I saw the original Fotheringay just once at a rain-swept festival which was abandoned by the artists, the crowd and the organiser in more or less that order. The sight of that spotlit stage shining in the gloom of a Yorkshire summer remains in my mind’s eye. So when I heard that a new line-up was being put together I had mixed feelings.
With all due respect to Jerry Donahue, Gerry Conway and Pat Donaldson can a Fotheringay with neither Sandy Denny nor Trevor Lucas be anything more than a façade, however good the substitutes are? The three survivors have enjoyed long and distinguished careers in bands and as go-to sidesmen but Fotheringay was Trevor and Sandy’s band. That this is a great band goes without saying. PJ Wright and Sally Barker singing ‘I Don’t Believe You’ rocked and Jerry and PJ’s guitar/pedal steel duet on ‘It’ll Take A Long Time’ was sweetness itself. But was this really Fotheringay?
What persuaded me that the answer is “yes” is the genuine emotion engendered in both the performers and the audience. One young man, who probably wasn’t even born when Sandy died, stammered out his thanks to Sally as he left. “It’s the legacy”, she observed. So, yes, this is really Fotheringay.
They began with ‘Nothing More’ as if to deny the fact of the band’s demise forty-five years ago. There is more. They followed that with ‘The Sea’, ‘The Ballad Of Ned Kelly’ and ‘Winter Winds’ – the order in which they appeared on Fotheringay’s first album – perhaps settling the nerves that they all admitted to – this was only their third gig, after all. It says a lot that Sandy is played by both Sally Barker and Kathryn Roberts, either of whom could fill the role alone. Kathryn handles the piano songs but also brings the textures of flute and woodwind to the sound. Sally has Sandy’s rockier side absolutely nailed and her reading of ‘John The Gun’ is superb.
PJ Wright takes the Trevor Lucas role. He has the rumbling voice and plays pedal steel which Sandy loved. He restored ‘Knights Of The Road’, first heard on Fairport Convention’s Rosie, to Fotheringay’s repertoire and now I want to hear him sing ‘The Plainsman’.
The first set ended with a long, flowing ‘Banks Of The Nile’ and they returned for the second with renewed vigour. ‘Bold Jack Donahue’ was first followed by ‘The Way I Feel’ featuring a bass solo from Donaldson which segued into a duet with Conway and then a superb version of ‘Solo’. ‘Too Much Of Nothing’ was the second Dylan cover and the set ended with ‘Late November’ and a singalong ‘Peace In The End’ before the encore, a rocking ‘Memphis Tennessee’.
The evening was opened by Fabian Holland who started with two numbers from his debut album before turning to ‘Four Inch Screen’ from his second CD, A Day Like Tomorrow, following that with ‘The List’ and an attention grabbing ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’. Opening this show might seem like a thankless task but this audience was friendly and receptive and judging by the rate he was shifting CDs he made the right impression.
In September 2012, nineteen-year-old Swedish songwriter Jenny Lysander posted a cover of Piers Faccini’s ‘Time Of Nought’ on YouTube. A couple of months, and several Facebook messages later, Piers and Jenny decided to meet in London.
Listening to Jenny’s demo – and despite the hum and hiss of her home Garageband recordings – Piers was immediately excited to hear an original songwriter’s voice. Their next meeting was at Piers’s home studio in the south of France – and their very first session together was the basis for Jenny’s EP, Lighthouse, released on Faccini’s own label Beating Drum in the Spring of 2014.
Jenny Lysander’s songs have an eerie otherworldliness to them. They seem to come from Nordic ice-blue horizons, and a dim winter sun that briefly rises before setting again. There is a melancholy tint to them too: as in the haunting ‘Blackbird’, and ‘Jag Malade’ sung in her native Swedish. But this melancholy is filled with warmth and tenderness. It is as if Jenny’s quietude produces a delicate kind of joy.
“I have always liked dark and mysterious things.” Lysander says, “Melancholic things ground me, give me a sense of depth, as well as a strange feeling of safety.”
