Thursday, sometime in early Spring 1974. I'm on my way home from school to watch 'Rock On with 45' Granada TV's tea-time music show. As usual I get waylaid larking about with mates. When I get in out of the cold Rock On is almost over. Tonight it's live from Bellevue Leisure Park and I catch the tail end of a storming performance of a tune that I can only describe as a rock, baroque, gothic, country jig. The band is the Strawbs, but I don't catch the tune's name or the album the track is on. But I do remember a lyric which sent shivers up and down my spine '….For he had yet to suffer.'
The following Saturday I'm in the town, persuading the patient women behind the record store counter to let me look at all the Strawbs albums inner sleeves. I read each lyric until I find the one I'm looking for. It's Hero And Heroine and the start of something big. Although I subsequently acquired all the Strawbs albums, and love them all dearly, Hero And Heroine still holds a special place at the very start of that journey.
Hero And Heroineis more than just a collection of songs. It is a feast of connections, re-iterations of phrases and themes, which lend it a feeling of wholeness. The original vinyl release also made you physically aware of the album's two distinct moods and although this is less apparent on the CD release you still notice the downturn in mood by track five.
Side one starts with the slow burn organ and synthesiser introduction "Heroine's Theme" to "Autumn". Time was when every progressive band would name separate movements within songs. There are three within "Autumn" but, strangely no mention of these sub titles is made on the re-mastered CD, even though they are listed on the original vinyl and on the early 90's Canadian CD re-issue.(awful sound quality by the way - you have been warned). Anyway this self contained intro slips quickly into a slow, moody groove, complete with eerie bird call effects courtesy of Dave Lambert's electric guitar. Building to a keyboard and guitar climax "Heroine's Theme" drops away to reveal the acoustic/electric call and response guitar figures that leads into part two of "Autumn": "Deep Summer's Sleep", an evocative musical and lyrical description of the arrival of Autumn. Swathed in mists of mellotron and topped with Dave Cousins' vocal, double tracked with a whisper. John Hawken's star shines brightly (as it does through the rest of the album)as he takes the section to an end with a leslied organ/mellotron coda. This segues into "The Winter Long", a tender and uplifting love song that looks forward to the arrival of spring. Led by Hawken's acoustic piano flourishes, Dave Lambert takes over on the vocal duties and does a splendid job. The multi-tracked vocal choruses of 'Hold onto me' never fail to warm as the rhythm section cranks up a notch and Dave Lambert lets loose on a restrained but powerful guitar break which tracks the vocal melody. A mellotron choir appears and its all over. Very satisfying. And the shortest eight minutes of your life.
"Sad Young Man" written by Rod Coombes is next up, introduced by Hawken's fender rhodes. I particularly like the reversed vocal effects and Dave Lambert is again sensitive and restrained. Dave leads the vocal about a depressed young man on the move, until the vocals are picked up by Lambert as the song leads into an organ middle eight before Dave takes over again.
"Just Love" is a Dave Lambert penned rocker, the like of which we find on all Strawbs albums of this period. "The Winter and the Summer" it isn't. I love the guitar work but the song only passes the time in a pub rocky sort of way. Sorry Dave, but you're a far better player than writer. However I'm sure many of you will disagree with me.
"Shine On Silver Sun" is a reverb drenched fairy tale of a song, which sounds,…….well silvery! Pay attention to the chorus! You'll hear it again, albeit mutated later on in the proceedings.
Track five. Prepare for the downturn This is bleak, very bleak, but in a most satisfying and cynical way. First, the track that started it all for me: "Hero and Heroine". A huge blast of organ and mellotron introduces the song (play loud is my advice). This fades away for some seriously fast plucking on what I always thought was Dave's banjo, but I can't be sure [in fact it is double speed piano played by Hawken, though the song was originally played by Dave to the band on a banjo! - DG]. This leads into the first verse which culminates in a refrain of the opening keyboard blast. The whole thing is a mutated anti drug hoe-down and as far as I'm concerned is totally unique. Verse two is the real killer. Dave sings the lyrics unaccompanied as an echo build around his voice which culminates in that lyric '……for he had yet to suffer'. If the hairs on the back of your neck don't stand up then you're already dead. It's a crime that this song, released as a single, was not a huge hit. Shame on the record buying British public. The song continues apace with a foreboding keyboard middle eight, before it slams into top gear again and doesn't let up until the fade.
