It is incredible to think that after all these years, the work of Sandy Denny not only continues to live on, but that her posthumous catalogue keeps expanding. Released to coincide with the publication of Mick Houghton’s 2015 biography I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn, this alluring, often captivating collection of 40 tracks on 2 CDs, is all the evidence one will ever need that Denny was one of the most gifted singers of her generation, whose heavenly, angelic vocals were often breathtaking in their beauty and yet at odds with the woman herself.
For while it’s true that her tenure with Fairport Convention helped forge the English folk-rock scene in the late 1960’s, Denny’s efforts with Fotheringay later on were no less remarkable, yet it is her career as a solo performer which attracts far less attention than it deserves (she released a mere four solo albums in her lifetime. What this compilation attempts to do, is present Sandy in a completely other light, with tracks painstakingly compiled and gathered from an assortment of studio sessions, demos, to radio and TV performances beginning in 1967 to more than a decade later.
We have an early version of “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” when she was with The Strawbs, to a mesmerizingly beautiful “No End,” which has just Denny’s voice accompanied by a piano, so strong are many of these performances throughout that it is surprising to know that such talent came with an extreme amount of nervousness and insecurity, as if Sandy herself was in doubt as to her own abilities.
But there are plenty of other wonderful moments, such as an extremely personal rendition of “Solo”, recorded at a John Peel radio session, a delicate demo of “By The Time It Gets Dark”, through to acoustic versions of “She Moves Through The Fair”, “Fotheringay” and the intimate “Moments”. The classic “Blackwaterside” and “No More Sad Refrains” are included, as are demos of “Full Moon”, “Sandy’s Song” and “I’m A Dreamer”. Sandy’s voice is as magnetic as it is effortless, not least on the reflective “The North Star Grassman and The Ravens”, one of several recordings excavated from the BBC’s seemingly never ending archives.
What cannot be denied, is that Sandy Denny had a voice to die for, and although she never really received the sort of commercial acclaim she so richly deserved, her music hasn’t ever truly gone away, celebrated by her loyal followers and beloved still by those who knew her, or were fortunate enough to see her perform. I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn is indeed a worthy as well as important addition to Sandy’s life and legacy. A fragile spirit, who in this modern age continues to be sorely missed.