Having helped launch the career of the Brazilian singer and cellist Dom la Nena (producing her acclaimed album, Ela), Faccini has once again found himself uncovering and then guiding a young talent towards the limelight. Piers and Jenny recorded Northern Folk over two sessions in the summer months of 2014. Hidden away in the Mediterranean landscape, deep in the woods, far from the noise and interference of any city, Faccini’s rural studio felt like the perfect setting for recording Jenny Lysander’s songs.
Lysander began writing her own songs at the age of thirteen. She describes her recording process with Faccini as a kind of apprenticeship. “When I started listening to his music,” she says, “I didn’t know what ‘folk’ meant, I just knew I loved what I heard and I sensed a sort of authenticity and wisdom in his way of writing songs. That he happened to be the one producing my songs was just a very happy coincidence.” Piers, too, was drawn to Jenny songs from the very first moment. “Her talent,” he says, “is astonishing and the depth of her writing belies her years. It has been a wonderful privilege to record her songs.”
Jenny Lysander’s debut album opens with ‘A Painter’s Brush’. The title is an apt one as the album feels like it is played with soft touches, reminiscent of an artist’s brush. As Faccini says, “if this album were a collection of paintings they would surely be a suite of northern landscapes.”
Hoping to give Jenny’s songs something broader than the stark beauty of an accompanying guitar, Faccini worked on weaving the songs together with a variety of different acoustic tones. In songs like ‘Mind Me’, or ‘Giving Thanks’ dulcimers, koras and mandolins drift into glissando choirs – and twelve-string and resonator guitars slide behind Lysander’s voice and agile guitar work. To bring further rhythmic intensity to the album, Faccini enrolled Italian drummer Simone Prattico, and convinced renowned English bassist Pat Donaldson to come out of retirement. Songs like the beguiling ‘Dancing On The Edge’, or even the title track ‘Northern Folk’, bring a pulsing syncopation to the album and complement the soft intensity of Jenny’s voice.
Timeless and unique as Lysander’s music is, it reveals the influence of songwriters such as Sandy Denny, Joni Mitchell or even Kate Bush. Bringing Donaldson into the fold – who played alongside Sandy Denny in the 1970s in the group Fotheringay – allowed the album to build a fascinating bridge between different generations of female songwriters. Of today’s songwriters, Jenny Lysander’s profound and poetic voice bears some comparison to Laura Marling, whose own recording career also began at an early age and with a style that defied simple categorisation. Lysander’s songs similarly don’t seem to belong to any particular age. From beginning to end, though, Northern Folk is undoubtedly folk, Swedish even, and confidently sings to the whole world.
Fotheringay are perhaps less famous for what they achieved than for their unrealised potential. They released a single, ‘Peace In The End’ and ‘Winter Winds’, and an album which was probably one track too short – a reprise of Sandy Denny’s titular song would have rounded it out – and then broke up in the middle of recording a second album. Thus they became a legend.
The history of the band is a convoluted one. Their first choice guitarist, Albert Lee, rapidly became unhappy with the role he was being asked to fulfil and left to be replaced by Jerry Donahue joining the drums and bass combination of Gerry Conway and Pat Donaldson alongside Sandy and Trevor Lucas. There is a feeling that Sandy’s management were not happy with her leaving Fairport Convention to form another band and wanted her to pursue a solo career. She was the only vocalist to guest on a Led Zeppelin album and won the Melody Maker female vocalist of the year award twice in succession. There was an inevitability about her future.
This box set begins with an expanded version of the eponymous first album. Its style was in some ways a return to her years with Fairport. There were covers of Gordon Lightfoot and Bob Dylan, a bunch of songs written by Sandy and Trevor and the magnificent eight-minute ‘Banks Of The Nile’. It could have been Unhalfbricking all over again. The first song we hear is ‘Nothing More’, a portrait of Richard Thompson after Fairport’s motorway crash, and one of many Sandy songs that seem to come from a mythical world. You can believe that she did keep a unicorn somewhere. It’s followed by ‘The Sea’ depicting the disaster of a flooded London from another parallel world.
