Who knows where the time goes?

September 17, 2011 • 9:37 am

This lovely but mournful song was written by Sandy Denny, an English folk singer who performed with Fairport Convention and who died in 1978 at 31 (drugs, of course).  I think the best recorded version, though, was by Judy Collins on her eponymous album from 1969 (Denny was much less popular in America).  Sadly, Collins’s version is not available on YouTube, but here’s Denny’s recorded version with Fairport Convention:

And have a listen to this one, with just Denny and a guitar.

From The Guardian:

Her best-known song, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”, along with Nick Drake’s “Fruit Tree” and John Martyn’s “Solid Air”, are products of a peculiarly English strain of blissful autumnal melancholy. As a lyricist she wove together the threads of English lyrical balladry, her songs variously recalling the lovestruck troubadour ayres of Thomas Campion, the antiquarian romanticism of Tennyson, Christina Rossetti’s windblown, regretful verse, and Thomas Hardy’s tragedies. As a voice – she has an unforgettable breathy huskiness – she connected the dots between the folk songs of Kathleen Ferrier and contemporary revivalists such as Briggs and Collins.

A live version from Judy Collins (2000), very different from the above but quite beautiful, is here.

33 thoughts on “Who knows where the time goes?

  1. Although Denny was an alcoholic and cocaine addict, I believe the direct cause of her death was brain hemorrhage a few days after she hit her head in a fall. The lines of this song (e.g., I will still be here; I have no fear of time) are more poignant as a result of her premature death.

    There is no accounting for taste, but I would argue about the relative merits of the Collins and Denny versions. Any incipient Denny/Fairport Convention fans must listen to her beautiful renditions of Fotheringay (of course about Mary Queen of Scots) and the driving ballad of English folklore, Tam Lin.

  2. I’d beg to differ. The finest recording was the version Denny produced with Fairport Convention on Unhalfbricking. That’s as distinct from her version (the first) released as by her and The Strawbs but apparently performed solo.

  3. Sandy Denny is one of my favourite singers. She has a wonderful accent and a rich voice. In “It Suits Me Well” there is a great rhyme:

    I’ve never had a proper home
    Not one like yours is.
    I’ve nearly always had a caravan
    With ‘orses

    Also love her song “Quiet Joys of Brotherhood”

    1. There’s some magical stuff on the Fortheringay album, too — and, of course, elsewhere among the Fairport tracks done before she formed Fotheringay.

  4. Thank you Jerry ~ reminds me of some good times ~ though to be honest I do not like that multi-tracked version that you’ve posted ~ less is more for such a beautiful song


    This is Sandy Denny’s home demo recording version from 1967 ~ just her vocals & her acoustic guitar

    It is similar to the version on the Unhalfbricking from 1969 ~ listen here

    I haven’t got time to listen to both now, but her vocal is very, very similar in both versions ~ perhaps the demo was used in part for the ’69 release

    I wonder if they

  5. Sandy Denny was a lovely singer and Fairport Convention a wonderful group. She and other similar performers got us over the bridge from classic folk to contemporary folk.
    I own an odd album called Silly Sisters (terrible title), by two similar wonderful British singers — Maddy Prior and June Taylor. The entire album — classic and new folkish stuff — is a treasure. And their voices are perfection. Haunting.

  6. My preference is the Fairport Convention version because not only is Sandy’s singing sublime but she is brilliantly accompanied by Richard Thompson’s evocative guitar playing.
    In contrast the other singers are let down by their backing bands, especially their overly percussive and intrusive pianists.

  7. The vocals seem a tad bit over saturated do they not? (Over saturated is the gentleman’s way of saying FUBAR.) They should have distorted the backing track a little so it matched up with the vocals. They ain’t matching up.

  8. There’s also a version by Kate Rusby which I quite like. Rusby has a lovely voice, I’ve seen her perform several times and she is wonderful live.

      1. Listen to some Beatles (for example) and then listen to I got you, Babe. The vocals go in and out, loud soft loud soft, and too much reverb.

    1. I’m not sure about Monkee FUBARs ~ surely one needs to blame the session musicians ? I liked their (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone for example which was written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, but other than the lead vocal by Mickey Dolenz the whole shebang is pure session musician. As you know this was common practise in the industry in those days even among the bands who’d paid their dues.

      More accurately the big secret (literally as in Wizard of Oz) behind the Monkees was the Candy Store Prophets (Boyce & Hart) who toured with them, opened for them & played the twiddly lead instrumental bits from off stage during the Monkees sets ~ this didn’t matter really as nobody could hear anything at the gigs ‘cept for screams

      1. Admittedly I was being a little rough on The Monkees. Now that I went back and listened to a few, the thing that bothers me most about them was the awful sounding claps and shakers they (or whoever) put in their recordings.

  9. Having listened to the Judy Collins version you point us to, I cannot believe that her other version is better than Sandy Denny’s. Collins is clearly a very competent singer, but Denny is more than merely competent: she has a wholly individual voice and tone that imparts to the song an emotional depth that – on the strength of that Collins clip – is quite beyond what Collins is capable of.

  10. The biggest change is that back then, Denny was voted “best singer” several times by the popular music press. Wasn’t it one of Dylan’s own grandchildren who described His Bobness as “the Jayzee of his time”? What is this world coming to?

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