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Music Review: Fotheringay – Essen 1970

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For those of you who are fortunate to have what’s now the home mortgage-priced Sandy Denny box set and thought you had it all, two words: Nyah-nyah (or is that one word?). There’s a brand new CD and vinyl of a concert very few people have ever heard before. At the moment it’s available only from Amazon.de or Amazon.co.uk, but I’ve heard rumblings that Amazon-U.S. will have it eventually.

The contents of Essen 1970 were recorded by Denny’s British folk rock group Fotheringay at an indoor concert in the Grugahalle in Essen, Germany, on October 23, 1970. I’ve seen a couple online comments from the Snotterati that it’s not a professionally-rendered recording, but it’s probably better than most of the bootlegs that you’ve ever heard.  In plain English, 80% of the listeners wouldn’t even notice, had I not mentioned it. Listening to the critics, this CD is a flagitious travesty. That said, I had no gripes whatsoever with any part of the CD. The important aspects of Essen 1970 are first, it’s Sandy Denny and Fotheringay; second, it’s never before been released; third, it’s a live recording; and fourth, Bob Dylan once said when speaking of Denny, she’s “as near as I would get to worshipping anyone.”

I’m not certain of this, but I think it’s one of only two existing live Fotheringay recordings. If anybody knows differently, or can verify, please let me know.  It features  Denny, of course, along with Trevor Lucas, Jerry Donahue, Pat Donaldson and Gerry Conway.

In today’s music production capabilities world, it’s short–less than 43 minutes with nine cuts–but considering the capabilities of the time, it’s an average-to-long LP. The tapes have been wonderfully remastered by Fotheringay guitarist Jerry Donahue. Of course, I don’t know what the original tapes sounded like, but I’d say he got out of these 38-year-old tapes what any superb, top-notch engineer could have. Add in the fact that Fotheringay existed slightly over one year, and I’d say hearing Essen 1970 is not far short of a miracle.

Fotheringay was formed of “leftovers” from Fairport Convention, one of folk’s supergroups from the 1960s. The name Fotheringay is taken from the title of Denny’s first of her own songs she recorded with Fairport Convention. While all the members are considered commendable, Denny was considered Fairport’s beating heart. As an example of Denny’s tremendous talent, Dave Cousins, founder of another British folk group, The Strawbs, heard the then-18-year-old soloist sing once, and immediately asked her to join. The Strawbs went on to become “the most influential and long-lived of all British folk-rock bands,” according to the sleeve notes.

The sleeve notes are written by Denny expert Philip Ward, who has a book coming out in December titled Sandy Denny: Reflections on Her Music, which I hope to be able to review.

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About Lou Novacheck