"Will You Go" (thought by the Strawbs to be a traditional folk song, but in fact written by Francis McPeake of that well-known folk singing family), was one of my first Strawbs tracks. Backing up "Part Of The Union", it was a real contrast to the tub-thumping rhythm of the A-side. I learnt all the words and sang along - plenty of room in the harmonies for a few more - and I probably played it just as much. I thought - wow, they can do rock, folk, what else can they do - I soon found out.
They apparently used to play it on stage as an encore, with Blue coming out from behind the mellotrons etc. to play the accordian up front with Dave Cousins. Great to see it on CD. Even greater to hear it resurrected as the closer at Chiswick - where's the accordian, Blue ? - and let's hope they keep it in the set for May  [DG - they did!].
"Backside" - an oddity this one. A gentle jibe at David Bowie's androgynous Ziggy Stardust persona, which was all the rage at the time, put out on the "backside" (appropriately enough) of "Lay Down". If the vocals were mixed up a bit we could hear the words, but then I suppose the libel lawyers were in the control room ....
"Lay Down" single version - Nice to have it on CD at last (UK Halcyon Days mistakenly included the album version even though the single version was supposed to be there). Not a great deal of difference - the album version has more choruses and the guitar solo has a spot of its own instead of having a chorus running over it - but if like me, it was your introduction to the Strawbs, it take you back. It was performed twice on Top of the Pops (I saw one of the videos the other day) and catapulted the band to later chart topping success with "Part Of The Union".
From the gentle plucked harmonics that open the album, to the fading notes of what sounds like a school assembly hall piano, this is an album of contrasts. Light and dark, soft and loud, slow and fast, epic and throw-away….OK you get the picture! This album is "bursting at the seams" with ideas and creativity. Is this album "Folk" or "Rock" or "Progressive" or "Pop" or…? The answer is very simply: "yes". It is all of these, and more. One thing is for sure, this album is a classic and holds its own against the other great classic rock albums of the 70s.
I first heard "Lay Down" on South African radio in 1973. This was my introduction to the incredible sound of Strawbs. "Lady Fuschia" also received radio-play, and I remember thinking: "what a contrast!"
The album opens with "Flying". A melodic, gentle and tuneful song with superb instrumentation and great vocals on the chorus.
"Lady Fuschia" is next up. A soft love song with gently strummed acoustic guitars. Almost a Moody Blues-type sound. The sitar in the background adds an interesting dimension and new boy Dave Lambert's lead guitar is very tasteful.
The dark lyrics of "Stormy Down" are contrasted by the bouncy piano. This is one of my all-time favourite Strawbs songs. Wonderful vocal harmonies and an almost country-rock style guitar.
"The River" is another powerful track. Slow, haunting, poetic lyrics and great imagery. "Down By The Sea" is an epic. This strong, powerful song is contrasted by a gentle acoustic guitar and a tuneful bass-line. The tempo changes and a heavy electric guitar comes in. This track would not be out of place on an early Traffic album. Great coda with brass and strings and thundering drums. [DG: NB this review is of the CD where "The River" and "Down By The Sea" appear in that running order as originally intended.]
Time for some light-hearted tongue-in-cheek humour with "Part Of The Union". A call-to-arms that some took seriously. A Hudson-Ford song that reached number 2 on the UK charts in 1973. Tub-thumping drums, sing-a-long chorus and a honky tonk pub piano solo make this a great song.
"Tears And Pavan" is another strong song. Similar to "Down By The Sea" in its slow, epic style. "Pavan" has wonderful harpsichord, guitar and handclaps. Sounds like its straight from a medieval court. I can just imagine the dancing jesters and smiling jugglers entertaining the royal guests.
"The Winter And The Summer" is a wonderful folk song. The title is a constrast in itself. A quiet, gentle, melodic acoustic guitar gets slightly heavier about half-way through.
"Lay Down", another UK hit (number 12). Brilliant lead guitar heralds this classic song. Powerful drumming, melodic bass-line and great vocals - a rock classic…absolutely! The quasi-religious lyrics based on the 23rd Psalm and the catchy chorus make this a stand-out track. Short, but very sweet guitar solo.
