The North Star Grassman and the Ravens

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The North Star Grassman and the Ravens
Studio album by
Released September 1971 (UK)
Recorded March – May 1971
Studio Sound Techniques and Island Studios
Length 39:49
Label Island ILPS 9165 (UK)
Producer Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, John Wood
Sandy Denny chronology
It's Sandy Denny
The North Star Grassman and the Ravens
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3.5/5 stars[1]

The North Star Grassman and the Ravens is a 1971 album by English folk rock singer-songwriter Sandy Denny. Built mostly around her own compositions, The North Star Grassman and the Ravens is distinguished by its elusive lyrics and unexpected harmonies.


Denny became a solo artist because her previous group Fotheringay dissolved when producer Joe Boyd left to take up a job with Warner Brothers in California when the band were halfway through a second album that was left unfinished until 2008 when it came out as Fotheringay 2. Denny then launched the sequence of solo albums that underlie the claim that she is one of Britain's finest recent singer-songwriters.[2]


Two original compositions from the Fotheringay 2 sessions, "Late November", inspired by a dream and the death of Fairport band member Martin Lamble, and "John the Gun" were re-worked for the album and supplemented by a further six self penned songs and two cover versions, Bob Dylan's "Down in the Flood" and "Let's Jump the Broomstick", recorded by Brenda Lee. Sessions began with Andy Johns producing but in the end the album was produced by Denny herself, current bandmate Richard Thompson and John Wood, who recommended to Denny the film-score arranger Harry Robinson,[3] who added strings to "Next Time Around", a cryptogram about former boyfriend Jackson C. Frank (one of her many portraits in song)[4] and "Wretched Wilbur". Robinson would arrange strings for Denny's further albums as well as for Nick Drake and other artists signed to the same company.

The first songs recorded were the traditional "Blackwaterside" and "Let's Jump the Broomstick" in March 1971 at Sound Techniques. Sessions continued the following month until the end of May at Island studios, where the album was completed with the cutting of the title track,[5] a sea voyage as a metaphor for death inspired by the loss of her friend 'Tigger' (Paul Bamber) who was in the Merchant Navy.[6]

A number of other songs were attempted and discarded during the course of the sessions including "Honky Tonk Women", "Walking the Floor Over You" and the traditional "Lord Bateman".[7]

The album was issued in a gatefold sleeve with a distinctive cover photograph of Denny weighing seeds in an old fashioned apothecary shop. The image covered both the front and rear sleeve, and was taken by Keef (Macmillan) who went on to do a lot of work with another British female singer-songwriter: Kate Bush.[8] A two-disc Deluxe Edition was released by Island Records in 2011. It features the original album plus outtakes and demos, including a previously unreleased instrumental version of Lord Bateman.[9]

The band for the supporting tour consisted of Denny, Thompson (guitar), Gerry Conway (drums), and Dave Richards (bass).[10]

Track listing

All tracks written by Sandy Denny, except where noted.

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Late November"   4:28
2. "Blackwaterside" traditional 4:12
3. "The Sea Captain"   3:09
4. "Down in the Flood" Bob Dylan 3:20
5. "John the Gun"   4:38
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
6. "Next Time Around"   4:26
7. "The Optimist"   3:24
8. "Let's Jump the Broomstick" Charles Robins 2:42
9. "Wretched Wilbur"   2:38
10. "The North Star Grassman and the Ravens"   3:27
11. "Crazy Lady Blues"   3:22
Total length: 39:49

2011 deluxe edition re-release



  1. ^ Allmusic review
  2. ^ Patrick Humphries (20/04 2003) The singing Madonna with an angel’s voice Sunday Express, pp 54–55. Nigel Williamson (Nov 2004) Glittering Prize Uncut, p 134. Cliff Jones (Sept 1995) Forensic dissection of the human heart Mojo, p 110.
  3. ^ Clinton Heylin. No More Sad Refrains - The Life and Times of Sandy Denny. London, Helter Skelter, 2002. ISBN 1-900924-35-8 p140.
  4. ^ See 'The lady she had a silver tongue': Sandy Denny as singer-songwriter Archived 2010-07-08 at the Wayback Machine. by Philp Ward.
  5. ^ Clinton Heylin. No More Sad Refrains - The Life and Times of Sandy Denny. London, Helter Skelter, 2002. ISBN 1-900924-35-8 pp273-4.
  6. ^ See The Sandy Denny Blogspot
  7. ^ Clinton Heylin. No More Sad Refrains - The Life and Times of Sandy Denny. London, Helter Skelter, 2002. ISBN 1-900924-35-8 p138.
  8. ^ Notably the video to Wuthering Heights and the film of her only tour Live at the Hammersmith Odeon.
  9. ^ Humphries, Patrick (2011). The North Star Grassman and The Ravens (Deluxe Edition) (CD booklet). Sandy Denny. Universal-Island Records. 533 405-8.
  10. ^ "US Denny". Sounds. Spotlight Publications. 28 August 1971. p. 2.

Sandy Denny: The North Star Grassman and the Ravens

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