Who hasn’t, in an unguarded moment, caught their reflection in a mirror or shop window and wondered just who it was looking back at them?
What parent hasn’t had to wake up to the fact that their offspring has grown up far more rapidly than they can give them credit for?
Or perhaps it’s just sitting an examination and realizing there are more questions left than there is time to answer them in?
In each of these cases Dr Rockandpop would prescribe a healthy dose of Sandy Denny’s masterpiece Who Knows Where the Time Goes? It won’t cure the condition or even answer the question (especially in the exam room) but it might make you feel better about yourself – if only because it shows you are not alone.
Who Knows Where the Time Goes? was written by the English folk-rock singer and songwriter Sandy Denny – or Alexandra Elene MacLean Denny to use her given name – who originally recorded the song as a demo in 1967, singing and playing guitar on the track.
Later that year, she briefly joined the folk band The Strawbs, and re-recorded the song, again with only her voice and guitar, for what became the album All Our Own Work, which would not be released until 1973.
American folk singer Judy Collins heard a tape of the original demo recording in 1968, and decided to cover the song. She released her recording first as the B-side of her cover of Both Sides Now, and then as the title track of her album Who Knows Where the Time Goes, both released in 1968. Hers was the first widely available recording of the song.
Having studied and briefly worked as a nurse before signing up for art college and making a name for herself on the folk circuit, in 1968 Denny joined the folk-rock band Fairport Convention. She recorded Who Knows again on her second album with the band, the 1969 album Unhalfbricking. This version had more of a rock influence.
Who Knows Where the Time Goes? became a signature song for both Denny and Fairport Convention, and has been covered by many artists including 10,000 Maniacs, Mary Black, Eva Cassidy, Nana Mouskouri, Lonnie Donegan, Nanci Griffith, Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet, Deanna Kirk, Charlie Louvin, Cat Power, Eddi Reader, Kate Rusby, Nina Simone (on her 1970 live album Black Gold), Barbara Dickson, Kate Wolf and Sinéad O’Connor.
It is obviously a love song – or at least a song about love, but it’s also a song about perceptions. The song revolves around three verses, each third reflecting a different perspective of time and its meaning. The song is a slow-paced reflection on observed events. First the statement: “Across the evening sky all the birds are leaving” and then the question: “But how can they know it’s time for them to go?”
Having made these observations, Denny then writes that for her, some things are timeless – “Before the winter’s fire, I will still be dreamin’, I have no thought of time.” and in the last line of the short chorus asks rhetorically “Who knows where the time goes?”. Verse two expands into: “Sad, deserted shore, your fickle friends are leaving. Ah, but then you know it’s time for them to go. But I will still be here, I have no thought of leaving, I do not count the time.”
After again asking: “For who knows where the time goes? Who knows where the time goes?” verse three takes on a more positive note: “And I am not alone while my love is near me, I know it will be so until it’s time to go. So come the storms of winter and then the birds in spring again. I have no fear of time” before reprising the question: “For who knows how my love grows? And who knows where the time goes?”
In 2007, the Unhalfbricking version of the song was voted “Favourite Folk Track of All Time” by listeners of BBC Radio 2.
After several turbulent years and mixed reaction to her bid for solo fame, tragically Denny died in 1978 aged 31 due to allegedly self inflicted injuries and health issues related to a long history of alcohol abuse.
Retrospectively she has been described as “the pre-eminent British folk rock singer” and music publications Uncut and Mojo have called her Britain’s finest female singer-songwriter.”
|John Boyd Simon Nicol