Angel of Avalon
Even after all these years, I still feel a deep sadness at Sandy's death. I have as much respect for her power as a singer as for any who ever lived. It is one of my regrets that we never got the chance to sing together except when a bit inebriated in the pub as I learned a lot from her.
Sandy left us one of the high spots of all the recorded performances of traditional song I have ever heard. Her Fotheringay version of "The Banks of the Nile" is nothing short of stunning. The raw, aching, agony which she brings to her reading of it makes it impossible not to feel the grief and fear of the young woman at the separation from her loved one and the uncertainty of his return from the horrors of war.
People who argue that it is enough in singing traditional song to simply declaim the lyric without any involvement of the singer's personal experience are talking drivel. They are treating a repository of human experience with contempt and the approach they advocate is appropriate to stamp-collecting, not singing. Learning the words is not the job, it is merely the beginning of the preparation to do the job. The people who wrote those songs wrote them from personal experience, they have been kept alive because they say something of eternal relevence to the universality of human experience and it is the job of the singer, more than anything else, to put in the work necessary to study, understand and translate that experience so as to communicate it to the listener. Otherwise, we might as well just hand the members of the audience a printed copy of the lyric and we can all go home.
When I hear people justify artistic laziness in this crude way, I think of Sandy's rendition of "Banks of the Nile" where the experience of the participants, their lives and what they endured, is honoured by being treated with love and respect and is brought back to life across the gulf of time and made tangible to the listener. It is a supreme example of the craft of interpreting traditional song and is the standard every singer should be aiming for. Few will achieve it but trying will make us all better singers.
© Dick Gaughan February 2001. May not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form, material or electronic, without the written permission of the author. Reproduced here with Dick's permission. Dick's website is at: www.dickalba.demon.co.uk
I'm writing to you from Yowie Bay, which is in the heart of the Sutherland Shire of Sydney, Australia. I had a few quiet moments to myself just now and thought I'd just do a search for 'Sandy Denny' on Google - and found your loving and sincere devotion to Sandy homepage. I spent many minutes reading letters to you giving tribute to Sandy, and now I find myself all emotional and tearful recalling the wonderful voice of this most remarkable lady. I, too, have most CD's directly related to her, and have read and re-read that wonderful tome 'No More Sad Refrains'. I only 'discovered' Sandy four years ago when my sister was ill and dying of cancer. Sandy was the only thing that got me through that period of life. Of all songs, 'Who knows where the time goes' must be a favorite of many peaople; but for me, 'Listen,Listen' has got to be the most invigourating and attention-grabbing work of hers, esp. as it appears as 1st track to introduce her essential/greatest hits CD in the way it does. (Without wishing to sound crass, I think the opening track of Herb Alpert's 'Lonely Bull' does much the same thing)'The Banks of the Nile' is easily the best version of this old master ever noted, Sandy's sincerity is so genuine; and yet, I feel utterly love-struck by that most early working - 'Sandy and The Strawbs' - and each and every song on this album shows Sandy to be the talented, knowing, mature and yet so young, innocent and fresh artist that she was/is. I grew up very much in admiration of Beethoven, and have had a very long classical upbringing. I know music when I hear it - Sandy Denny must be truly ranked amongst the very best of all musicians, singers and composers- it is because her voice is so loving, sincere and true. I wouldn't know her from a bar of soap if I tripped over her - but her love for music and honesty is so true.