As "Hero and Heroine" fades out "Midnight Sun" fades in. An acoustic song that appears to be lyrically connected with "Hero and Heroine". To me this evokes Hero alone on his raft contemplating his future, which doesn't seem to be very bright and is carried by Dave's weary and strained voice and beautiful mullet-tracked vocal choruses. This lyrical continuity also appears to happen later on in the album
As "Midnight Sun" finishes we are straight into the harmonica introduction to "Out In The Cold", mainly acoustic in feel and with a lyrical line that in less sensitive hands would be salacious but in Mr Cousins's hands is quite tender.
"Round and Round" is not my favourite song. That said it came over really well, powered by Chas Cronke's bass pedals, at the 30th Anniversary concert at Chiswick when it followed "Beside The Rio Grande". However Hawken is on top form with his moog intro which leads the song, (quite a rocker with a strong Who type riff) into Dave's cynical and spiteful lyric. He virtually spits the words at you, prior to delivering his spoken word diatribe which cranks up the hysteria level as the song draws to a close. The song finishes with what appears to be an early synthesiser sequencer piece, but given that they used tape loops on the next song it could be some other Heath Robinson approach.
Now for the last tracks. "Lay A Little Light On Me" and "Hero's Theme" are one piece. The first tells a tale of suicide and connects itself thematically with "Round and Round" whose first line is 'I drew the blade across my wrist…' whereas "Lay A Little Light" opens with the narrator watching the blood flow from the wound. Dave has a way with lyrics. As the song progresses the lyrics contain biblical references. They don't always affirm faith but instead seem to frequently question its worth.. This is Dave Lambert's chance to really shine. As the lyrics come to an end he works up a stunning and powerful chord sequence which builds and builds until it suddenly drops away revealing a stunning touch. A massed choir of unintelligible yet melodic voices. These voices are in fact the chorus lines of "Shine On Silver Sun" reversed and looped. My vinyl copy was scratched and this would not go off into the run off groove. I'd let this go on for ages and eventually I'd go to sleep with it on. All I can say is what a closer to a fantastic album.
The additional tracks on the re-issued CD are the frankly inconsequential and rather ham fisted version of "Lay A Little Light On Me" and a second incomplete track called "Still Small Voice". This is a minor revelation, dark, mysterious, intriguing and incomplete. Dave please, please let us all hear a finished version.
This is the second appearance on CD for Hero And Heroine (the first was on A & M Canada VPCD 3607), and what an improvement. As with all Strawbs albums, this classic work has been screaming out for a proper CD release since before CD's were even available. The sound on the re-release CD is infinitely better, and the overall packaging and presentation is a massive improvement. A & M/Polygram have done an excellent job with the repackages, but once again the lack of lyrics is a shame. The original vinyl pressing included the lyrics, why could they not have been included with the reissue. Also, although John Tobler's notes are in an interesting read, more information about writers, studios, and recording would have been appreciated.
The album itself has something of an interesting history, as it was the first Strawbs album following the departure of John Ford, Richard Hudson (who formed the successful Hudson Ford at this point), and Blue Weaver all left the band. David Cousins and Dave Lambert managed to form a new line-up of The Strawbs, rather than folding at this point, and it was an excellent choice to continue, as they produced what could be considered one of their best albums.
In Canada, this album has the distinction of being a "classic rock," and at times one may hear "Autumn" on an "classic rock" FM station. In fact, "Autumn" was something of a turntable hit in this country when released as a single. The song itself is pure magic, with one of the most beautiful tunes ever written, especially the third segment "The Winter Long." David Cousins' voice, and new recruit John Hawken's piano playing is flawless, and some of the most pure emotion ever committed to tape. It is a brilliant moment in Strawbs and rock music history.
This is followed by another new member's song, Rod Coombes' "Sad Young Man." An excellent introduction for the new member, as it is a pleasant song which adds to the flow of the album. Dave Lambert's "Just Love" is next, which is probably the lowest point on the disc. Not a bad song, just very indistinguishable.
Cousins returns for the far too short, but extremely powerful "Shine On Silver Sun." Cousins really comes into his own on this album, and this is just one more example of his ability to write amazingly melodic tunes with great visual lyrics. Again, a lyric sheet would have been nice, as it almost reads as a poem.
The title track, "Hero and Heroine" is the centre point of this album. One wonders if Bowie had listened to this track for inspiration for his "doomed lovers" tale, "Heroes." Nicely arranged, and well sung by Cousins.