Lightfoot’s ‘The Way I Feel’ provides a counterpoint to Sandy’s lyricism with the final version giving prominence to Gerry and Pat’s rhythm section and Jerry’s lead guitar and Trevor’s ‘The Ballad Of Ned Kelly’ points in the direction of Fotheringay’s country rock tendencies, as does Dylan’s ‘Too Much Of Nothing’.
There are six demos and alternate takes fleshing out the disc, all titles from the completed work. Any other songs the band worked on may well have been pencilled in for Fotheringay 2 where they subsequently appeared.
By 2008 Jerry Donahue had completed the reconstruction of Fotheringay’s second album, adding guitar parts and, presumably, sequencing the record which, with the addition of six bonus tracks, forms the second disc of this set. It opens with ‘John The Gun’, a song later revisited by Sandy and Fairport Convention, and one of her most powerful and enduring. It’s followed by ‘Eppie Moray’, a traditional Scottish tale of attempted marriage. Trevor sings the main part but he sounds oddly subdued and the track really comes to life when Sandy takes over the narrative.
‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ is lovely and it was at the height of its popularity at the time. The band’s performance stands the test of time but, with the benefit of hindsight, the song hasn’t. ‘Knights Of The Road’ was later taken up by Fairport and still sounded like a filler on Rosie but the trials and tribulations surrounding that record are the subject of another article.
That is followed by ‘Late November’ which later appeared as the first track on Sandy’s solo album The North Star Grassman And The Ravens – the first of several versions to be released. The Fotheringay rhythm track survived as the basis of Sandy’s solo version but Donahue’s lead guitar was replaced by Richard Thompson and Sandy re-did her vocals. ‘Restless’, another Trevor Lucas song, appeared on Rising For The Moon and ‘I Don’t Believe You’ sounds like a Lucas solo cut with a very Dylan-ish organ, uncredited on the 2008 release. Was that Sandy?
Wonderful as it was/is to have these tracks, they sound like the output of a band which had no stake in their future. The bonus cuts include three Joe Boyd mixes of the original tracks and I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I prefer these to Donahue’s – they seem to have the feel of the time whereas Jerry’s seem to bring the weight of years and experience to them. Still, you have to wonder if they knew which way the wind was blowing – Conway and Donaldson were experienced session musicians and I’d be prepared to bet that they were sensitive to atmosphere in the studio.
Also included are two versions of ‘Bruton Town’ – the second of which is by the new incarnation of the band with Kathryn Roberts, PJ Wright and Sally Barker fronting the original trio of Donahue, Conway and Donaldson.
The third disc collects together live performances and radio sessions. Some have already been anthologised but the majority are appearing on disc for the first time. It opens with ‘The Way I Feel’ from the band’s 1970 Rotterdam concert. Immediately we can feel the energy of the band at their best, with Donahue’s choppy guitar solo a highlight. ‘The Sea’ is more lyrical with Sandy sounding so much at ease and ‘Too Much Of Nothing’ is solid country rock giving both Conway and Donahue their heads. Muddy Waters’ ‘I’m Troubled’ was a song Fotheringay hadn’t recorded and they had a whale of time playing it as they did ‘Memphis Tennessee’, seemingly chosen spontaneously by Sandy. ‘Banks Of The Nile’ is pretty close to perfection.
The second part of the disc is a number of BBC sessions previously unreleased on CD. Prime among these is Sandy’s solo ‘The Lowlands Of Holland’ but I’d venture to say that these are amongst the best tracks that Fotheringay ever recorded as their experience of playing the songs met studio technology at just the right time. Can it now be said that they were better live?
Finally we have a DVD of four songs recorded for the German TV show Beat Club. Two of these, ‘Nothing More’ and ‘John The Gun’ were not broadcast and only ‘Too Much Of Nothing’ has been readily available.
