April 19, 2011


Sandy Denny

Fairport Convention (with Sandy Denny)
Berkeley Community Theatre, Berkeley, California
November 10, 1974

Photos by David Miller
Text by Michael Collins Morton

Dave Swarbrick

Fairport Convention was formed in North London, when Simon Nicol (guitar and vocals), Richard Thompson (guitar and vocals), and Ashley Hutchings (bass) began playing together, giving their first public performance at a church hall in May of 1967. (The name of the band was taken from "Fairport," the name of the house in which Simon Nicol's family lived.) They soon began to appear at UFO, Middle Earth, and other clubs in London, and swiftly gained the support of Joe Boyd, who produced their first album, Fairport Convention. (Joe Boyd is also known for his work with Pink Floyd, The Incredible String Band, John and Beverley Martyn, Nick Drake, and Nico.) The album, released on Polydor Records in June, 1968, featured twelve tracks of folk rock from a lineup that included Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings, Martin Lamble on drums, and two vocalists, Judy Dyble and Ian MacDonald (who was later to be known as Ian Matthews, and is now known as Iain Matthews).

Trevor Lucas

When Fairport Convention's second album, What We Did on Our Holidays (also produced by Joe Boyd), was released on Island Records in early 1969, Judy Dyble had departed, and Sandy Denny (formerly with Strawbs) had joined. With the addition of Sandy Denny, Fairport Convention took a great stride forward musically. Her extraordinary voice, and her ability to write songs of depth and beauty, put them in the first division of British rock. Among the tracks on the second album were several songs ("Fotheringay," "Nottamun Town," "She Moves Through the Fair") that prefigured their future sound. Another track on the album, "Meet on the Ledge" (written by Richard Thompson), became one of their most well-known songs.

 Trevor Lucas, Sandy Denny, Jerry Donahue, Dave Swarbrick, Dave Pegg

In May of 1969, when members of the band were driving on the M1, returning to London from a performance at Mothers, a club in Birmingham, the van in which they were riding ran off the road in the early hours of the morning. Martin Lamble (who was only nineteen) and Jeannie Franklyn (Richard Thompson's American girlfriend, and also a desgner of fashionable clothes) both were killed. The other musicians (apart from Sandy Denny, who was not in the van) all were injured. The accident nearly brought Fairport Convention to a sorrowful end, but after allowing time for grief and recovery, the survivors finally resolved to continue with their music.

Jerry Donahue, Trevor Lucas, Dave Pegg, Dave Swarbrick

Unhalfbricking, the third album by Fairport Convention, was released in July, 1969. Ian Matthews was no longer in the band, and was heard on only one track. (He later formed his own band, Matthews Southern Comfort, and had a major hit in 1970 with a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock.") Unhalfbricking included three songs written by Bob Dylan (with one of them being sung in French), as well as "Who Knows Where the Time Goes," a gracefully reflective song that was written and sung by Sandy Denny. Also included was "A Sailor's Life," a traditional song that featured Dave Swarbrick, a British folk musician, on violin.

Trevor Lucas, Dave Mattacks, Jerry Donahue, Dave Pegg, Dave Swarbrick

The fourth album by Fairport Convention, Liege and Lief, has come to be regarded as one the great masterpieces of British rock. Dave Mattacks was now on drums, and Dave Swarbrick also had joined. Liege and Lief followed the course that had been set by "A Sailor's Life," offering a standout collection of songs that were mainly drawn from English tradition, deftly rendered in a groundbreaking style that upheld the history of the tunes, but also was boldly electric. Two tracks in particular, "Matty Groves" and "Tam Lin," were utterly breathtaking, with Sandy Denny expertly using the power and clarity of her voice to spin moody tales of murder ("Matty Groves") and magic ("Tam Lin"), against a musical framework that was richly compelling.

Although Liege and Lief  raised the stature of Fairport Convention, both Ashley Hutchings and Sandy Denny soon quit, preferring to have bands of their own. Ashley Hutchings formed Steeleye Span, and Sandy Denny formed Fotheringay. (Sandy Denny also found time to sing with Robert Plant on "The Battle of Evermore," a track on the fourth album by Led Zeppelin.) Fairport Convention carried on without them, choosing Dave Pegg as their new bassist and releasing a fifth album, Full House, in the summer of 1970. After the release of Full House, Richard Thompson also quit, with the intention of seeking more time in which to write his own songs. (He soon released Henry the Human Fly, the first of many albums that he has recorded.) Over the next several years, Fairport Convention continued to release albums (Angel Delight, Babbacombe Lee, Rosie, Nine), and continued to tour in the UK and the USA.