"Midnight Sun" is a collaboration between Cousins, and the last new member Chas Cronk. At is also one of the best songs on the album. The tune stays in with the listener all day. Again, the imagery created by the instruments and the lyrics creates an amazing atmosphere of almost tranquillity, with a sense of danger. This is a true talent to create this within three minutes and twelve seconds, but the Strawbs manage to pull it off.
"Out in the Cold" is a breath before the truly bleak "Round And Round." An interesting song, with some really disturbing imagery that was about 20 years ahead of its time. Cousins again creates an atmosphere with his music and lyrics, but unlike "Midnight Sun", there is nothing even remotely tranquil with this song. It is surprising that a '90's band has not covered this song, as it would fit that musical climate much more than 1973. Perhaps a reissue as a single would garner attention for this gem.
"Lay A Little Light On Me" and "Hero's Theme" bring this album to a close. Both credible songs, with beautiful melodies. But they are almost anti-climatic following "Round And Round." This CD reissue has an early, unreleased version of "Lay A Little Light On Me" that just does not work, although it is very interesting to listen to compare it with the released version. "Still Small Voice" is the other bonus track available, and again, it is previously unreleased, and according to the notes unfinished. To these ears it sounds quite finished and quite good, which indicates there are probably other unreleased gems sitting in a vault somewhere. Since these unreleased songs were available, more unreleased material would have been nice on this release.
This is a brilliant album. A strong, cohesive unit. It is not a concept album, or "rock opera", but it holds together remarkable well, and is somewhat thematic. This album has also aged very well. It holds up when listen to some 25 years following its release. This is a rare achievement. On this album, Strawbs were able to go a bit further into the rock field, and almost left behind their folk connections. Sure acoustic guitars are heard, and the tight harmony vocals are present, but this album leans more towards "progressive rock" than it does Bob Dylan. This demonstrates the band's ability to grow, and experiment with their music, and it worked - an excellent album, and an excellent reissue.
I have always felt that Ghosts seemed more like a logical follow-up to Bursting than did Hero And Heroine. Even today after so many years, Hero And Heroine stands apart as a Strawbs album for its bleakness. Both of the surrounding albums provided a reasonable balance between the bitter and the sweet, the joyous and the sombre. Hero has its contrasts but they tend between the manic and depressive, and the folk element is mostly awash in reverb and mellotron. It caught American and Canadian fans at a time when they were in the mood for such introspection and had not experienced the Strawbs as folk-rock college heros or a glam phenomenon. Hero And Heroine remained on the US charts for 4 full months, and could be seen among the bestsellers at Canadian record stores until well after Ghosts had come and gone.
In Montreal, Hero had a lot of radio friendly songs for its time, primarily "Autumn", the title track, and "Round and Round", although "Midnight Sun" was often allowed to follow "Hero", and "Lay A Little Light On Me" received significant exposure. From our perspective, this was a group in rapid ascension. Knowing what I know now, I understand the UK distaste for this album, but I feel sad they missed out.
"Autumn" may be the single greatest piece ever laid down by the Strawbs, a true suite as opposed to an epic like "Down By The Sea" or "Ghosts". I would never want to listen to only a part of it - each sets the stage for the next and augments the previous. Brooding, then reflective, and finally affirming. "Sad Young Man" wears surprisingly well and I love the organ bit in the middle, even if Coombes' best composition as a Strawb is the sublime and even more enduring "Mind of My Own" from Nomadness. "Just Love" is definitely the weak link and out of place, but I can't think of a Lambert song that might have fit better. "Shine On Silver Sun" harkens back to "Benedictus" with its hymnlike chorus but cannot match the highs of the Grave New World tune which had itself failed to chart as a single a few years before. "Where Do You Go" would have been the logical choice for a single, and would have fit on the album better than "Just Love", especially lyrically.