So, everything Fotheringay ever did – as far as we know that is – together with rare photographs and sketches for sleeve art by designer Marion Appleton. It’s perfect but there is a sense of looking for what might have been but never was. Sadly, there is nothing more.
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Universal Music catalogue is pleased to announce the release of the definitive Fotheringay collection, Nothing More: The Collected Fotheringay, scheduled for release on March 30th 2105. This four-disc set is the most comprehensive compilation yet of the group’s recordings, including hitherto unseen television footage, previously unreleased live recordings from a festival in Rotterdam (both from August 1970) and, for the first time, the official release of the seven existing tracks which Fotheringay recorded in session for BBC radio.
Fotheringay was the group formed by Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas in January 1970, just weeks after she left Fairport Convention on the eve of the release of the landmark Liege & Lief. Denny and Lucas recruited drummer Gerry Conway who had played alongside Lucas in Eclection before adding bass player Pat Donaldson and guitarist Jerry Donahue.
Fotheringay played its first dates on a concert tour in March 1970, recording their debut album over seven sessions between 18 February and 14 April. Simply titled Fotheringay, it proved to be the group’s sole album during its lifetime, released by Island Records in late June. Statistically, it was Sandy Denny’s most successful post-Fairport album, spending six weeks on the charts and peaking at No. 18. It featured some of her finest songs and best ever vocal performances on the traditional ‘Banks of the Nile’, and her own ‘The Pond and the Stream’, ‘Winter Winds’, ‘Nothing More’ and ‘The Sea’. Three months later, Sandy Denny was voted Britain’s Best Female Singer in the prestigious Melody Maker Poll, a feat she repeated the following year.
Although preparations began soon after to record a second album, it was abandoned in January 1971 when Sandy Denny announced she was leaving the group. Fotheringay played its farewell concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 30 January. It wasn’t entirely the end for Fotheringay. Following renewed interest in Sandy Denny and an unstoppable cult following in the decades since her death in April 1978, Jerry Donahue, Pat Donaldson and Gerry Conway carefully pieced together Fotheringay 2. They quite brilliantly assembled the aborted album from the 1970 master tapes and it was finally released some 34 years later. Fotheringay 2 was ecstatically received, not least for the inclusion of two more of Sandy Denny’s finest songs, ‘John the Gun’ and ‘Late November’ and superb arrangements, sung by Denny and Lucas, of the traditional ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, ‘Eppie Moray’ and Australian bush-folk classic ‘Bold Jack Donahue’.
Both albums have now been gathered together on Nothing More: The Collected Fotheringay, each bolstered by a generous selection of demos, rehearsal tapes, alternate takes and mixes. The third disc combines a recording from a festival in Rotterdam in August 1970 with previously unreleased BBC session tracks, including Sandy singing a breathtaking, unaccompanied ‘Lowlands of Holland’. The final DVD disc is the real Holy Grail for her fans. The four songs recorded by the group for the German TV show Beat Club effectively double the existing footage of Sandy Denny in performance. Two of these, ‘Nothing More’ and ‘John the Gun’ were never even broadcast at the time.
Nothing More comes in hardcover book format complete with rare and previously unseen photographs of the band plus previously unseen original sketches for the Fotheringay cover by Marion Appleton, Trevor Lucas’s sister. The package includes a new essay by Mick Houghton author of a new Sandy Denny biography I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn, published by Faber & Faber on March 5th.
Fotheringay’s recordings sound better with every passing year and the group is finally emerging from under the shadow of Fairport Convention; the Fotheringay musicians all went on to have successful careers, particularly as session musicians with the likes of Cat Stevens, Joan Armatrading, the McGarrigles and Gerry Rafferty. Trevor Lucas would go on to produce Sandy’s last three solo albums, two for Fairport Convention (which he and Donahue joined in 1972, Denny re-joining in 1974) and Rock On by The Bunch which featured all of Fotheringay less than a year after the split. More than anything, however, Nothing More: The Collected Fotheringay is particularly welcome for including so many crucial recordings from Sandy Denny’s remarkable career that was so tragically cut short.