By November, 1974, when Fairport Convention performed at the Berkeley Community Theatre, Simon Nicol had dropped out, but Sandy Denny had returned, joining two other musicians from Fotheringay who already had been enlisted: Trevor Lucas (her husband) on guitar and vocals, and Jerry Donahue on lead guitar. With Sandy Denny back in the fold, and Dave Swarbrick still in the band, Fairport Convention reclaimed much of the glorious sound that had defined their heyday. Unfortunately, it did not last, and after an extensive tour and an album, Rising for the Moon (released in 1975), the lineup that performed in Berkeley broke apart, with Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas, and Jerry Donahue all departing from the band. Only a few years later, in 1978, Sandy Denny fell down a flight of stairs and suffered a head injury that ended her life at the age of thirty-one.

David: It was a concert marathon when we saw Fairport Convention. My friends and I had seen Caravan play two shows the night before. We saw George Harrison do two shows the night before that. We saw Renaissance three nights before that. Three days after Fairport we saw Deep Purple and ELO. Including opening acts, we saw eleven acts in nine days.

My main interest in Fairport Convention was the early albums with Ian Matthews, Judy Dyble, and Sandy Denny. The three with Sandy Denny in the late 1960s were, and are, my favorites. I was thrilled to learn that she was reuniting with members of Fotheringay and Fairport.

The Berkeley Community Theatre is a great place. I once read that it was Bill Graham's favorite theater. Large enough, but not too large to enjoy an act from any seat. We were lucky to get front row seats for Fairport Convention.

I remember how polished the band was. They didn't look like the scruffy hippies from the early days. Dave Swarbrick put on a powerful performance. He seemed to be the leader of the band. Trevor Lucas took front stage for his vocals. Jerry Donahue played rock riffs on his electric guitar, while Trevor Lucas filled in with acoustic guitar.

Sandy Denny played piano and added vocals. She was to my left, but I could not see her at all behind her piano. I was disappointed and worried that I might never get a chance to see her properly. Toward the end of the concert, she came out from behind the piano and took front stage with a tambourine. I took photos of her until I ran out of film. In one shot she is looking at me and smiling. In another shot she and her husband, Trevor Lucas, are looking into each other's eyes. The look on her face is very poignant. She sang "Who Knows Where the Time Goes." The beauty of that song, with her voice and the mournful look on her face, was breathtaking. I think they ended with a rousing version of "Matty Groves."

After the concert we walked behind the auditorium. we saw the band's truck being backed up to load their equipment. To my amazement, Sandy Denny was standing there, giving instructions to the driver. She was calling out to the driver and laughing, with some comment like, "Where did you learn to drive a truck?" I was standing right next to her as she chided the truck driver, and she patted me on the stomach with the back of her hand, as if to say, "Watch me give this guy a hard time!" I remember looking down at my stomach and thinking, "Wow! Sandy Denny is hitting me on the stomach!" She did sign my paper pad, but never took her eyes off the truck backing up, so her signature is almost illegible. Dave Mattacks and Dave Swarbrick (with cigarette hanging from his lips) also signed for me. It was a great concert, and all the more memorable due to the wonderful Sandy Denny.

Gary: I remember this concert with great admiration. We were starting to choose concerts that were not big rock productions in the big venues, preferring smaller venues where we could sit down, not have to wait all day, and be treated with respect for a change. (Led Zeppelin at Kezar Stadium and The Faces at the Cow Palace had really burned us out.) Fairport Convention was, and is, a great favorite of mine. To this day, I am a solid Richard Thompson fan, and I am interested in the projects of all the other ex-Fairport members.

At Berkeley Community Theatre, the tone was very relaxed and intelligent. I liked the opening band, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, with their charming brand of hippie music. They played a very enjoyable, thoughtful set. I remember that I was pleasantly surprised, not knowing their music before the concert. "Jackie Blue" was their only hit, I think. A fitting opening act.

Fairport Convention came on, and their music really impressed me. This was a band that was a blend of Fairport and Fotheringay members. We were so lucky to see all those amazing musicians on one stage at the same time. I remember Sandy Denny singing at the piano, Trevor Lucas on guitar and vocals, Dave Pegg on bass, Dave Mattacks on drums, and Dave Swarbrick on blazing fiddle. No Richard Thompson, but the amazing Fender Telecaster playing of Jerry Donahue really blew me away, with his intricate and assertive, country-tinged yet jazz influenced, way of playing. Similar to a Chet Atkins approach, his style floored me. I had never witnessed that kind of playing. In retrospect, his playing was similar to Memphis or Nashville studio musicians that no one knows by name, but are on countless recordings, and are heard on radios all over the world. Listening to him play that night is still with me decades later.