"Hero And Heroine" could be subtitled, "an epic in 3:20". This is a masterpiece of the folk-rock genre that puts most of Tull's work to shame. The organ break after the third verse has a melody oddly like in the break of "Sad Young Man". I had never thought in terms of drugs as the theme but rather sex stereotypes - I was ahead of my time. The hero had to be a great adventurer, conquering, suffering, seeking, while the heroine just had to present herself to the hero but ultimately had power over him and could abandon him, leaving him alone to die in spite of other achievements. The transition into "Midnight Sun" is such that it is hard to listen to the first without expecting the next. One of the progressive Strawbs' few essentially unplugged numbers with a haunting tune, potent lyrics, and harmonies to boot, not to mention some fine acoustic lead in the break, and congas used to good effect "Out In The Cold" has a brilliant intro and is strangely sparse, with the very familiar line in side 2 that seemed a follow-on from a related line in "The River", resulting in a tune that was a bit of an embarrassment to play through to sensitive types but is actually pretty and in no way foretells the fury that will follow. "Round And Round" really does sound dated, its menacing moogs and spoken angry verse, but the early vocal part is very strong. "Lay A Little Light On Me" provides a fittingly cold and despairing end to the original disk, with a very gentle start and a disturbed middle and end. A radio announcer had once suggested that this seemed like a tribute to Lennon/McCartney. Perhaps he felt that "Hero's Theme" is reminiscent of the "I want you" riff.
Regarding the bonus tracks, while the early version of "Lay A Little Light" is only of interest historically, "Still Small Voice" is quite a find. I actually heard it prior to a concert on the Nomadness tour and didn't hear it again until a couple of years ago on the remastered CD. It has a strangely classical feel that goes beyond the mere use of a nylon string guitar. Unfinished in a manner of speaking, it is also oddly complete and, to me, a treasure that would have fit well on the original album.
Every Strawbs album from Witchwood thru Nomadness has much to recommend it, depending on individual inclinations, but, while Bursting is the most accessible, Ghosts the most melodic, and Grave New World the most spiritual, Hero And Heroine is the most progressive, and, IMO, the closest to genius/insanity, hence not for those whose hearts grow faint.
POSTSCRIPT: When CDs came in, I recall that A&M Canada, in recognition of the demand for Hero And Heroine, tried to get the parent company to issue that recording on CD without success and so finally did it on their own. I heard that it was the first CD issued by A&M Canada on its own. Granted it was not digitally remastered, but even that is better than playing old vinyl. Another first for the Strawbs!
Greetings, one and all. So far there have been strong feelings for this classic album, despite its obvious darkness in places. And, for the most part, I must concur with the general opinion. As for my own review, that is far from easy. Part of the problem is that there are so many sets of memories with this album. Trying to remove my feelings from these assorted memories is difficult, at very best. I'll try, but it won't be easy.
On a whole, the album blows me away now as much as it did the first time I heard it. But while I may admire and respect its power and incredible themes, it is not my favourite Strawbs record. As others have stated, I went through a period of depression, culminating in a nervous breakdown. This album did nothing to cheer me up, that's for sure.
On the other hand, it certainly is, for me, a recognition of my own mortality. It has helped, because I see the darkness in me is evident in the Strawbs, and that I am not alone. That said, this is not an album I shared much with others. It is my most personal album, listened to on autumn days that were grey and gloomy, and made for reflection upon my own pain and failings. It has darkness, yes, but it is the darkness of the fading light, and the falling seasons. It has the darkness of my own mortality, which must be faced, ultimately, alone. Other Strawbs albums were about religion, this one seems to be about the NEED for religion; the need for Light in our lives, whatever we preceive the Light to be. The song "Lay A Little Light On Me" may be the most sincere prayer ever recorded.
Every song on this record seems to indicate a thought or philosophy designed to bring us away from the ulitmate fear - death. Want, need, love, lust, are all in place to remove the reminder that we are going to die. We even use humour for this, sometimes black humour, as in "Round and Round".This album, then, poses no answers about the question of death. It merely looks at various and sundry ways in which we avoid the unavoidable - eventually, death itself. Yet there is an answer. It's in the line in the song at the very last, in "Hero's Theme", that is chanted over and over again.
Just a few notes, and I'm done. The song "Hero And Heroine" is one of the deepest analogous songs I have ever come across. It can be taken on several different levels. The obvious one, of drug addiction, is there, of course. But there is also one of loss of love, or the loss of one's faith, or whatever you find comforting in your life. It's about want, gone to addiction. For many people, this first want in life, when removed, brings about the first full recognition of our mortality. It can be the loss of a parent or guardian figure, or a loved one of any kind. Later on it may be the loss of first love. It may be watching a beloved pet die.
Whatever the method, early in life we are brought face to face with loss - real loss, unjust loss. The recognition that the world can be, and often is, a cruel and hard place.
