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Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

[Sandy Denny]

Sandy Denny recorded her signature song Who Knows Where the Time Goes? several times during her career:

  1. The first version is a demo recorded at home in 1967 and made available on The Attic Tracks Vol. 3.
  2. The second version was recorded in Copenhagen in probably May 1967 at the Strawbs’ recording session. Sandy was accompanied by Dave Cousins on guitar. This track was released in 1973 on All Our Own Work and was reissued in 2004 on the 5 CD Fledg’ling anthology A Boxful of Treasures and in 2005 on Where the Time Goes.
  3. A re-mix with added strings was published in 1969 on the Strawberry Music Sampler No. 1 and reissued on the Hannibal CD release, Sandy Denny and the Strawbs.

These first versions were performed solo by Sandy, and feature slightly different phrasing from later versions. The first line of the song is “Across the purple sky”, which later mutated into “Across the evening sky”. To quote Dave Cousins, Sandy played on her own on the Strawbs’ version because “she was playing in this guitar tuning that I didn’t think I could play!” Strings were later added to the Strawbs’ version (released on CD), although their value is subject to discussion. I consider the stringless version to be the finest of Sandy’s recordings.

One of these early versions was heard by Judy Collins who recorded it in 1968 as the title track of her album Who Knows Where the Time Goes. This was collected in 1988 on the Sandy Denny and Friends cassette The Attic Tracks Vol. 1.

  1. A fourth version appeared in 1991 on the Richard Thompson fan club cassette Doom and Gloom Vol 2 and in 2002 on the Fairport unConventioNal 4 CD set. This version is from the BBC “Symonds on Sunday” radio broadcast on 4 February 1969, possibly the first time Fairpoer Convention played the song in public. The personnel was Sandy, Richard, Simon Nicol and Ashley Hutchings. Sandy is still tinkering with the lyrics, as the first line is “Across the morning sky” (or is it “mourning”?). The phrasing still leans towards her earlier versions, although it is definitely changing. The additional instruments make a big difference in the sound.
  2. The classic version of this song appeared in July 1969 on Fairport’s album Unhalfbricking, featuring a beautiful obligato guitar by Richard Thompson. This version was also released on The Best of Sandy Denny, on The History of Fairport Convention, on the double CD compilation Meet on the Ledge: The Classic Years 1967-1975, on The New Electric Muse Vol. II, and on the 2 CD Sandy Denny anthology No More Sad Refrains.
  3. A solo live studio recording from 11 September 1973 for the BBC Radio 1 show “Sounds of the Seventies”, hosted by John Peel, was broadcast on 25 September 1973. It was first published in 1997 on The BBC Sessions 1971-73 and later in 2007 on the 3 CD+DVD set Live at the BBC.
  4. A live version with Fairport Convention was recorded at the Troubadour, Los Angeles, in February 1974, with Trevor Lucas, Jerry Donahue, Dave Swarbrick, Dave Pegg and Dave Mattacks. It was available on the first “official bootleg cassette” The Airing Cupboard Tapes in 1981 (reissued on CD in 2002). The first official release of this track was on the Who Knows Where the Time Goes? box set in 1986. It was later included in the bonus CD of the Fledg’ling Sandy Denny anthology A Boxful of Treasures.
  5. Another Fairport live recording from May 1974 at Ebbets Field, Denver, Colorado was released in 2002 on the bonus CD of Before the Moon.
  6. Yet another Faiport Convention live version probably from 31 October 1975 at Brunel University, Uxbridge is on the CD Who Knows? The Woodworm Archives Vol. 1.
  7. The last known version, on the second side of The Attic Tracks Vol. 3, on The Attic Tracks CD and on Gold Dust - Live at the Royalty, is a live recording from Sandy’s last concert ever, at the Royalty Theatre, London, on 27 November 1977. The line up here is Donaldson, Lucas, Mattacks, Phil Palmer and Rob Hendry (lead guitars) and Pete Willsher (pedal steel).

Cover Versions

Of course, this is the Sandy Denny song with the most known cover versions:

