Folk review: The Lady: Sandy Denny Tribute, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

The stage was dominated by a black-and-white photograph of a thoughtful young lady with windswept hair, staring purposefully into David Bailey's lens.

This is the best-known image of a singer who died 30 years ago at the age of 31, and has now acquired legendary status thanks to her often bleak and mysterious songs. She was a complex figure, and this was reflected in her writing. "These songs are biographical and only about 10 people understand them," she once told me.

Reinterpreting Sandy is no easy task, but this impressively varied show at a packed-out QEH set out to do just that. There were 10 soloists, mostly representing the contemporary folk scene. For many of the songs they were backed by a choir and a sturdy house band that included members of Bellowhead and guitarist Jerry Donahue, who played with Sandy for many years. It was a challenging night for young female singers, but Mary Epworth matched Sandy's varied moods with a gutsy Come All Ye and a sad, powerful treatment of Solo, a song of alienation, while Lisa Knapp produced a thoughtful Quiet Joys of Brotherhood, with help from Dave Swarbrick, the fiddle player who worked with Sandy in the Fairports.

It was a good night too for Jim Moray, with a no-nonsense, rousing treatment of the traditional murder ballad Matty Groves, and by way of contrast there was the highly theatrical Marc Almond trying to cope with the complex melodic shifts of The North Star Grassman.

To close, the entire cast performed Who Knows Where the Time Goes, with the lonely-looking figure of Sandy Denny playing along on piano, on a screen behind the stage. It had been a great evening, but I went home to listen to her original recordings.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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