“Who Knows Where The Time Goes?” — Fairport Convention

The sun’s out and on days like today, I’m always in the mood for some hippy-trippy folk music. I’m not old enough to remember the Summer of Love or to have strolled down Haight-Ashbury in a tie-dyed T-shirt on the way to chill out somewhere for a while.

The closest I get to recreating that sensation is putting on some hippy-trippy folk music and imagining I was there.

And if it’s hippy-trippy folk music you’re after, Fairport Convention is a pretty good place to start.

I say Fairport Convention, however “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?” is all about Sandy Denny, one of the finest singers ever to set foot in a recording studio although you’ll rarely hear her name mentioned nowadays.

Sandy Denny wrote “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?”, as well as singing the track, and had previously recorded it during her short stay as a vocalist with The Strawbs. But it was in her Fairport Convention phase that “Who Knows Where The Times Goes” really entered public consciousness and became a signature song for both Sandy Denny personally and for Fairport Convention as a band.

One of two tracks she wrote for Fairport Convention’s 1969 album “Unhalfbricking” (no, I don’t know what that means either…but such was the way of album-titling in the late 1960s…), the restrained musical arrangement meant Sandy Denny’s voice was the stand-out feature on “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?”.

I read that someone (John Peel, I think) described Sandy Denny’s voice as low-key, but intense…that pretty much nails it for me.

She has a voice that draws you in to her story. You almost find yourself leaning in closer to make sure you hear every word as her soft voice shares insights from an ethereal, mythical world. Sandy Denny is pulling back the curtain on some other dimension of space and time that few people know about, and even fewer have visited.

I told you this was hippy-trippy stuff, didn’t I?

Sadly, Sandy Denny’s hippy-trippy vibe didn’t do her much good during her short life. People with that sort of vibe can only live life on their own terms. Little details like turning up at the recording studio on time, or remembering when you’re supposed to be at the airport to go on tour can escape them…which frustrates band members, and usually ends badly.

That’s exactly the way it went for Sandy Denny…although I’m sure her fondness for a range of harmful substances, consumed to excess, amplified the hippy-trippy side of her personality, rather than bringing it under control.

When you’re not entirely of this world, like Sandy Denny, life can be pretty tough.

I’m not under-stating how tough it was on her band-mates, family and those around her too, by the way. They were trying to make things happen, do the right thing, live up to their recording contract and other things of this world…no doubt it was frustrating to be contractually-obliged to do this in the company of someone who unintentionally got in the way of so many of their well-laid plans.

It’s easy to see how why, sooner or later, the people in Sandy Denny’s life gave up, if only to preserve their own sanity.

Sandy Denny and people like her think they’re just being themselves, which is what you’re supposed to do, right? But all people around them keep leaving. That gets dispiriting after a while, even if a little bit of them knows they’re at least partly to blame.

I always imagined Sandy Denny was writing about all the people she knew well, her circle of family and friends who’d all turned their backs on her, when she wrote…

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
For who knows where the time goes
Who knows where the time goes

I can see both sides of this situation.

Many years ago I was in an especially painful relationship with someone who had many of Sandy Denny’s demons. I tried to stay with her, look after her, help her back to health, but nothing made any difference. By the time she was on a bottle of vodka a day, her behaviour was so erratic I had to leave to protect my own physical and mental health.

But I’ve carried around the pain of not being good enough to help her for most of my adult life.

On the other hand, when I experienced a bit of a career downturn a couple of years ago, everyone I used to know turned their backs on me. As I was no longer useful to them, they cut me out of their lives more-or-less overnight.

I wasn’t on a bottle of vodka a day…or in fact any vodka at all, as I rarely drink…but “all my fickle friends leaving” was one of the most disheartening experiences of my life.

I’m no Sandy Denny…as you’d know if you’d heard me sing…but I’ve always thought her words perfectly sum up your sense of vulnerability when you realise you’re truly on your own and you don’t seem to matter to the world any more.

Even in your darkest hours, there’s room for hope, though.

In your brief moments of optimism on a sunny day, you dream about being loved and accepted by even one other human being.

We don’t need the whole world to love us. Just one person and we’ll be fine. We can live with everyone else leaving as long as there’s one who stays.

As Sandy Denny put it…

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 do not fear the time
For who knows how my love grows?
And who knows where the time goes?

We all go through tough patches. And in the toughest of times, when everything is going against you, it’s amazing what a difference even the tiniest bit of love can make. Ounce for ounce, love is thousands of times more powerful than gloom.

You don’t even need the whole world to love you. Just one person. And not even all of one person…sometimes just a few moments of pleasant company with someone that cares about you in even the smallest way can help you see the world in a different, and more positive, light.

Right to the end, Sandy Denny had people who cared about her, but her demons took her into a self-destructive place from which there was ultimately no return.

A few days after being found unconscious at the foot of a flight of stairs in a friend’s house where she’d been staying by herself, Sandy Denny passed away in a London hospital, aged just 31.

We don’t know what she might have done and who she might have become if she’d been spared.

But we do know the legacy Sandy Denny left behind. And on a hippy-trippy sunny day like today, there’s no better portion of her legacy to listen to than her signature song, “Who Knows Where The Time Goes”…

PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published. And why not check out my book “No Words, No Song”, where I write about more great songs like this one, available in the Kindle Bookstore (here).

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