I have contributed to a programme on the song ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’, part of Radio 4’s series Soul Music. The programme airs at 9:00am on Wednesday 14 June, then again at 9:30pm the same evening; it will also be available to download on the Radio 4 website.
The song was written by Sandy Denny, who recorded it with The Strawbs, Fairport Convention and as a solo artist. It was made famous by Judy Collins’s 1968 cover and has been covered by scores of artists since. I first attempted to write about it when researching the music of Nina Simone, who recorded a haunting version in 1969. Hearing Simone’s rendition helped formulate my thoughts about the representation of time, age and experience. I included a comparison of the Fairport and Simone versions in my book Nina Simone. I then ended up writing about ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ again as an essay for Catherine Haworth and Lisa Colton’s collection Gender, Age and Musical Creativity, this time taking a slightly different perspective and also including discussion of Judy Collins’s version. Later, the song became the starting point for The Late Voice, my longest attempt to deal with the time/age/experience nexus.
It’s one of my favourite songs and I think about it differently each time I take the time to reflect on it again. So it was when I sat down in Newcastle’s BBC Studio to record my contribition to Soul Music, where I found myself emphasising aspects of the sound I’d never really tried to articulate before, such as the absolute vitality of Richard Thompson’s guitar in the Fairport version on Unhalfbricking, which I always heard as important but now hear as being an equal lead voice to Denny’s on that timeless recording. Now, as I write these words and think again about the song, I dwell on the way that the song itself models the passing of time (which admittedly, I’ve written quite extensively on before) and how that is best exemplfied in the way that the refrain’s most obvious rhyming words (‘knows’ and ‘goes’) are preceded by one and three words respectively, making an uneven and therefore memorable rhythm.
Perhaps finding something different to think about each time I reflect on the song maps onto the experience of time more generally: the recurrence of the familiar enhanced by the emergence of the hitherto unknown, or at least unformulated.
My essay ‘Across the Evening Sky: The Late Voices of Sandy Denny, Judy Collins and Nina Simone’ has been published in the book Gender, Age and Musical Creativity, edited by Catherine Haworth and Lisa Colton (Ashgate, 2015).
ABSTRACT: This chapter explores the work of three female musicians – Sandy Denny, Judy Collins and Nina Simone – who offer valuable insights into the interplay of history, biography and memory. It focuses specifically on the representation of innocence and experience via the “late voice”. “Lateness”, a concept exemplified by these artists but which extends to a broad range of modern (post mid-twentieth century) popular musics, refers to five primary issues: chronology (the stage in an artist’s career); the vocal act (the ability to convincingly portray experience); afterlife (posthumous careers made possible by phonography); retrospection (how voices “look back” or anticipate looking back); and the writing of age, experience, lateness and loss into song texts. The main case study of the chapter is the song ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’, written by Denny and later performed by Collins and Simone. The song is analysed in terms of its representation of time and experience and in relation to the lives and works of its interpreters.
More information about the book here.
the need for reflection, for making sense of our transient condition, is time’s paradoxical gift to us, and possibly the best consolation for its ultimate power
Eva Hoffman, Time (Profile, 2011), p. 11
I’ll be presenting my paper ‘Across the Evening Sky: Real and Anticipated Experience in Nina Simone’s Late Voice’ at the School of Media, Film and Music Research in Progress seminar, University of Sussex, on 13 February at 4pm. I gave a previous version of this paper at the University of Huddersfield’s ‘Gender, Musical Creativity and Age’ conference in October 2012.
Popular music artists, as performers in the public eye, offer a privileged site for the witnessing and analysis of ageing and its mediation. Musical analysis allows us to posit the concept of “sounded experience”, a term intended to describe how music reflects upon and helps to mediate life experience over extended periods of time (indeed, over lifetimes). Connected to this is the supposition that phonography, understood as the after-effects of the revolution in experience initiated by the advent of sound recording, provides a rich site for exploring issues of memory, time, lateness and afterlife.
This paper discusses these issues via an analysis of the work of Nina Simone, an artist whose mid-late career offers valuable insights into the interplay of history, biography and memory. The paper will focus specifically on the representation of innocence and experience via what I term the “late voice”. “Lateness”, a concept exemplified by Simone’s work but which extends to a broad range of modern (post mid-twentieth century) popular musics, refers to five primary issues: chronology (the stage in an artist’s career); the vocal act (the ability to convincingly portray experience); afterlife (posthumous careers made possible by phonography); retrospection (how voices “look back” or anticipate looking back); and the writing of age, experience, lateness and loss into song texts.