Twenty First November 1970 is a date I remember so well. It is the date when I saw my favourite female singer of all time, Sandy Denny, perform with her then-new post-Fairport band, Fotheringay. I had been given Fotheringay's debut album as a birthday present that year and this gate-fold sleeved, pink Island label LP record was , and still is, a treasured possession.
Sandy had abruptly left Fairport after the release of their extraordinary Liege and Lief album and had formed Fotheringay with her husband, Australian folk singer Trevor Lucas. They chose the rest of the band wisely - superb American guitarist Jerry Donahue; drummer extraordinaire Gerry Conway [who had been in Trevor's previous band Eclection] and inventive bass player Pat Donaldson. Fotheringay released just the one album mentioned above, before they split up during the making of the follow up record.
Tragically, after an all too-brief solo career, Sandy passed away on Twenty First April 1978 and Trevor only survived her until Fourth February 1989.
In the meantime, Jerry Donahue has continued to champion the music of Fotheringay. I spoke to him a few years ago when he was playing on tour with Big Brother and the Holding Company and he told me of his plans to complete the unfinished second Fotheringay album.This he duly did, and Fotheringay II was released in 2008 to much acclaim, followed by a live album "Fotheringay Essen 1970" in 2011.
Even better was to follow. This year Universal-Island Records have released a superb 4-disc box set called "Nothing More- The Collected Fotheringay", which includes just about everything the band ever recorded. Not only that, but 2015 also saw the publication of Mick Houghton's excellent biography of Sandy Denny "I've Always Kept A Unicorn".
Encouraged by all of this interest in the music of Fotheringay, the three surviving members, Jerry, Gerry and Pat decided to re-form the band, with guest singers to fill the shoes of Sandy and Trevor.
As Jerry said "This is a dream come true for me.It was a great opportunity following the release of the box set on Island and Mick Houghton's book on Sandy. We have received a positive response from LA to Beirut".
Instead of one guest singer to sing Sandy's songs, the band chose two ; Sally Barker and Kathryn Roberts, both of whom will be well known to readers of this magazine. Sally explained to me that "We are trying to represent the music of Sandy Denny, particularly her less well-known songs. We decided to have two singers to sing her songs as it would be too much pressure on one singer, as Sandy was such a great singer. It's great to be on stage with these musicians who have such a feel for Sandy's music, it's the music of their youth".
Kathryn Roberts added that "It's a joy and an honour to be playing these songs with these guys. I grew up listening to them. To be able to play these songs with this lot is brilliant".
Trevor's not insubstantial shoes are filled by P J Wright, who is best known for his work with The Steve Gibbons Band, Fairport offshoot The Dylan Project and, of course, Little Johnny England.As well as singing Trevor's songs, PJ also plays electric and acoustic guitar and some very nice pedal steel guitar.
What about the concert, you may ask?
Well, quite simply, it was stunning. The original members [Jerry, Gerry and Pat ] rolled back the years and played as if it was 1970 once more. Jerry's guitar playing was absolutely awesome; right from the very first notes of the classic "Nothing More" until the very end of the show he reeled off one perfect, string-bending solo after another. Superb.
As for Gerry and Pat, they have got to be one of the most inventive rhythm sections in the business. They can play with great subtlety as befits Sandy's music or they can rock out with the best of them.
What of the singers? I think that the idea of having two female vocalists was spot on. Both Sally and Kathryn are superb singers and whether they were harmonising together [as on their "Abba moment" "Winter Winds"] or singing individually, the result was the same- brilliant
Highlights [of which there were many] included Kathryn's beautifully poignant vocals on "The Sea", "Solo" and "Late November" [three of my favourite Sandy songs].
For me, however, Sally Barker has the perfect voice for singing Sandy's songs. Sally's intense rendition of the dramatic "John The Gun" was amazing and rightly garnered huge applause. Her vocals on "It'll Take A long Time" from 1972 made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as I almost believed that Sandy was here singing it. This was a brilliant performance which was enhanced by some wonderfully atmospheric pedal steel from P J Wright.
Talking of PJ, he took to the role of Trevor Lucas like the proverbial duck to water, performing such favourites as "The Ballad of Ned Kelly", "Bold Jack Donahue", "The Way I Feel", "Too Much of Nothing" and "I Don't Believe You" with great aplomb and swagger, which would, no doubt, have impressed Trevor himself.
My favourite performance of the evening was the epic, spine-tingling version of the traditional "Banks of the Nile" on which Sally and Kathryn traded verse after impassioned verse, whilst the band provided an ebbing and flowing backdrop, just as they did in 1970. Jerry's solo was simply gorgeous and Kathryn's clarinet provided extra colour. Magnificent.
The second set ended with a rousing sing-along "Peace In The End", whilst, in keeping with Fotheringay tradition, the encore was "Memphis Tennessee" which, as Jerry explained, they used to play "because we enjoyed playing it".
And so ended a marvellous "Return of Fotheringay". Prior to the show, I had wondered whether it would work or not. I am glad to say that it most certainly did work and it worked beyond all of my expectations or imagination. The musicianship and vocals were magnificent. I hope that it is not another forty five years before I see them again!
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