Take One: Fairport Convention/Sandy Denny –’Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’ – ‘I Have No Fear of Time’

by | Apr 14, 2021 | 2 comments

A song that contemplates the passing of time and was voted
by UK listeners in 2007 as their favorite folk song is spinning endlessly on
the ‘rock room’s turntable today. ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ is a song
composed by Sandy Denny and recorded a number of times by a multifarious
collection of musicians. Oddly enough the song’s subject is proven by the song
longevity and agelessness. Denny was a great fan of traditional song and she
ended up composing one that would nestle comfortably into the folk lexicon.
Similarly to other ‘rock’ standards including but not limited to, ‘Without
You’, Everybody’s Talkin’, ‘Let It Be’, Denny’s song sprouted new life and like
her true love of folk standards started to be passed along from musician to
musician.

‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ was composed in 1967 as per
a demo recorded at Denny’s home and is available on a rare cassette only
compilation called The Attic Tracks
Volume 3.
Unbelievably, Denny was 17 years old when she composed such a
substantial pillar of songwriting. What I find unbelievable is the depth of
character and deep understanding of life at this early age, in addition to
being able to express it in melody and song. The melody and lyric contain a
soaking sense of solitude and melancholy that seems difficult to grasp without
a plethora of painful life experience.

Denny recorded an additional version shortly after her early
1967 demonstration recording joining with the band  ‘The Strawbs’ and having guitarist Dave
Cousins accompany her on a lacy acoustic based reading. This particular
recording has been released officially and his available on the recording Sandy Denny and the Straws-All Our Own Work
which
was a compilation of the aforementioned 1967 recordings released in
1973.

Denny’s song and her career received a well-deserved
acknowledgement and  jolt when famed
folkie Judy Collins received one of Denny’s demos of the track in 1968 and
decided  to cover it as well as title the
name of her record after the song. Collins version which also was released as a
‘B’ side to her single ‘Both Sides Now’, appeared officially well before
Denny’s already recorded versions.

Perhaps the definitive version amongst a career of
performances  is the first reading of this Denny song to appear on a
pressing, ‘Fairport Convention’s third long player, 1969’s Unhalfbricking.
The song here emanates a ‘hopeful sadness’ with
Denny’s vocals perhaps eliciting a deeper emotion than the songs lyric. Denny’s
acoustic and Richard Thompson’s open the tune, revealing a salty horizon where
past and future collide in the present quiet contemplation of the author’s
thoughts. Thompson’s guitar weaves cleanly through the songs melody, knotting
each string perfectly with a tight musical bow hitch.  The arrangement retains its acoustic elements,
but with ‘Fairport Convention’ gets as Neil Young would say, a bit of the
‘spook’, taking the song to a new level.

The song sways on its own internal momentum, just the
delicate metronome of a high hat. Bass and the snare soon to follow setting the
table for Denny’s shimmering and delectable vocals. The chorus soon revealing a
beam of scattered sunlight breaking through the foggy verses. Denny’s voice the
calm storyteller, perfection in the face of uncertainty. Richard Thompson’s
wife and friend of Sandy said of Denny’s vocal acumen, ‘With Sandy, you just believed every word, every syllable, and every heartbeat. It was all relevant. That’s a great gift.’

The hardest part for any band is to lay back and to be attentive. Here, the band lays so far back they tip in their rocker, with Thompson’s aforementioned guitar squiggling in shorthand across the chord changes. The main instrument and focus is Sandy. Dynamics and the act of listening are on full display. The blurry collection of lyrics brings to the ‘rock room’ an image of a solitary figure on a forgotten winter shore. The seasons morph in front of them, the weather shifts by the moment and the figure remains, stoic, hidden.

While the ‘rock room’s above focus is on the definitive “Fairport Convention’ studio recording, there is a number of live renditions both with and without ‘Fairport’ that are worthy of your time and attention. A quivering solo acoustic version from September 11, 1973 on the BBC is available officially (if you can find it). Just Sandy and her spectral twelve spring conjoined in sonic dance of perfection. I feel lucky to be able to listen to this magical performance, in a way it sums up Sandy perfectly.

While writing about this song the ‘rock room’ has learned there cannot be only one definitive version of this track! They are all definitive. The substantial strength of the song’s melody and its enduring quality is proven by the long list of stellar artists who covered the song. Along with Judy Collins, Nina Simone, Eva Cassidy, Lonnie Donnegan, Susanna Hoffs, and of course Richard Thompson who pays a moving tribute to his friend every time he performs it in concert.

My hope with this Take One feature is to once again place a firelight glow on a song that in all reality needs no promotion from my humble little ‘rock room’. But as Sandy stated, ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’, and with the passage of years Denny’s importance and influence on both the world of folk and rock cannot be understated. The timelessness of the song, its singer and its disseminators will endure.

2 Comments

  1. Bob W.

    Nice commentary on the song. It is truly a classic which Fairport continues playing to this day. I agree the best version is the Unhalfbricking version. I only saw Sandy once, on the 1975 Fairport tour. The band (and Sandy) seemed to have had too much to drink, and the show was fairly sloppy. I have seen Fairport many times from 1970 up to their last US tour, and they can be really hit or miss. When they are good they are magical.

    I recall that Richard Thompson changed a line before Sandy recorded her Fairport version.

    Thanks for the commentary – spot on.

    Reply
  2. talkfromtherockroom

    Hi Bob,

    Thank you for the feedback and memories. I unfortunately have not seen Fairport in concert. It is wonderful when RT does dip into the catalog live though. I played Sandy's North Star Grassman and the Ravens on the radio this week. Such an amazing record, made me want to delve into the catalog again!

    Reply

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