Charles Spencer

Impressions of England

Charles Spencer remembers Sandy Denny

I’m writing this on the May Day bank holiday, with birds singing outside, probably in terror as the cat Nelson is on the prowl, searching for some luckless fledgling to kill and devour on our doorstep. He will then roll on his back, wave his legs in the air and look cute, expecting to be congratulated on his brutality. Tennyson knew what he was about when he wrote of nature red in tooth and claw.

Serial killing aside, it has been the most beautiful of springs. You’ll probably riposte that it has been mostly wet and cold but that’s my point. The weather seems to have slowed down spring. Most years the season seems to pass in a flash, before you have properly appreciated it. This year it has taken its time. The primroses in the lanes of Dorset lasted for many weeks. Here in suburban Surrey the magnolias weren’t blasted by frost or storms, the apple and cherry blossom are still on the trees, while the bluebells have just reached their almost purple haze of glory.

So, at the start of the merry month of May, with another winter safely behind us, it seems the time to turn to folk music. To be honest, I hadn’t listened to any of my folk records for yonks until I was driving back from Nottingham the other night after the theatre. Dear old Whisperin’ Bob Harris was presenting a tribute to Sandy Denny, the great lead singer with Fairport Convention, who died 30 years ago aged 31.

I still remember the pang of sadness I felt when I first heard of her death. There was an unaffected purity about her voice that made any song she sung seem special, and Liege and Lief, the folk rock album she cut with Fairport in 1969, not only invented folk rock but remains its consummate masterpiece almost 40 years on.

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