Full Track Listing
DISC ONE – “Fotheringay” – Expanded
01: Nothing More ( 4:35 )
02: The Sea ( 5:30 )
03: The Ballad of Ned Kelly ( 3:31 )
04: Winter Winds ( 2:10 )
05: Peace In The End ( 4:02 )
06: The Way I Feel ( 4:44 )
07: The Pond and The Stream ( 3:16 )
08: Too Much of Nothing ( 3:53 )
09: Banks of The Nile ( 8:04 )
10: The Sea – Demo version ( 4:53 )
11: Winter Winds – Demo version ( 2:23 )
12: The Pond and The Stream – Demo version ( 3:07 )
13: The Way I Feel – Original version ( 4:04 )
14: Banks of The Nile – Alternate take ( 7:46 )
15: Winter Winds – Alternate take ( 2:28 )
DISC TWO – “Fotheringay 2” – Expanded
01: John The Gun ( 5:06 )
02: Eppie Moray ( 4:44 )
03: Wild Mountain Thyme ( 3:50 )
04: Knights of the Road ( 4:10 )
05: Late November ( 4:37 )
06: Restless ( 2:46 )
07: Gypsy Davey ( 3:41 )
08: I Don’t Believe You ( 4:44 )
09: Silver Threads and Golden Needles ( 4:29 )
10: Bold Jack Donahue ( 7:37 )
11: Two Weeks Last Summer ( 3:49 )
12: Late November – Joe Boyd mix ( 4:31 )
13: Gypsy Davey – Joe Boyd mix ( 3:52 )
14: Two Weeks Last Summer – Joe Boyd mix ( 3:58 )
15: Silver Threads and Golden Needles – alternative version (4:31)
16: Bruton Town – Rehearsal version ( 5:19 )
17: Bruton Town – 2015 version ( 4:44 ) First Time On CD
DISC THREE – Live
01: The Way I Feel ( 5:05 ) – Live in Rotterdam Previously Unreleased
02: The Sea ( 5:37 ) – Live in Rotterdam
03: Too Much Of Nothing ( 4:11 ) – Live in Rotterdam Previously Unreleased
04: Nothing More ( 4:55 ) – Live in Rotterdam
05: I’m Troubled ( 3:02 ) – Live in Rotterdam
06: Two Weeks Last Summer ( 4:47 ) – Live in Rotterdam
07: The Ballad of Ned Kelly ( 3:56 ) – Live in Rotterdam Previously Unreleased
08: Banks of The Nile ( 7:42 ) – Live in Rotterdam
09: Memphis Tennessee ( 4:12 ) – Live in Rotterdam
10: Interview / The Sea – BBC Top Gear ( 6:15 ) Previously Unreleased
11: The Lowlands of Holland – BBC Folk On One ( 2:37 ) Previously Unreleased
12: Eppie Moray – BBC Folk On One ( 4:29 ) Previously Unreleased
13: John The Gun – BBC Sounds of The 70s ( 4:48 ) Previously Unreleased
14: Bold Jack Donahue – BBC Sounds of The 70s ( 5:56 ) Previously Unreleased
15: Gypsy Davey – BBC Sounds of The 70s ( 3:43 ) Previously Unreleased
16: Wild Mountain Thyme – BBC Sounds of The 70s ( 3:53 ) Previously Unreleased
DISC FOUR – DVD – BEAT CLUB 28th NOVEMBER 1970
01. Nothing More ( 4:50 ) Previously Unreleased – not broadcast)
02. Gypsy Davey ( 3:55 ) Previously Unreleased
03. John the Gun ( 4:55 ) Previously Unreleased – not broadcast)
04. Too Much of Nothing ( 3:42 )