Sandy Denny was the finest British female singer-songwriter that ever lived. Fotheringay was the short-lived band she formed in 1970 on leaving Fairport Convention. It lasted less than a year, but forty-five years on the surviving members have reformed for a short tour and are playing their first London gig since 1970. Band reunions can elicit mixed reactions and some questions went through my mind on this one. However talented the remaining musicians are, would this be a worthwhile exercise with the band’s two main front-people, Sandy Denny and her husband Trevor Lucas, long since deceased? As soon as the band come on stage, though, and open with Nothing More, the opening number on the original Fotheringay album, all doubts are set aside.
Joining original Fotheringay members, Jerry Donahue, Gerry Conway and Pat Donaldson, are Sally Barker and Katheryn Roberts doing the Sandy parts and PJ Wright stepping into Lucas’s shoes. I’ve long been impressed with Katheryn Roberts but Sally Barker I was rather rude about when I saw her guesting on a jarring version of Denny’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes with Fairport last summer. But both were hugely impressive tonight. While avoiding doing a “Now Matthew I’m going to be…” impersonation they nevertheless deliver the songs faithfully, passionately and beautifully. I’ll take my criticism of Barker back – she was utterly wonderful tonight in bringing alive these four decade-old songs. Singer/guitarist PJ Wright could not have been a more appropriate choice for singing those songs that Lucas had originally written and performed also, his rich voice perfectly capturing the spirit of the original Fotheringay recordings. Jerry Donahue’s beautifully expressive guitar work is always wonderful to hear, and I’ve seen him with numerous combinations of musicians in the past, but this was very special.
Fotheringay’s short but remarkable life meant their back catalogue was never extensive. But they play all the songs any follower of the band would expect and special highlights for me included John the Gun, Knights of the Road, Late November and a sing-along Peace in the End, the closer before the final old—school rock ‘n’ roll encore.
Apart from the occasional guests, Denny’s most famous ex-band, Fairport Convention, always eschewed the temptation to recruit another female vocalist on the grounds that Denny is irreplaceable. That she is irreplaceable goes without saying. But what the Fotheringay reunion demonstrates is that Denny’s songs undeniably sound many, many times better delivered with a female vocal, as they were originally conceived.
Well done Fotheringay, old and new, for putting this reunion together and for pulling it off so magnificently.
John the Gun
Knights of the Road
Banks of the Nile
Bold Jack Donahue
The Way I Feel
I Don’t Believe You
It’ll Take a Long Time
Too Much of Nothing
Peace in the End