I can imagine quite a few of you may disagree with me. Perhaps I have not fully recovered from my illness to be writing this, and the effects are showing. Still, I have always felt this way about Hero And Heroine. Of all the Strawbs albums, this one is the hardest, the most bitter. There is no cream with these Strawbs - only the hard fruit of a cold, uncaring world. Yet in the end, we know we need to hold on to one another, as they say in "The Winter Long". We still need love for each other, and we still need to hold together. We've been given the tools for spiritual survival. We need to use them. Shine On Silver Sun.
Hero And Heroine is one of my favorite Strawbs albums. It is the first one I heard (during my college days) and hooked me forever. Cousins' voice is so powerful on this record. The melding of one song into the other in several places works very well. I will put in here, however, that I have never liked David Lambert's songs. "Just Love" is an intrusion on this record, in my opinion. On the other hand, Rod Coombes' "Sad Young Man", I believe, fits right in with the mood and sound.
"Deep Summer's Sleep" (from the "Autumn" piece) and "Midnight Sun" echo in my head constantly. These are very powerful songs. When I pick up a guitar it wants to play these songs. And, of course, the recently-referenced "Out In The Cold" is classic Cousins, albeit a bit more direct!
Hero And Heroine has a special place in my life even though it is only my third favourite album along with several others-behind GNW and BATS. I actually spied it first in New York on my first OE - kiwi idiom for overseas experience - we're big travellers see! But I didn't buy it until I got to Kent and rushed out to buy a new stereo. The first thing we played was Hero And Heroine and we weren't disappointed even if it turned to be much more progressive rock than the earlier stuff (it did shock some NZ friends who were used to the lighter folkier stuff on return though). The first big bass booms hooked us and we all liked the more powerful rhythm section - especially Chas's big, fat, rich bass sound. My bass player buddy never liked Ford's percussive sound much and my long suffering spouse preferred led Zep so I'm probably biased here.
Actually I've never thought of it as bleak- more spooky and doomy in a kind of gothic way perhaps but then again we played it late at night to mellow down after more up beat stuff. It got thrashed and utterly worn out so the CD was received with much pleasure and how good it sounds! The production has stood up well to the test of time with Autumn still right up there along with "Round And Round". "Midnight Sun" still sounds pretty good too and "Hero And Heroine" is, well "Hero And Heroine" even if the bass player always flinched at the "He had yet to suffer" line. Hawken's elegant keyboards really help and thanks for the tip on Mozart - I always wondered if it was Bach - our sceptical next door neighbour suggested that it came from the Peter Stuyvestant Ciggie advert!
Whatever, it did get the couples dancing at [the South Shields gig in Spring 2001] as they literally latched onto the "Hold onto me" line. I was always a bit unattached to "Lay A Little Light On Me" but loved the big Abbey Road type riff at the end (surely just an arpeggio - i.e. ascending scale rather than any kind of a nick - rather like the Sea) and the backwards tape was inspired. "Still Small Voice" is worth rescuing too- maybe DC should finish it sometime as it has heaps of potential.
So yeah an excellent album with plenty of classics on it but the first side just doesn't quite measure up to the second even though "Just Love" is ok.
I have a confession. I didn't always like the Strawbs. I remember borrowing a tape of Bursting at the Seams from my school friend and it leaving me fairly cold. My favourite bands in 1974 were Pink Floyd and Focus, and folk rock was generally ridiculed at school. However, a couple of weeks after its release my school friend let me borrow Hero And Heroine". Thanks Howard. Paul on the road to Damascus had nothing on me.
Why is this album so good? I can see the claims of BATS, but IMHO this is the best Strawbs album. I don't want to go into too much detail on this album, as everybody must have an opinion, but even the opening 2 seconds are stunning, that synthesiser cutting through that "Star Trek transporter" sound. I wish I could say that the album is flawless. I've never really liked "Midnight Sun", although there aren't too many songs that would stand up in the company of the remainder of side 2 and it does at least fit in really well with the rest of the album.
I disagree with Pete in Seattle as I'm of the opinion that this is not an uplifting album. We start at a fairly low level emotionally with "Heroine's Theme" and build to the joyous "Winter Long". From there it's fairly difficult to keep smiling. "Sad Young Man" takes us down, and although "Just Love" brings us back up again, there is an elegaic feel to "Shine on Silver Sun". In 1974 I didn't believe that the title track was about drugs, but nowadays I take it as an allegory of drug addiction. Taking the latter half of side 2 we have the break up of a relationship, the futility of flower power peace and love, and a plea for spiritual enlightenment. in "Lay a Little Light On Me".
