‘These songs aren’t really about the past, I believe these songs have a future and this show is about giving them one’. The opening line from the artistic director Andrew Batt at the start of the show sets the scene and as musicians traipse on and off the stage over the course of the night, Sandy’s head peering out from the backdrop, it becomes difficult to tell if the night is a belated wake or the musical equivalent of We Will Rock You, without the acting. With the exception of Thea Gilmore who eludes to Sandy’s darker days, there’s little mention of Sandy’s life, or her demise, the focus firmly on the music.
The first half in particular seems to have it sights firmly on turning up the volume on every instrument, moving it away from Sandy’s blend of folk rock and stripping the variation from the night. Whilst the singers are multiple (Maddy Prior, Lavinia Blackwall, Green Gartside, Sam Carter, Blair Dunlop, Joan Wasser and Thea Gilmore, all taking a lead throughout the first half) and undoubtedly talented, it has the effect of recreating karaoke on a grand scale, switching through Sandy’s Fairport Convention, Fortheringay and solo days in the space of a few hours.
Sometimes the attempt to recreate Sandy’s work opens up welcome recreation of the old, the piano on Fortheringay moving it to a more soulful number and Sam’s acoustic rendition of Bushes and Briars becomes more melancholic but generally the first half of the night seems to lack something. Thankfully, Dave Swarbrick’s recreation of his solo from Quiet Joys of Brotherhood suggests history has not been totally left behind in the second half, but this is undone by both Maddy Prior and PP Arnold stumbling over their words in Solo and I’m A Dreamer which has the effect of suggesting even those on stage aren’t taking the show too seriously. In the end it seems only Thea Gilmore’s workings of some of Sandy’s unpublished manuscripts are the only thing which draw me in, perhaps due to a lack of reference point.
With a notable array of musicians including Pete Flood, Andy Melon, Ben Nicholls, Benji Kirkpatrick, Nigel Stonier, Jerry Donahue, Dave Swarbrick and Nick Pynn on paper it seemed like an impressive night but as they all come together for a finale rendition of Who Knows Where The Time Goes I’m reminded of Andrew’s first comments and can’t help but feel some things might have been better in the past. Whilst the musicians are talented, and in the end, the numbers diverse, it seems as though the pitching of the show is slightly off and Joan Wasser’s touching performance of No More Sad Refrains makes me realise that tonight less had the potential to give this show so much more.
Photos © Jo Cox and must not be reproduced without prior consent