"Thank You". A group of school children are roped in to finish the album. Light-hearted piano takes this album to a quiet fade.
So, an album of contrasts…a fantastic slice of folk-rock at its best. A classic.
Bursting At The Seams is one of the most perfectly realized Strawbs albums. In spite of its obvious commercial appeal, it succeeded so well and wears so well because it does not sound as though its intent was to sell loads. Instead, it comes across as a purely organic product of the synergy between Cousins and company, combined with the various crises that were going on in each others' personal lives.
As a side note, I think that Hero And Heroine is also a great album for many of the same reasons, even though it is so different in mood from Bursting that it is hard to believe it came from the same band let alone being its immediate successor. Ghosts is perhaps my favorite Strawbs album, but for very different reasons, and it marks the point at which the Strawbs appear to be deliberately reaching for an audience that never materialized.
The liner notes. that one of the other Witchwood members included verbatim, accurately reflect the many influences and the maturity on Bursting. From the opening notes of "Flying", the album practically defines the British folk rock in ways that, IMO, none of the other better known proponents (Fairport et al) could ever come close to achieving. Because this is truly rock music that embraces its folk roots, not folk music flailing around for a contemporary edge. "Flying" was probably the most popular song on the album in Quebec where I grew up, even ahead of "Lay Down" and "Part Of The Union", yet as far as I know it has never appeared on any live recording or compilation. That in itself speaks to the riches of this record. The banjo/mellotron break in the middle is a brilliant success that few have attempted, and certainly never as effortlessly.
"Lady Fuschia" is a Hudson-Ford composition that reflects the influence of Cousins on the songwriting and arranging of this duo. A beautiful timeless song. "Stormy Down" is one of the uptempo songs on this album and has been revived in recent years, its country and western accent being more fashionable now than it was then and its lyrics characteristically verging on the blasphemic. "The River/Down By The Sea" are among Cousins' most emotional songs and are also intensely melodic. The contrasts in "Down By The Sea" are not forced...they reflect the alternating resignation and anger felt by a man whose life seems to be crumbling. The most progressive song on the album, it arguably outshines the best works of some of the much better known prog bands of the day.
"Part Of The Union" displayed the other side of Strawbs that Hudson and Ford were trying to develop, to great commercial success. The witty lyrics and rollicking piano break alone are worth the experiment. Some Strawbs fans are almost embarassed that this is the song by which the group is best known, but it is a fine tune indeed, made even better for being surrounded by and contrasting with more somber material.
"Tears And Pavan" is itself an exercise in contrasts which click. From the Gothic sounds of "Tears" to the ethnic harpsichord of "Pavan", another progressive masterpiece augmented by the collaboration between Cousins and Hudson/Ford. "Tears" in particular sounds fresher today than it did in 1973. Maybe it is my own maturity creeping into the analysis...
"The Winter And The Summer" is perhaps Dave Lambert's finest all round song as a Strawb. It is remarkable how well this tune fits in with the album given he was a recent addition to the group. Only the very ending is a bit problematic for me, although it does segue into "Lay Down" fairly well.
While Cousins was never the hit songwriter that Hudson and Ford were, it is puzzling why, with a few notable exceptions ("Stormy Down" and "Will You Go"), he never even came close to pursuing the formula of "Lay Down". Even his vocal style seemed different here, perhaps only mimicked by the concomitant and similarly named "Stormy Down". "Lay Down" was one of the first Strawbs songs I ever heard, in 1975. When it ended and the announcer said who it was, I was thrilled because I was already becoming a fan thanks to "Benedictus" and "Autumn" in particular.
While I certainly never saw "Thank You" as essential, I always got a kick out of the young British accents. This would of course have had little effect on the British listener. As for the bonus tracks, "Will Ye Go" shows a confident band playing a little closer to its roots, and I think it could have been a hit had it been pushed in that direction, while "Backside" combines somewhat risque lyrics with a progressive sound and guitar style that could have passed for what Barclay James Harvest was doing at the same time. In short, not at all hard to listen to.