Apart from that I think Pete has it right - maybe there is something in Hero And Heroine that appeals to the mid teenage boy - hormonal, slightly depressed and anxious. Maybe by confronting these themes on record we can overcome them in real life. Certainly my 15 year old son likes the album, and I hope he will continue to play it.
It wouldn't be right for me to write a review of Hero And Heroine because all I can do is gush about it as the Strawbs at the height of their powers and how it's the record that burned them into my all time fave list forever. (Lots of objectivity here.) I would like to relay a story however. My brother came home from work one day and told me he needed a tape of "Autumn". He told me that a co-worker wasn't that big a Strawbs fan but had always loved that song and wanted "The Winter Long" section played as he walked down the isle at his wedding. I was happy to accommodate him of course. Some time later my brother told me that someone had forgotten to cue up the tape properly and "Autumn" was started from the beginning. Now that must have scared the heck out that crowd for sure.
A quick bit of background that may have colored my review of this album:
I first heard the Strawbs on the Bursting at the Seams tour, they opened for Wishbone Ash in Hammond Indiana near where I grew up. A few songs into their set they played "Stormy Down" and there was no going back for me. I went out and bought their entire catalog including Two Weeks Last Summer and All Our Own Work and immersed myself while awaiting a new release.
I was 16 at the time and somewhere in that time frame I fell into a classic case of teenage depression - serious but not quite clinical - largely hormonal with a good dash of disillusionment thrown in. Late one sleepless night on the radio I heard "Round And Round". Daylight found me anxiously awaiting the opening of my favorite record shop. I left that day with not only the long awaited Strawbs album I expected, but also with what was to be the key to unchaining myself from the dark depths of depression. (Dave and crew if you see this I've always wanted to say thank you.)
Many have commented on how dark Hero And Heroine is, but fail to mention or see that the light at the end of the tunnel is also strongly present on this album. The darkest passages on Hero And Heroine however bleak are not hopeless. Even in the title track where Hero is a classic tragic character of mythological proportions, his tale is told, as mythology intends, to stand as a warning so the listener who may face the same challenges need not suffer the same fate. In fact as Hero's tale is swirling in our heads the gentle reflective strains of "Midnight Sun" emerge and remind us: "The dark night sheds no light, It merely serves a warning, I pray for one single ray of hope" and we all instinctively know the sun will rise again.
So onto the songs:
"Autumn": the opening instrumental, "Heroine's Theme", is very rich in texture but appropriately ambiguous in its mood as it moves you to "Deep Summer's Sleep" where the dramatic transformation of nature is poetically explored accompanied by an equally stunning and intricate musical arrangement. Then just when you'd expect this song to become a reflection of the harshness and empty hibernation of winter, we are instead treated to the hopeful and joyous music and lyrics of "The Winter Long'"reassuring us that with the bonds we form in adverse conditions we can certainly transcend the situation and be better off for the experience.
"Sad Young Man": The realization that a problem exists, an honest look at the situation and asking yourself the hard questions (is this what you want?) is the first step to changing your situation (You are your own creation). A bitter pill served with the tastiest guitar sounds: sweet and smooth when we reflect and becoming appropriately heavy when we need a good shaking.
"Just Love": Although lyrically this song fits well into Hero And Heroine as a whole (love can be a formidable catalyst for transformation) the temperament of the performance breaks the mood of the album when we really don't need a break. I really like this song but appreciate it much more when I hear it as a stand-alone song or on a random collection of songs. This fine rocking jam might have been better served on Ghosts or as a single.
"Shine On Silver Sun": "Once I sat upon a hill to watch the world go by" boy does that speak to the self-imposed detachment of depression. And though the rest of this song has always left me bewildered, you couldn't ask for a more rousing, joyous anthem that sure feels positive and would get you to flip the record over (it was '74 remember).
At this point I want to echo what Dave Cousins has said about side two of Hero And Heroine, it is as good an album side as the Strawbs have ever recorded and can rock with the best of `em. I would even go further on to say it is an absolutely perfect six-song cycle. I will have to back up that statement in part two of this review as I've rambled enough for now. If you've made it this far thank you for bearing with me. [Pete - did you ever send part 2 ? - DG]
Hero And Heroine - ah, what a great album. I remember waiting and waiting for it to come out, and finally finding it in my local record shop in Banbury. I walked back to a park bench and looked at my new purchase. I liked the front cover, but the rear cover made me blink - what had happened to Dave's beard? and his hair? And Dave Lambert, who had struck me as a handsome young guitar slinger, looked awful.
