The Sandy Denny this writer met in 1977 was gossipy and lively, and her tragically premature death the following year robbed the British music scene of a rich and unique voice. Until now, she has remained in the shadow of her Island contemporary Nick Drake. But with her name being dropped in all the right places, bulging box sets on the shelves, a new biography available and beautifully compiled album reissues out there, the quality of Denny’s material is being rightly appreciated.
Of all the contemporary projects with her name attached, Don’t Stop Singing is perhaps the most intriguing, with respected singer/songwriter Thea Gilmore writing music to accompany lyrics Sandy never lived to record. It is an audacious concept, but refreshingly it works. Thea is not in awe of Sandy; she doesn’t attempt to sing like her, and has no hesitation in conjuring choruses out of fragments from the Denny notebooks. Of the 20 or so discovered songs, 10 are tackled here. Lushly orchestrated, crisply produced and beautifully sung, they comprise a stellar addition to a glittering catalogue.
But what comes across from the words is a deep sense of melancholy: Sandy was battling a career meltdown, a drink problem and her only daughter had been taken from her. From the lyrics alone, you sense isolation, pain, distress; but also apparent is vulnerability, and that of course, was one of the reasons Sandy was such a great songwriter. Sandy’s love of the sea ran through her music, and Sailor is one of the outstanding tracks here. London rocks along, while Glistening Bay is effortlessly a great song by a great singer. But it is the immeasurably poignant Georgia which brings the album to a close, a lullaby to a daughter from a mother she would never know.
The highest praise you can apply is that Don’t Stop Singing earns itself a place alongside the solo albums Sandy released in her lifetime.
From the Artist
SANDY DENNY was the seminal English singer/songwriter, the first UK female singer/songwriter to secure a major record deal when she signed for Island in 1970. Prior to this she was a member of Fairport Convention, with whom she cut some of that band's most iconic songs. Denny recorded four hugely acclaimed albums for Island, found time for many innovative side-projects and duetted with Robert Plant on Led Zeppelin's legendary fourth album, all before her tragically early death in 1978. Years after Sandy's passing, THEA GILMORE has blazed a fiercely independent trail since starting her recording career, which has seen her gather fans such as Bruce Springsteen and Joan Baez. The story behind "Don't Stop Singing" spans almost 33 years and 3 continents... After Sandy Denny's death, all of her belongings were shipped to Australia when husband Trevor Lucas moved back. It was in late 2007 that the writer and designer Phil Smee was commissioned to prepare the artwork for a commemorative box set of Sandy's BBC recordings. A major Denny fan himself, for this task he was given access to many of Sandy's remaining notebooks and general paperwork. Although by no means the first person to be granted this, but he was the first to notice what appeared to be lyrics for several more songs amongst the manuscripts. Further investigation between Smee, Island records and the guardians of Sandy's estate subsequently unearthed up to twenty sets of lyrics from the manuscripts. Thea Gilmore was soon identified as the artiste with the talent, integrity and the musical and personal empathy to bring these works to fruition. Her melodic abilities and, in particular, her quintessentially English crystalline voice have on occasions been compared to Sandy... The words themselves bear the trademark qualities that Sandy carried throughout her career. At times they are troubled - Sandy's restless nature and battling of her personal demons is well documented - but always honest, economical in style, never self pitying. `Don't Stop Singing' is a work of the rarest beauty.