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SandyFest - Saturday, 29th April 2023

Mick Donovan
THE sold out SandyFest 2023 at the Byfield Village Hall made me feel warm inside. And not just because the Sandy Denny Project were performing some of my favourite songs by my favourite singer with love and more love.
It was multi-instrumentalist Anna Ryder's last Project gig at which she dedicated the Fats Waller-infused arrangement of When The Real Thing Comes Along - simultaneous piano and cornet playing between singing - to her bandmates. Her successor Gemma Shirley (sic) was introduced by singer/violinist/guitarist Marion Fleetwood, who promptly invited the new recruit to pull out the raffle numbers for what the band described as 'legacy' prizes. The 'boys’ - drummer Mark Stevens, bass player Mat Davies and lead guitarist PJ Wright – shifted on the merch after the 'girls’ – including vocalist/guitarist Sally Barker and Ryder - did their stint last year. Pre-door opening, Barker, checking we were aware it was a BYO occasion, Davies and Wright chatted to the queue in the shadow of the blue plaque commemorating the venue as the last one at which Sandy Denny performed. In all, a community feel in a community venue which does big breakfasts on the first Saturday every month.
Over 200 of us sat on our unfolded chairs which we folded away afterwards lapping up waves after wave of sublime performances, vocally and instrumentally. There were tweaks to the originals (John The Gun, Matty Groves, Come All Ye. Highlghts such Fleetwood’s beautifully phrased singing on I’m A Dreamer and The Lady. Self deprecating chat such as Sally Barker admitting she had made a perennial quip after inviting song requests be written on a 50 pound note. And constant references to 'cake' particularly a gin and tonic lemon drizzle.
It all coalesced perfectly to put in the memory banks with Sandy's daughter Georgia Rose looking on from Australia via volunteer Jenny's smart phone (and twice waved at by the entire audience). Marion pledged her band – who have hosted the festival since 2018 - keep Sandy Denny's music alive for as long as they can. I’ll eat a slice of that cake to that.


THE SANDY DENNY PROJECT - Otley Courthouse - 31 January 2020

The Sandy Denny Project is a coming together of six highly talented musicians (two of them impressive multi-instrumentalists)… or four lead vocalists… or, if you wish, all of IOTA backed by three of Little Johnny England… another branch of the band-family tree would take you back to the revived Fotheringay or Trad Arr. This is an act with a record (several in fact – see the merch stand) and this is their latest conviction – and utterly convincing it is!

However, you subdivide the SD Project, it’s a group of players who’ve come together to perform and celebrate the music of Britain’s greatest female singer-songwriter.  Sally Barker’s tongue-in-cheek opening question (“Has anybody heard of Sandy Denny?”) brought a roar from the audience and led straight into the well-chosen Listen, Listen, which opened a set featuring music from across Sandy’s career. Naturally, the essential and obvious were in there, but so was the unexpected – annA rydeR’s understated take on a song from Sandy’s first solo album; Sally’s subtly rewritten Come All Ye; the pop singalong of London, a Sandy lyric with a melody created by Thea Gilmore.

Always respectful of its source material, the SD Project is most definitely not a covers band. Songs and arrangements are reimagined – Rising For The Moon is driven not (as I expected) by fiddle, but by slide banjo; John The Gun, as P J Wright introduced it, is “folk metal”; annA took Until The Right Thing back to Fats Waller and added cornet to her piano accompaniment; Winter Winds benefitted from more than a touch of ABBA!

Other highlights included Marion Fleetwood’s emotional reading of The Lady which perfectly captured the spirit of Sandy, the magical arrangement of Fotheringay, and the a cappella trio first half finale of Quiet Joys.

Then there’s that encore! We’d have been content with Time Goes, but instead that became the centrepiece of a trio of Sandy’s finest, an absolute hat-trick of consummate performance – the best encore I have seen in years.

The logistics of bringing this band together (all members have other career commitments) are problematic and any opportunity to see them should be grabbed with both ears.

Nigel Schofield

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