Anyway, I moved swiftly from the cover to the lyric sheet and proceeded to read the whole thing as if it was a poetry manuscript. Because I was in a park, I couldn't play it, so my first minutes with this great album were solely concentrated on the words (once that rather disturbing photo was forgotten). I can't think of another band where reading the lyric sheet from start to finish would be a valid or meaningful exercise, but it worked rather well with Hero And Heroine, just as it would have done with Grave New World. I liked Bursting At The Seams, but had been a bit disappointed by the lack of concept behind it. By reading the lyric sheet of Hero And Heroine it was easy to see the concept behind this song cycle.
I walked home, put the disc on the Amstrad and sat back. Wow! Blown away from the start. The high points of this album for me are "the Winter Long" - this is a real "tingle factor" track for me; Dave Lambert's vocals are beautiful (no other word will do). Then "Just Love" - I can't agree that it doesn't fit with the rest of the album, the contrast is surely deliberate. It's meant to jar - hell, that's what real love does. The track which doesn't quite belong, IMHO, is "Shine On Silver Sun". I just wish Dave had put another verse in that track; it's too short and inconsequential despite the beautiful arrangement.
Side Two is flawless. I hadn't really thought of it as showing that there is light at the end of the tunnel before.... quite the reverse, in fact, to me it had always seemed to be making its way inexorably towards a death. How else can you interpret "Hero's Theme"? I can actually sing those weird reversed lyrics "Hay ye faw yash, nah...." etc. I'm surprised some Bible Belt preacher didn't attack the Strawbs for raising the Devil through this track, or inciting suicide or whatever. It's just as well I didn't talk about this to our friend with depression 28 years ago, or he might not be here now!
So, the question for this week is: "Hero And Heroine, supreme example of the death cult, or an inspirational example of survival against the odds." Where do you stand??
It kind of surprised me to read people talk about Hero And Heroine as a dark album, because I've never thought of it like that: more like spiritually uplifting. Not that I am any kind of authority on whether albums are depressing or not - after all, I used to put on Leonard Cohen records to cheer myself up(!) so I can hardly claim any great objectivity - but in the midst of all the bleak stuff in Hero And Heroine are two wonderful examples of light in the darkness: "The Winter Long" section of "Autumn", and "Midnight Sun", which are both songs of reassurance when life is at its coldest. And even the anguished cry of "Lay A Little Light On Me" seems to me to suggest through the power of the music that the cry is going to be answered: that the light will indeed be there when it is needed.
Incidentally I was interested to find echoes of the lyrics of "Midnight Sun" in two favourite songs from other albums in my collection, one from way back in the early sixties ("What good is the dawn/That grows into day/The sunset at night/Or living this way/For I have the warmth of the sun/Within me at night") and the other from a CD which is currently still in the UK charts ("Time after time they drag you down/Down in the darkness deep/Fools in their madness all around/Know that the light don't sleep"). Just as a bit of fun, can anybody place them?
One of the difficulties I find with receiving so many Witchwood messages is remembering who said what, but many thanks to whoever it was who remarked that "Still Small Voice", one of the bonus tracks on Hero And Heroine, was quite a find. I hadn't really picked up on it before but, after reading that, I decided to go back and listen to it more carefully. The words are difficult to hear above the music (which is why I'd overlooked it) but on closer study I reckon they're among Dave Cousins' very best, which as far as I'm concerned is saying a lot.
I suppose that when you have an album that contains just the right mixture of musical & lyrical emotion as Hero And Heroine has, you find yourself totally satisfied from start to finish. Regardless of whether it was intended as a concept piece of music, where one song can't survive without the rest, or as a collection of isolated songs written at different intervals that have an underlying and recurring theme, the songs are great. I doubt that Dave C. and Dave L. intentionally sat down to create this as a concept type album, while they were working in new band members Cronk, Hawken and Coombes.
I like the album and can say that it has been one of my greatest pleasures to have owned it since its original release. I have played it to some of my previous girl-friends, and most will agree that it's a fine piece of music, and love the way it flows, 'but you just can't dance to it'. Unless you do the horizontal bop.
That aside, a question that I would like to perhaps bring up would be: if Hero And Heroine was intended as a concept piece of music, how could you include songs like "Still Small Voice" and "Why" and "And Wherefore" that were recorded during this album, but not used at the time. And augmenting these songs into the format of the album, without losing its overall effectiveness.
