We first met Carla Fuchs on the pages of Salut! Live when she described the discovery and enjoyment of the music of the late Sandy Denny, arguably the most inspired female singer-songwriter Britain has produced. That article can be found here.
Now, as a companion to our report on the exciting Songbird project Carla describes how she and Sandy's daughter, Georgia Rose Lucas, a highly gifted artist, collaborated to put lyrics composed by Sandy, but unfinished before her untimely death at just 31 in 1978, wben her daughter was still a baby of nine months, new music.
Georgia, who lives in her also deceased dad Trevor's native Australia, and Carla , who is German, have been wandering around Britain to raise awareness of their valuable work top preserve and enhance the legacy of a great woman.
Sandy Denny's daughter Georgia Rose Lucas asked me in 2022 if I would be interested in setting her mother's unfinished lyrics to music.
Initially, I had the typed, digitised transcripts of some of the songs because I was eager to see the exact background and original handwritten notes. I explored the journals with Georgia after they were sent to her in Australia.
Our joint research work proceeded in such a way that she sent me photos from her smartphone until it was so overheated that she had to put it in the refrigerator.
Starting my philological work felt like a journey into the chaotic and complex world of Sandy Denny's creative world. Unfortunately, it was impossible to accurately date the individual lyrics as Sandy had a habit of working without any discernible chronology.
Some of the lyrics already had an approximate form and had been partially brought into final copy, other text passages were loose snippets, cursorily noted on a cardboard box or a loose slip of paper. Organising them was detective work.
While working with the original manuscripts, we also discovered a serious error in the digitised transcription of the Charm and Patience. It turned out that the song was originally supposed to be called Churning Patience! At this point, however, I already had written a song that turns the ambivalence of the lyrics - according to its title - into the positive and has an optimistic basic character. Charm and Patience. After a crisis meeting with Elizabeth Hurrt and Georgia, we unanimously decided that we would override Sandy's original submission, at least in this case.
After all, if nothing else, Sandy added a happy ending to Gypsy Davy's lyrics, thus interfering with the original submission.
Even though Sandy's lyrics cannot be clearly categorised chronologically, almost all of them have one thing in common: they are trying to break out of a sense of resignation and hopelessness.
Go West is a piece full of drive: "Smile and leave the losers behind." Yet at the same time it utters the clear warning "with your idle hand, the devil gains." It is a similar story in If You Are Free, which begins with the line "The world is full of friends," a statement that obviously needs reaffirmation:. "Use your mind if you are free."
Many of Sandys lost lyrics attempt to resolve an ambivalence, most clearly in Sixpence "If I’m not going to make it before I die, I just aren’t going to die."
Against the backdrop of Sandy’s death, these lyrics have a particular tragedy that I had to relate to in the compositions. I decided to accept all the ambivalence inherent in the text on all musical levels and turn it into something positive. Although that did not work for some songs, it did work for a lot of them.
It was a process I was allowed to share very closely with Sandy's daughter, and it also meant an enormous healing journey for her on a private level.
For my covers of Sandy's music, I learned all the songs by ear. This process was extremely helpful as preparation for the compositions of Songbird. Without exception, all the lyrics gave me clues how the music should sound like and how it would be based on Sandy's style. Nevertheless, I felt
free enough to include my own musical signature, because Songbird was never meant as a tribute album.
The biggest challenge for me was the recording of the vocals. Shortly before we wanted to start, I unexpectedly lost the closest person in my life (one day before Sandy's day of death). The transition between life and death became my personal issue and I knew I only had a few weeks to record the takes for the vocals. I felt unable to do so and only with the great help of Georgia and my other friends I was able to find my voice again and shape a sound where I could give space to the fragility of Sandy's lyrics.
Our project has grown far beyond what we thought possible. As I write this, I am sitting in a small room in New Barnet, North London. On Georgia's bed in front of me lies Sandy's Gibson. This morning I realised that Sandy's demo of The Pond and the Stream was played on this very guitar.
After listening to how Sandy played that song, I called Georgia and she put her hand on the instrument while I played to her mum's recording and she could feel exactly the same vibration as Sandy did when she recorded it.
One of the last pieces Sandy covered was Bryn Haworth's Moments: "These are the moments that we love so well. Precious moments caught within a spell. All the soon our lives they fade away. These are the moments that we wished would stay...”
We have worked for over two years to make this project happen and now we are flying with the Songbird.