Dave Swarbrick really pushed some of the songs with his amazing energy, his folk/Celtic country fiddling reaching a fever pitch at times. I think "Matty Groves" almost blew the roof off. Sandy Denny sang "Who Knows Where the Time Goes," and her piano was a big part of the overall sound. She was such a great talent, her life tragically cut short to the world's loss. Dave Mattacks always played with great taste and imagination, and could really cut loose when required. A wonderful drummer, very creative.

This was a great show. We got some autographs afterward, but for some reason I can't remember most of what happened then. (David's story of seeing Sandy Denny after the show is really amazing and funny.) I still have the autographs, but I must have been mesmerized by the music. This concert changed the way that I thought about music in those days, and I was learning about how amazing true creativity can be. How could music be so good then, but so dismal today?

Michael: Taking into account all of the many performances by different musicians that we attended in the early 1970s, this is among the ones that I remember most clearly and most fondly. I was a longtime fan of Fairport Convention, going back to the days of Liege and Lief, and I had the highest regard for the exquisite talent of Sandy Denny. Even though we saw George Harrison (Friday) and Caravan (Saturday) on the same weekend that we saw Fairport Convention (Sunday), this one still stands out in my memory.

I had missed out on seeing the most famous lineup of Fairport Convention in the late 1960s, so I was greatly excited when I heard that Sandy Denny was touring with them again. Dave Swarbrick was still on hand, which meant that with his violin and Sandy Denny's voice, they had two of the key elements that had created the sound of Liege and Lief. Richard Thompson was long gone, of course, but I knew that with Sandy Denny on the boards, it would be close to the true spirit of Fairport Convention.

We were lucky to be sitting near the front of the stage in the Berkeley Community Theatre, a venue that provided a good setting for their music. It was wonderful to see Sandy Denny up close, after years of seeing photos of her on the covers of LPs and in Melody Maker. I was surprised to see that she was actually quite short. It seemed funny that such a small woman could have such a powerful voice. To hear that voice in a live performance was extremely thrilling. In addition to being enthralled by Sandy Denny, I was also impressed by Dave Swarbrick. His manner on stage was casual, as if he was merely a country fiddler playing random tunes in the dusty corner of a rustic pub, but the tones that came from his electric violin were fluid and forceful.

The audience in Berkeley was clearly made up of serious fans. There was a charge in the air that evening, probably because we all knew that being able to see Sandy Denny singing with Fairport Convention again constituted a special occasion. When someone in the crowd called out for "Matty Groves," Sandy Denny paused, cocked her head, and smiled, saying, "You've got it," as the band fell in behind her, rolling smoothly into the familiar rhythm of the song. It was an unforgettable moment.

After the show we waited at the stage door and had the great pleasure of meeting Sandy Denny. She was friendly and gracious to us, but I remember that she appeared to be a bit tipsy, and she kept saying to the person with her, "Where's Trevor?" When I asked her if she would be doing any further recordings with Led Zeppelin, she laughed and replied, "They still haven't paid me for the track that I've already done!" My friends and I had the opportunity to meet many musicians in those days, but having the chance to speak with Sandy Denny is a memory that I particularly cherish.

More about Fairport Convention and Sandy Denny at David's Rock Scrapbook

Official Fairport Convention website here

Next: Caravan



  2. Grats for meeting Sandy. Just started... and finished listening to Fotheringay. The woman had a voice. So sad, yet beautiful.

  3. Sandy Denny has to be my all-time favourite female singer. Such a powerful evocative voice. A tragic loss indeed.

  4. I've been one of Sandy's biggest fans since 1972. Now I'm almost 63 years old and I still love her dearly. It's great to see more Sandy websites appearing. Thanks and may God bless you.

  5. What a wonderful experience that surely was. Got to meet Sandy, too!

    Lucky, lucky you.

  6. Was at that one too. Beautiful! Love sitting down and watching her vids during this virus lockdown. So great to look back, close my eyes and let my mind drift away.

  7. Love reading these recollections of the show and meeting Sandy! To me it's so interesting to hear people's personal memories . Wish i could've been there! Thank you!