Interview: Bellowhead – The Lady: A Homage to Sandy Denny

 

In the following weeks, a number of our favourite folk artists will be touring the country, showcasing Sandy Denny’s entire musical legacy for the first time, encompassing her work with Fairport Convention, Fotheringay, her solo career as well as new songs discovered in Sandy’s archive. Behind the tour, there has been a huge amount of hard work put in by the performers to make this such a wonderful tribute, and a great deal of credit has to be given to the likes of Joan Wasser, P.P. Arnold, Thea Gilmore, Lavinia Blackwall and many more. Also involved are the wonderful Bellowhead, and Thank Folk For That were given the fantastic opportunity to talk to Pete Flood from the band, and one of the major organisers behind ‘The Lady: A Homage To Sandy Denny’….

So firstly, what does Sandy Denny mean to you and the other performers? What is it about her that has allowed her talent and beautiful compositions to live on?

Yes, her music has lived on, but actually, I’m surprised that she’s not better known than she is. Her songs are just stellar, and she covers so much ground as a writer. We think of her primarily as a folk artist for her work with Fairport, but she was far more edgy and eclectic than most of today’s folk acts. So I take her as an inspiration to stay restless, and not to get too comfortable in whichever musical niche I happen to find myself in.

Sandy Denny is an undoubtedly influential and resonant name in modern folk, both in her personal life and musically, what effect do you think she has had on folk music today?

It’s not just folk – her music has been covered by soul and rock acts – P.P. Arnold and Yo La Tengo to name two. Amongst adventurous-minded musicians she’s been massively influential, and where ‘folk music’ is code for singer songwriters with acoustic guitars she was one of the first women to venture into what was for a long time a man’s world. So she’s justly revered.

How do you see her style being reflected in modern folk music, especially with the amount of solo female folk artists today, such as Laura Marling, Lucy Rose and similar artists?

I see many echoes of her style, but I can’t think of anyone who’s merely a Sandy clone – everyone has their own voice.

How long has this project been in the making?

Since 2008. It’s taken a long time to find the clear spaces in the diary.

How is it to be working with some of the biggest names in folk? Who are you most excited about playing and working with on this tour?

I’m looking forward to renewing the friendships we made last time with inspirational players like Jerry Donahue, P.P. Arnold and Swarb. I’m also really interested to see what folk artists like Lavinia Blackwall and Joan Wasser bring to the mix. And we’ve worked with both Maddy Prior and Green Gartside on other projects, so I know they’re going to be great too.

There was a tribute concert held back in 2008 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of her death, how did you find the reaction to this and how do you feel about playing her songs to an audience once more?

I was blown away by the reaction last time. I hadn’t expected there to be such a strong and committed fanbase. But it was a shame that it was just the one concert back then. This time we get the chance to grow into the material, which is really exciting.

Is there any chance of future collaborations or releases coming from this variety of artists on the tour or from the tour itself?

Well – that remains to be seen. Andrew Batt produced the 30th anniversary gig and who put this show together has some ideas – I live for collaboration, so obviously I’d love it if the project were to grow legs!

You have your own UK tour in November too; how do you find playing in this kind of situation compared to your own tours?

It requires a great deal more discipline. In a multi-artist show you have to be constantly aware and adaptive to be able to bring the best to each singer. A Bellowhead gig is a big test of stamina. So it’s maybe like comparing 3D chess with a half marathon.

Has this experience offered Bellowhead any new influences or inspirations ahead of recording your fourth album and the tour?

Well, I was always drawn to the current of magic realism underlying much of the folk tradition. And listening to the tracks that Sandy chose to sing on Liege And Lief and elsewhere, and how that fascination developed into a taste for dreamlike imagery in her songwriting, I think she was too. So I feel her influence as an affirmation that the weird stuff is worth perservering with. She also has a great, untutored ear for harmony, unfettered by anything remotely orthodox – I’m trying to stay that way myself.

Is there a particular song of hers that you particularly enjoy and would recommend to those who are less familiar with her work?

Two – I love By The Time It Gets Dark, which I first heard on a Yo La Tengo album and had no idea that Sandy wrote it until much later – she only ever recorded it as a demo, which gives you an idea of the overall quality of her songwriting if she could consign a track of that quality to the trash. Also – The Sea – the first Sandy track I ever heard and still one of my favorites.

Pete and the rest of ‘The Lady’ tour will be visiting the following venues in the coming weeks….

Liverpool Philharmonic – May 19th
Nottingham Royal Centre – May 20th
Brighton Festival – May 21st
Warwick Arts Centre – May 22nd
London Barbican Centre – May 23rd
Basingstoke Anvil – May 24th
The Sage Gateshead – May 27th
Manchester Bridgewater Hall – May 28th

Josh King