  1. Judy Collins on the B-side of her single Both Sides Now (1968). This sparseley instrumented recording was also used in the film The Subject Was Roses and was included on her compilation album Colors of the Day (1972), on the soundtrack of the movie A Walk on the Moon (1999), and on the CD Great Lost Elektra Singles Volume 1 (2005)
  2. Judy Collins in a full-band version on her LP Who Knows Where the Time Goes (1968) and on the cassette The Attic Tracks Vol. 1 (1988)
  3. Lonnie Donnegan on the B-side of the single My Lovely Juanita (Decca, 1969), and on the cassette compilation The Attic Tracks Vol. 1 (1988)
  4. Nina Simone live at the Second Jazz Festival on June 16, 1968 in Montreux (unpublished)
  5. Foggy Dew-O on their album Born to Take the Highway (1970)
  6. Nina Simone live on October 26, 1969 in New York, Philharmonic Hall, on her album Black Gold (1970)
  7. Moira Kerr on her album Shadows of My Childhood (1971)
  8. Nana Mouskouri on her album Nana’s Book of Songs (1974, with orchestra)
  9. Nana Mouskouri on her live album At the Albert Hall (1975)
  10. Barry Dransfield played this on the gimbri (a North African instrument shaped somewhat like a long-necked mandolin, with a skin-covered wooden body) on his album Bowin’ and Scrapin’ (1978)
  11. Fairport Convention live at Cropredy 1983 on the cassette The Boot - 1983 Fairport Reunion (1984)
  12. Kate Wolf on her live album Give Yourself to Love (1983)
  13. Fairport Convention with Iain Matthews live at Cropredy 1986 on the cassette The Other Boot - 1986 Fairport Reunion (1986)
  14. Fairport Convention with Cathy LeSurf live at Cropredy 1987 on the cassette The Third Leg - 1987 Fairport Reunion (1987)
  15. Fairport Convention with Julianne Regan live at Cropredy 1989 on the charity album Circle Dance (1990)
  16. Sally Barker & The Rhythm on their EP Tango! (1992)
  17. Ron Kavana on the Weavers Arms compilation CD Get Weaving Volume 1 (1992)
  18. On Wings of Song & Robert Gass on their album Songs of Healing (1992)
  19. Hoapili on their album Simply Hoapili (1993)
  20. Vikki Clayton on her album It Suits Me Well (1994)
  21. Eva Cassidy live at Pearl’s in Annapolis, Maryland, USA on September 14, 1994 (unpublished)
  22. Barbara Dickson on her album Dark End of the Street (1995)
  23. Ashley Hutchings on the album The Guv’nor’s Big Birthday Bash (1995)
  24. Mary Black on her EP The Circus (1995) and CD Wonder Child (1996)
  25. Deanna Kirk on her album Mariana Trench (1996)
  26. Charlie Louvin on his album The Longest Train (1996)
  27. Eddi Reader on her CD single Medicine (1996)
  28. Fairport Convention on their album Who Knows Where the Time Goes? (1997)
  29. Prussian Blue on their album Zielasko (1997)
  30. Fairport Convention with Simon Nicol / Chris While at Cropredy ’98 on the video Beyond the Ledge (1998)
  31. Jill Jack on her album Too Close to the Sun (1998)
  32. Nanci Griffith on her album Other Voices, Too (1998)
  33. The South Australian group Lyrical Folkus on their album The Persimmon Tree (1998)
  34. 10,000 Maniacs on their album The Earth Pressed Flat (1999)
  35. Fairport Convention with Chris While live at Cropredy 1998 on their album Cropredy 98 (1999)
  36. Sperris & Wicca on their album Sperris & Wicca (1999)
  37. Jimmy Young with Denny Stanway singing on his album Pipeworks (1999)
  38. Deanna Kirk on her album Live at Deanna’s (2000)
  39. Carnival of Souls on their live album Carnival Oddities (2000)
  40. Judy Collins on her album Live at Wolf Trap (2000)
  41. Jane Lukíc on her album After the Storm (2000)
  42. Iain Matthews with No Grey Faith on their album Secrets All Told (2000)
  43. Penny Davies and Roger Ilott on their album Heart of Town (2001)
  44. Barbara Dickson on her album For the Record (2001)
  45. Kale Bas with a Dutch version on his album Kale Bas zoekt haar! (2001)
  46. Éilís Kennedy on her album Time to Sail (2001)
  47. Thomasa and The Bird Tribe Orchestra on their album Red Ruby Palace (2001)
  48. Kari Bremnes with her Norwegian translation Tia det må ta on 11 ubesvarte anrop (2002)
  49. Lydia Fortune & Company on their album All over the Map (2002)
  50. Eva Cassidy on her posthumous album Imagine (2002)
  51. Srideag on their album Spit on the Fire (2002?)
  52. Natalie Withers on her album Simple Perfect (2002)
  53. Kari Bremnes on her album You’d Have to Be Here (2003; English version of 11 ubesvarte anrop)
  54. Leslie van Berkum on her album Leslie van Berkum (2003)
  55. Mayumi Itsuwa with a Japanese version on her album Time to Sing (2003)
  56. Carol Grimes on her album Mother (2003)
  57. Linde Nijland on her album Linde Nijland sings Sandy Denny (2003)
  58. Susan Cowsill on her album Just Believe It (2004)
  59. Italian singer Erica Opizzi on YouTube (2004)
  60. Isla St Clair on her album Looking Forward to the Past (2004)
  61. Paul Westerberg song Folk Star from his album Folker (2004) finishes with the first two lines from Who Knows Where the Time Goes?
  62. Vanessa Wheeler on her CD single UK Cops (2004)
  63. Bridgette and Friends on their album Let the Love Shine (2005)
  64. Christine Collister on her album Love… (2005)
  65. Radio Free Earth on their album Fortune and Death (2005)
  66. The Strawbs on their DVD Live in Toronto at Hugh’s Room (June 2005)
  67. Christine Collister, Dave Kelly and the Travelling Gentlemen on their album Live (2006)
  68. Ellen Johnson on her album These Days (2006)
  69. Maureen Kennedy on her album This Is Always (January 2006)
  70. Cat Power on her iTunes Music Store exclusive EP Live Sessions (2006)
  71. Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs on their album Under the Covers Vol. 1 (2006)
  72. Sandy Foster on her album Caramelize (2007)
  73. Eithne Ní Chatáin on her album Eithne (2007)
  74. Maggie Reilly on her album Rowan (2007)
  75. Fiona White on her album Myths of Time (2007)
  76. Sally Doherty and the Sumacs on their album Black Is the Colour (2008)
  77. Tanja Maritsa on her album Child in My Heart (May 2008)
  78. Kate Rusby on her CD single Who Knows Where the Time Goes? (May 2008)
  79. Daniel Martin Moore on his album Stray Age (October 2008)
  80. Michel Griffin on his CD-R Who Knows Where the Time Goes? (September 2008)
  81. Susanna and the Magical Orchestra on their album Flower of Evil (November 2008)
  82. Beggar’s Hill on their eponymous CD Beggar’s Hill (March 2010)
  83. Lonnie Donegan on his CD Lonniepops (Lonnie Donegan Today) (March 2010)
  84. Nancy-Jo White on her CD Rough Dusty Road (October 2010)
  85. Rondi Charleston as the title track of her CD Who Knows Where the Time Goes (February 2011)
  86. Ron Kavana on his CD 40 Favourite Folk Songs (February 2011)
  87. Lumiere on their CD My Dearest Dear (March 2013)
  88. Bryony Holden on her album Across the Purple Sky (April 2013)
  89. Gilly Darbey on her album Blues Movin’ In (November 2015)
  90. Dariah Kulesh on her EP Winter Delights (March 2018)
  91. Odette Michell on her EP By Way of Night (March 2018)
  92. The Julie July Band on their CD Who Knows Where the Time Goes? (July 2018)
  93. Elfin Bow & Gary Lloyd on their 7" single Who Knows Where the Time Goes (November 2018)
  94. Zoë Wren on her EP Inspired (July 2019)
  95. The Ian Walker Band on their CD We Come to Sing (January 2023)
  96. Elspeth Cowie as the title track of her CD Who Knows Where the Time Goes? (September 2023).
    Elspeth noted that she added in a tasteful drone and some pipe-like sounds on high harmonica in a nod to Sandy’s Scots heritage through the songwriter’s father’s parents, which was an important influence in shaping Sandy as a musician.

