sandy eventually took for herself. Here are some of her best known songs including possibly the best ever version of ‘Bushes And Briars’, more up-tempo than we are used to. It comes from a radio session as does an equally superb piano-led ‘Solo’. There is a piano demo of ‘The End’ which flashes past for all its seven and a half minutes.

The Fairport tracks are all demos, including ‘Rising For The Moon’, ‘One More Chance’ and ‘What Is True?’ but, sadly, no ‘Stranger To Himself’. Oh well, you can’t have everything. The next two tracks are live from Marc Time and I still find the idea of Denny and Bolan in the same studio a bit mind-boggling. Quite what his teenage audience made of ‘Blackwaterside’ I can’t imagine. Sadly, Marc’s introductions are not included. The final track is the last that she ever recorded, Bryn Haworth’s ‘Moments’. This is one of three demos made and features Ralph McTell on guitar.

So, how is my unease?  This set has been put together with a specific purpose and that is to present Sandy’s timeline in solo, acoustic performances. The mastering is excellent – a big hand for Paschal Byrne here – Mick Houghton’s sleeve notes are written from an expert perspective, there are some good photos and it’s true that some of Sandy’s best performances here. I guess that’s good enough.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Late November’ – live in London, 1971: