Listen to this track by former Fairport Convention front and paragon of British folk-rock Sandy Denny. It’s “It’ll Take A Long Time”, the opening track to her 1972 album, Sandy, her second solo album.
This record would feature a few of her former bandmates in the Fairports and in Denny’s follow-up band Fotheringay, including her soon-to-be husband Trevor Lucas in the production chair, violinist Dave Swarbrick, and Richard Thompson (who you can hear very prominently on this track) on guitar. All of the mojo that everyone brought to those classic Fairports records of the late 1960s can be found here. Further still, we get Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel, adding mellifluous texture to this song in particular, and Allen Toussaint who served as an horn arranger elsewhere on the album. That’s quite a supporting cast!
But, no one outdoes Sandy Denny herself on this record which is quoted in many places as being her solo masterpiece. This is particularly true on this song, which has always been one of my favourites. Beyond Denny’s undeniable voice that seems to hold an ocean of feeling under each note as she sings it , there is a lot going on thematically in this song that reveals another of her skill sets. Read more
Here’s a clip featuringBritish folk-rock legends Fairport Convention with their song “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”, featuring the angelic vocals of Sandy Denny, who also wrote it. This is one of the bands’ defining moments, with British folk traditions melded with what might be called a pop sensibility, a centrepiece to the band’s landmark 1969 Unhalfbricking LP.
There is a sort of soaring sadness to this tune, as if the song is taking on the weight of existence itself. And yet, what comes out of it is mostly about how gorgeous it sounds, featuring Sandy Denny’s most heartfelt and indelible vocal ever committed to vinyl. It is incredible to me that Denny ever thought of herself as a second tier singer, which she once did feel but for the protestations of her bandmates and friends.
And as a writer, she proved her worth with this song alone, covered as it was by many including her American vocal counterpart Judy Collins, who brought this song to the fore in North America when she had a hit with it a year before. Yet Denny remained insecure, and uncertain of her own worth as an artist.
In addition to her work with the Fairports, her solo recordings, and other short lived folk-rock bands, Denny might be best known by rock fans as the female voice on Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore” from their untitled fourth album in 1971, the only person to date ever to sing on a Led Zeppelin song who isn’t Robert Plant. Indeed, Plant had been a musical admirer of Denny’s and a fan of Fairport Convention, calling her “the best of all the British girls” when it came to vocal prowess. Yet, her solo career took some time to gain momentum, despite the respect she commanded among her peers.
This is possibly because of her own insecurity. But it may also have to do with Denny’s dual interests in traditional material and her own songs, each set of interests vying for attention on her albums. As such, her entry into the American market, obsessed at the time with singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Carole King, was somewhat diluted despite her obvious talents. The pressures of a professional career, and her natural shyness, combined with a prodigious appetite for drinking and smoking, hurt her chances even more.
In 1978, Sandy took a fall down a flight of stairs while visiting with her parents in Cornwall. She died later of a brain hemorrhage related to the injury. She left behind a daughter Georgia, and a body of work which would continue to inspire other singer-songwriters in the British folk tradition including Kate Rusby, Cara Dillon, Thea Gilmore, and many others.
For a great overview of Sandy Denny’s recorded output, I heartily recommend the No More Sad Refrains: The Anthologywhich includes this song, a selection of her other work with Fairport, short-lived groups Fotheringay, the Bunch, and of course her solo work too.