In this 2009 video Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker perform Who Knows Where the Time Goes live at Before the Gold Rush on 30 June 2012:

And this video shows Daria Kulesh, accompanied by Jonny Dyer, at The Troubadour on 18 August 2017:


Sandy Denny sings Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it’s time for them to go?
Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming
I have no thought of time

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

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?

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

For who knows how my love grows?
And who knows where the time goes?

(Copyright © 1967 Sonet Music)

Kari Bremnes’ Norwegian version Tia det må ta

Se morrahimmeln nu
Der flyg de langt av gårde
Så fuglan veit det, de, når det e reisetid
Vi står igjen og varme oss på drømma
Tel vinteren legg ifra
Og ingen veit kor tia ska

Og stranda ligg forlatt
Og venna fær avgårde
Okei, så veit vel de at det e reisetid
Men æ skal ikkje reise, æ ska bli igjen her
Den tia det må ta
Og ingen veit kor tia ska

Æ ville bare være
Så lenge du e her
Te det e tid å dra, den tia det må ta
Og siden kommer vinter, også vår og fugla
Og kanskje nye år
Og ingen veit kor tia går
Ingen veit

Translated back into English:

See the morning sky now
There they fly far away
So the birds, they know it; when it’s travelling time
We’re left standing, and warming ourselves on dreams
Until the winter departs
And no one knows where the time is going

And the beach lies deserted
And friends travel away
Alright, so they know; it’s travelling time
But I will not be leaving, I will stay here
The time it must take
And no one knows where the time is going

I just wanted to stay
As long as you are here
Till it’s time to leave, the time it must take
And later the winter comes, and then spring and birds
And maybe new years
And no one knows where the time goes
No one knows

(Thanks to Einar Stenseng for the words)


  1. The lyrics of Who Knows Where the Time Goes? are being used at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass., in a study guide for students of English as a second language. This guide may help you understand the lyrics better too.
  2. The first line changed from “Across the purple sky” in the first known version via “Across the morning (or: mourning?) sky” to the final “Across the evening sky”.

Sorry, I can't show the lyrics here as I don't have the copyright owners' permission to publish them. But please feel free and ask me to send you the song's lyrics.