On this day in history : 21st April 1978 – The death, at the age of just 31, of singer-songwriter Sandy Denny, lead singer with British folk-rock band Fairport Convention….

Sandy Denny, 1972 – by David Bailey – Fair use

The tinged-with-tragedy life of one of Britain’s finest vocal talents – cut short….

Sandy had been born on the 6th of January 1947 in London…. She studied classical piano and learned to play the guitar at a young age – and sang in her school choir…. On leaving school she was to train to become a nurse at the Royal Brompton Hospital – but this was to be short-lived and instead she took up studies at Kingston College of Art…. It was here that she became involved with the campus folk club and then started to play in London’s folk clubs and writing her own material…. Within a year her popularity had grown, to the extent that she was getting regular work – and so she left college to pursue a career in music….

It was after she was featured on a BBC radio broadcast that she was to land a deal with Saga Records – which in turn led her to join the band ‘The Strawbs’….albeit for a short period…. She stayed with them just six months and recorded only one album….

In May 1968 Fairport Convention held auditions for a replacement singer after Judy Dyble left – and Sandy was the obvious choice…. She was to go on to make three albums with them before leaving in December 1969 to concentrate on her own songwriting…. This was to result in her forming her own band, the somewhat short-lived ‘Fotheringay’ – which was to include her future husband, Australian born Trevor Lucas…. The band made one album before Sandy once again turned her attention to her solo career – with Trevor now producing her records….

Fotheringay, 1970 – Fair use

Sandy and Trevor married in 1973 – and he became a member of Fairport Convention – in 1974 Sandy rejoined them…. But it was not to last….towards the end of 1975 the pair left again to record what was to be her final album – ‘Rendezvous’….which was released in 1977…. Only it was not to be well received – with low sales Sandy was dropped by her record label, Island Records….

Trade ad for Fairport Convention’s ‘A Moveable Feast’ 1974 – Public domain

It was in July 1977 that Sandy gave birth to her daughter, Georgia…. She had not handled her pregnancy well…. By 1976 her mental health had started to suffer – she was experiencing bouts of depression and had started to abuse both alcohol and drugs…. She continued to do so whilst pregnant and her baby was born premature…. As a mother she was sometimes over anxious and obsessive – other times she appeared disinterested…. Her marriage was beginning to suffer….

Sandy started attention-seeking….even as far as intentionally throwing herself down flights of stairs…. As her drinking increased these ‘accidents’ became more frequent…. In late March 1978, whilst on holiday in Cornwall with her parents and daughter, she fell down a flight of steps and hit her head…. Severe recurring headaches were to follow….

In early April she was to have another major fall at her home…. By now Trevor was concerned for their daughter’s safety – and so he took Georgia to Australia…. Sandy went to stay with friend Miranda Ward – and it seems as if she was making an attempt to sort herself out…. She had apparently arranged to see a doctor about her ongoing headaches and her alcohol abuse…. On the 17th of Miranda, having to go out early in the morning, had asked another friend, Jon Cole, to look in and check on Sandy…. He did so at around 3pm, only to find her unconscious at the foot of the stairs….

Sandy was taken to the nearby Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton – then on the 19th ofApril she was transferred to the Atkinson Morley, Wimbledon…. She remained in a coma – and when Trevor arrived back from Australia he was told that she was brain dead and would not recover…. Sandy’s life support system was switched off, she died at 7.50pm on the 21st of April 1978….

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