Clearly, the split after Bursting took away more than just Hudson and Ford. We also lost a truly unique style and approach and are left with but one album fit to be a representative. But that is much better than none!
I was about 14 at the time, and originally turned on to the band by the "Part of the Union" single, which pretty much struck the political zeitgeist at the time in the UK (I remember my mum completely failing to understand the irony of the lyrics - she was very offended by the idea of 'trying to ruin the governments plan').
My friend had the album on 'musicassette' (as pre-recorded tapes were called in those days) and I liked it so much I swapped him my copy of Rod Stewart's Never A Dull Moment. I never bought another Rod Stewart album, but over the next few years I bought all the Strawbs back catalogue (and indeed all the future albums up until Deadlines).
Initially only familiar with "Part Of The Union", I soon decided that 'this D. Cousins bloke' wrote more interesting songs than the 'Hudson, Ford' people - particularly "Flying", "Stormy Down" and "Lay down" (which had of course previously been a single, but I had not been aware of it). Although I later decided that DC's songwriting dominance after the big split weakened the band in future years, at the time it was his voice and these songs that did it for me. I recall thinking that his unusual voice reminded me of a male version of the woman singer (Sally someone?) of Middle of the Road (OK so I was 14 for Godssake - however, have a listen to "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" or "Soley Soley" and you'll see what I mean).
Having played the album to death for 6 months, I pretty much decided that it didn't stand up too well against Antiques And Curios and GNW and pretty much left it alone for about 20 years, but in retrospect it probably does stand as their most all-round complete and successful album. Watching the band at QE Hall the other month playing "Tears And Pavan" was just magnificent for me (frankly the whole gig was - having seen the Strawbs play about 20 times from 1974 - 1981, it was wonderful to see this line-up for the first time - they even did "Down by the Sea" well, which I never thought they played well live in the 70's)
A little point of geeky interest - the running order on the 'musicassette' differs from the album on vinyl. On cassette it goes: (side one) "Part Of The Union" - "Stormy Down" - "Tears And Pavan" - "Flying" - "Lay Down"; (side two) "Here It Comes (bonus track not on vinyl, but later appeared on By Choice ) - "The Winter And The Summer" - "Lady Fuschia" - "The River" - "Down By The Sea" - "Thank You"
Pretty different from the vinyl version (I won't list the running order as I would assume that you all know it by heart) and frankly disgraceful that the record companies could mess about this way! I can only assume they did it to equalise the playing times of the two sides? For me, of course, it is the cassette running order that is etched on my brain, and not the vinyl version (which I did buy at some point to complete the set). In particular, "The River" is absolutely followed by "Down By The Sea", and it sounds wrong to this day when I hear it the other way round!
I've been pondering Bursting At The Seams for a few days. For some reason I feel a bit cold or removed from it. My memory whispered to me that it wasn't as interesting as what came before or for four albums after. My memory was a filthy liar. Last night I put it on and was reminded that that was not true. "Flying" and "Fuschia" glisten with fine vocals and shimmering arrangements. "Stormy Down" is nice earthy rocker. From previous posts and live performances anyone can tell that "Sea" and "River" are in the wrong order and I will rectify this on a future tape for my car. What a fine combo, brimming with power and glory.
"Part of The Union" is a handclapping anthem a great bar song with a kitchy piano solo, an irresistable hummer even for the union haters. "Tears and Pavan" has always been my favorite on this album. Everything works on this exotic piece. There's some really fine bass and drum accents to go along with the obvious stuff on top. "The Winter and the Summer" is great example of melody and dynamics by Lambert a guy just cutting his songwriting teeth. "Lay Down" was really unlike anything (musically) that Cousins had written before or since. It's a shame the USA never gave it much of an opportunity. "Thank You" recalls my first grade (maybe form for you Brits) teacher Miss Muller playing piano for her class. It just takes me back,and who would sit and write something like that except for Dave Cousins, a nun or a school teacher! No one I know who calls himself a rocker (although I never heard Dave call himself that).