The last time Fotheringay performed in public, a loaf of bread cost nine pence and a pint of lager a mere 20. You could buy a Mini for £600. They were also a five-piece that included Aussie Trevor Lucas and that faerie queen stolen for a season, Sandy Denny. But that was 1970, and this is now. Forty five years is a long time to wait for more and, tragically, both Lucas and Denny have long since gone to the Great Gig In The Sky. In their absence, one of the questions to be asked is, ‘Can it still be Fotheringay without them?’
Thankfully, the tour’s opening night shows that original band members Jerry Donahue, Fairport’s Gerry Conway and Pat Donaldson are too canny to try to recapture ‘Fotheringay 1.0’. The fact they’ve chosen two singers – Poozies fave Sally Barker and Barnsley folk hero Kathryn Roberts – signals just how irreplaceable Sandy Denny is. Between Roberts’ delicacy and Barker’s knowing richness, they find Denny’s innocence and experience, while The Dylan Project’s PJ Wright brings his own warm baritone to Lucas’s lines.
For legends, they’re pretty modest. Bass master Pat Donaldson ambles onto the vast Bridgewater stage with a small wave, while Barker and Roberts flag up that they’re selling the merch at half-time. Like those other prog folk legends, Fairport Convention (with whom Fotheringay have so many connections), there’s a refreshing lack of pretension.
And the music? There are one or two first-night niggles. One of the mics isn’t turned on and given the vastness of the Bridgewater, the PA is arguably a bit underpowered. But these issues are as nothing to shatteringly strong renditions of Gypsy Davey, The Ballad Of Ned Kelly and The Pond And The Stream. Denny’s material is especially strong – Barker and Roberts’ duet on Winter Winds is haunting and The Sea moves and flows with the power of an Atlantic swell. Two moments in particular stand out. Roberts’ performance of Denny’s Solo is almost impossibly delicate, while Banks Of The Nile earns every one of its nine minutes. It’s a definitive folk prog classic.
Fotheringay always brought in elements of country to the folk, partly due to the influence of guitarist extraordinaire Jerry Donahue. If Donaldson and Conway anchor the space for the two women to soar, Donahue’s original string-bending tekkers add luscious texture. He’s a genuine maestro.
At times Donahue and co seem almost transported to another world – a world in which Sandy still sings – and we go with them. It’s incredibly moving. A reminder of what’s been lost, yes, but a statement of the power Fotheringay can still summon.