It’s fair to say that Fotheringay never really escaped from the shadow of Fairport Convention.
Sandy Denny, keen to write more original songs than interpret trad fare, quit Fairport just before the release of Liege & Lief in late 1969. That she decided to name her new band after an old Fairport tune may have suggested a sense of continuity, but it also drew the inevitable comparisons with her old colleagues. What’s more, Fotheringay lasted for one solitary album before three of its members – acoustic guitarist/singer Trevor Lucas, drummer Gerry Conway and electric guitar player Jerry Donahue – took the opposite direction and joined Fairport in 1972. Denny, meanwhile, had already left for a solo career.
Never mind the short lifespan though. Fotheringay’s self-titled album of 1970, which takes up the first of four discs here, is an often ravishing exemplar of British folk rock. It may lack the wilder experimentation of Fairport or Pentangle (the quintet instead going for a straighter approach), but such exactitude proves to be a strength. Denny’s own The Sea, Winter Winds and Nothing More are almost impossibly lovely, the greatest voice of its era pooling like silver over understated, mostly acoustic backings. And when the band elects to fire up, as on a terrific cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s The Way I Feel, the effect is dazzling.
Fotheringay’s sole album was a ravishing exemplar of folk rock.
Despite favourable reviews, the LP didn’t sell in the quantities Island expected. Denny, encouraged to go it alone by management and the label, went solo in early ’71, taking with her two compositions from an aborted second album. Both of them, John The Gun and Late November, fetched up on her solo debut, The North Star Grassman And The Ravens. The rest of Fotheringay disbanded soon after.
It wasn’t until 2008 that Jerry Donahue salvaged the tapes and oversaw a finished release: Fotheringay 2. The final version (disc two) is more animated than its predecessor, with a greater accent on country rock. It also hints at what might have been, with Denny delivering some of her finest studio performances. She rarely sounded better than on the graceful Gypsy Davey, for instance, or the countrified delicacy of Silver Threads And Golden Needles.
The box is rounded out with a stirring live show from Rotterdam and, more impressively, seven tracks from a 1970 BBC session, among them a wonderful version of Eppie Moray. And wool-dyed fans are likely to be similarly smitten with disc four, a four-song DVD from Fotheringay’s appearance on German TV’s Beat Club. Factor in a bunch of demos and alternate takes and this collection is damn near essential.