Clinton Heylin,
No More Sad Refrains:
The Life & Times
of Sandy Denny

(Helter Skelter, 2000)

This biography tells the intriguing story of British singer Sandy Denny's life (1947-78) and the music world of her time. It is likely to be of most interest to fans of Denny's solo work, and of the bands she was in -- Fairport Convention and Fotheringay. The bibliography, discography and chronology of recordings and performances are very detailed and a great resource for the enthusiast. The narrative is a compelling one and, as the book starts appropriately enough with a preface outlining the circumstances of Denny's death, it is a life dominated by that untimely demise.

The general reader though might ask some questions about Clinton Heylin's approach. We hear much of what happened through the voices of those closely associated with Denny. While this brings many of the events alive, it is a resource that the biographer needs to use with caution. It might be argued that Heylin could have been more critical about what was told to him and probed a little more beneath the surface. Several of his interview subjects do not emerge from the story of her life with particular credit and yet Heylin seems too ready sometimes to believe their versions of events and comments about Denny's inner life.

After reading the book, I did not feel I had been taken into the heart of her complex psychological make-up. Rather, I felt that I knew a fair amount about many of the people involved with Denny during her lifetime and their opinions of her. The biography does, however, have the confidence to ask some pertinent questions surrounding the circumstances of Denny's death, and about some of the problems she faced in her life such as alcohol and drug addiction.

The importance of Sandy Denny as a singer emerges strongly in the book, although there is a tendency to presume her musical times were some sort of golden age. More about Denny's lasting legacy in music today would have strengthened the argument about her significance.

- Rambles
written by Andy Jurgis
published 19 February 2005

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