Sunday, 15 March 2015

bushes and briars

I can't believe that it's so cold
And there ain't been no snow.
The sound of music it comes to me
From every place I go.
Sunday morning, there's no one in church
But the clergy's chosen man
And he is fine I won't worry about him
Got the book in his hand.

Oh there's a bitter east wind and the fields are swaying
The crows are round their nests.
I wonder what he's in there saying
To all those souls at rest?
I see the path which led to the door
And the clergy's chosen man
Bushes and briars, you and I
Where do we stand?

I wonder if he knows I'm here
Watching the briars grow.
And all these people beneath my shoes,
I wonder if they know.
There was a time when every last one
Knew a clergy's chosen man?
Where are they now? Thistles and thorns
Among the sand.

I can't believe that it's so cold
And there ain't been no snow.
The sound of music it comes to me
From every place I go.
Sunday morning, there's no one in church
But the clergy's chosen man
Bushes and briars, thistles and thorns
Upon the land.

One of my favourite Sandy Denny songs is tucked away on the second side of her second solo album Sandy (1972). Over what appears to be a simple acoustic chord pattern in G a beautiful high Fender Stratocaster comes in, heavy on harmonics, played by Richard Thompson. He probably pretty well made it up on the spot but it has that lovely flow to it that we heard more of later on the officially unreleased Fairport cover of Roger McGuinn's Ballad of Easy Rider.  The song is just Sandy Denny on acoustic guitar, Pat Donaldson on bass and Timi Donald on drums with RT extemporising a guitar part that he may have thought was just a guide solo to overdub later. It's a perfect example of why RT was the guy to call on many folk and folk rock sessions in the seventies.

Thompson had swapped his Gibson Les Paul for the Strat after seeing Peter Green do the same around about the time of Oh Well. Thompson gave his Les Paul - the one seen on the back of What We Did On Our Holidays - to John Martyn. I think that got stolen but Martyn used it on his classic seventies albums. RT's guitar work at this stage was far more country influenced than his current style. It's for this reason that he was asked to join the Eagles. I can't imagine the Eagles touring with RT nipping off to pray every few hours whilst they snort bucket-loads of cocaine off of the backs of underage groupies. Mind, he was also asked to join Traffic at this time as well. Now THAT would have been something to see. A simple Strat played most likely through a Fender Reverb amp with no other effects still manages to convince so it shows what a consummate musician he always has been. Denny trusted RT explicitly, even writing Nothing More and, possibly, The Music Weaver about him. Denny wrote quite a few songs about her friends and the meanings of the songs are sometimes dense and hidden.

During the recording of Rock On by the Bunch - a collective of hard-partying wild folkies let off the leash for a week or so at Richard Branson's Manor recording studio - Sandy went for a walk in the surrounding Oxfordshire countryside. She came across a lonely, empty church where she saw a lone vicar "giving a service to a phantom congregation" (quote from Mick Houghton's excellent new biography of Sandy Denny). This may be why I love this song so much. During the seventies I spent a lot of time wandering around the countryside around Stevenage alone. I still wander the countryside but it's Suffolk nowadays. The church in the photo above is fairly lonely and the type of place Sandy would have seen. I often come across such empty places around Suffolk and wonder who puts the flowers in the jugs, sometimes leave tea-making facilities and tend the gardens. Who goes to services in these places? Are there vicars who still perform the services to all those souls at rest?

I've just finished reading the aforementioned Mick Houghton biography I've Always Kept a Unicorn and listened to the podcast from David Hepworth where he and Mark Ellen interview Houghton, Ashley Hutchings and Simon Nicol, it's a great hour or so and I thoroughly recommend both to you. The book is exhaustive in its detailed interviews to piece together Sandy's tragically short life. The only other worthwhile book about Denny is Philip Ward's excellent Sandy Denny: Reflections On Her Music

I have been meaning for ages to write a re-view of Sandy's first solo album. Reading the biography and listening to the podcast has spurred me on to start thinking it through. More Sandy Denny soon, then.


Philip Ward said...

Yes, the Mick Houghton biography is impressive, isn't it? And thank you for the kind words about my own book. I'm very fond of Sandy's solo recording of 'Bushes and Briars' which she did for Sounds of the Seventies on radio in '72.

Dave Leeke said...

Hi Phil,

I really enjoyed your book and it came out at a time where Sandy's legacy was only justbeginning to build up.

What I like about your book is that you explore the songs - that's the only thing I really missed about Mick's.


Unknown said...

I'd always thought this was slide guitar or a dobro, until I saw Richard Thompson playing like this live. Astounding.