Finally, my current wife of 6 glorious years, would like me to relay to the group, that she enjoys the Strawbs, but happens to belong to so many e-groups now, that she would prefer to just listen to the music. Truer words were never spoken.
When my first wife died in 1990, I was going to use "The Winter Long" for one of the songs at the funeral, she always loved Strawbs music and Hero And Heroine was one of her favorite albums. I wound up using the closing section of "Blue Angel" ("Sleep the sleep of peace my love" etc....); there were people of all age groups asking me what this beautiful piece of music was.
Strawbs music has always meant a great deal to me...
Just a few points as an addendum to the great discussion regarding the Strawbs' epic Hero And Heroine. This LP was my first introduction to the Strawbs and I rather came to it by accident, suggested by a friend who alerted me to the Wakeman connection with the band. As a college underclassman at the time, I was very much into prog rock with an orientation toward King Crimson, Yes, and ELP. I always had a heart for the path less traveled and the underdogs of the world and I first gravitated toward the Strawbs as the "Poor Man's Yes." No other band ever caught my attention or devotion as the Strawbs did. It was actually the blend of folk/classical/progressive elements of the band's music and Cousins' lyrics that made me a convert. In fact, the next few months after the release of this album led to deeply into tracking down the bands discography.
I liked the Strawbs even more when I heard their earliest recordings (import albums that were very hard to obtain here in the states) and discovered their folk roots. First and foremost, the acoustic guitar, and lyrics of Cousins are the underpinning of the band, at least from my perspective. Shamelessly, I must admit that I often was torn between hoping the band would receive greater commercial success and adulation, yet wanting them to remain my own best kept music secret. I always considered the Strawbs a precious commodity to be shared and introduced to a few select friends whose music integrity and tastes I respected.
I think Hero And Heroine was one of the Strawbs finest efforts (the artwork on the album cover alone earned the band some fame) and the perfect blend of the best that progressive music embodied at the time before some of the excesses of this music genre wore thin on audiences and critics. I never really got caught up in the moodiness of the album but generally considered it "atmospheric." I always liked the phrase that one reviewer penned (Jerry Gilbert?) in the liner notes for By Choice about John Hawken " . . . projecting nightmarish themes from the mellotron."
Some observations on the album:
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Hero And Heroine was not my introduction to the Strawbs, GNW was, and by the time Hero And Heroine was released I had already sought out the back inventory, including the imports. So, when I heard Hero And Heroine for the first time I viewed it in context, with the natural progression of the band. Not to say it didn't just flat out floor me, because it did.
Hero And Heroine is the Strawbs in their finest hour. When I brought it home I listened to it over and over, (after taping the original vinyl, of course, to preserve it), seeking out every nuance, mood, and sweep of the Mellotron. I still do, to this very day.
When I was 18 I played "Autumn" to my then girlfriend. She cried. When I was 24 I played "Autumn" to my then girlfriend (not the same person). She cried, too. Such is the power of this album. A tour de force beyond compare.
I can think of nothing contained in this record that does not qualify as perfect, to my taste. It is still the album I turn to late at night, when the lights are out, and I'm in a pensive mood. I find it both depressing, and uplifting at the same time. Musically, I consider this work to be a masterpiece beyond comparison. There is no other album in my collection which conveys the sheer emotion so perfectly. Every note has its place in the progression of each piece, and every nuance serves to add to its luster.
I agree that perhaps the She's So Heavey riff was rocknroll's starting point for the style used in "Hero's Theme" -- but wouldn't "Down By The Sea" be the first track by the Strawbs in that style? I think I'd try to link "Lay a Little"/"Hero" with "Down by the Sea" before I'd link it to the Beatles. I always thought of "Hero's Theme" as Lambert expanding on Cousin's original motif in DBTS. But it must have taken all of the Strawbs to come up with the ultra-cool mix of "Shine On Silver Sun" with "Hero's Theme".
I think it took me about 10 years to figure out that it was good old 70s-style backwards masking at the very end there. Some friends suggested that it was backwards, but I thought it just sounded way too cool on its own to be backwards. I thought it was something like "Fleece long ash, aahhhh" refering back to the fleece in "Hero and Heroine". Maybe I had too much time on my hands to think about these things! But eventually I was able to use a direct-drive turntable to listen to it backwards and realize what was going on. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that they weren't saying something new. But I still have to delude myself and believe that the Strawbs constructed the Shine On melody and harmony with the backwards version in mind. It just sounds too perfect!