Part 1: Folk Club Days
Part 2: Electric Band
Part 3: After The Break
Part 4: Don't Say Goodbye
Part 5: End Of The Millenium
Part 6: Acoustic Odyssey
Part 7: Multiple Line-Ups
Part 8: 40 and Counting ...
At long last in 1995 came the very-welcome release of Heartbreak Hill on Road Goes On Forever, allowing those of us with cassette copies of the strikingly similar album Starting Over to upgrade to CD quality versions of this striking album. At the same time, Windsong released the results of their trawl in the BBC's concert archives In Concert which put together most of two BBC Transcription discs from 1973 and 1974 (previously been bootlegged as a 2 CD set Heroes Are Forever).
In 1996 this website was set up, initially as a wholly unofficial enterprise, but securing the Strawbs' support by the end of the year. Close co-operation with the band ensued, allowing the overseas fans to receive much more frequent information than hitherto possible and for gigs and releases to be effectively publicised at low cost. An increasing number of those who believed that they were the only Strawbs fans left started to make themselves known.
On the CD re-issue front, the two Oyster years albums followed on CD in 1996 as a 2CD set, followed by Deadlines from US-based One-Way Records in 1997 and, at long last, by a "proper" retrospective from A&M UK in 1997 - Halcyon Days.
Halcyon Days included a number of rare tracks from single A and B-sides (though a few still remain untouched for the forthcoming US version and the current slew of re-issues), as well as three of the best-known Hudson-Ford songs. Boasting an intelligent selection and entertaining running order, it also included one or two real surprises: the version of long-time live favourite but never-released track "We'll Meet Again Sometime" was neither the live version from the QEH, nor the version on Dave's solo album, but a band version, according to Tony Hooper from the From The Witchwood sessions; the two singles B-sides "Why" and "And Wherefore" were finally released as they were originally intended at the time of Hero And Heroine - one of Cousins' three part epics.
Polygram were considerably surprised by the success of Halcyon Days - apparently it outsold a similar re-issue by Joan Armatrading (and there weren't many times in the late 70s and onwards you could have expected that!) and started forming plans for further re-issues of the key Strawbs albums. Efforts made via a website petition, providing evidence of real demand, certainly supported this initiative.
Summer 1998 saw the release 6 of the key Strawbs titles: From The Witchwood, Grave New World, Bursting At The Seams, Antiques And Curios, Hero And Heroine, and last, but in popularity terms certainly not least, Ghosts. Priced at under £10, all were digitally remastered and featured bonus tracks. An American version of Halcyon Days: The A&M Years appeared with a different track listing to the UK version, featuring some of the tracks from Nomadness.
Plans were put together for a massive event at Chiswick House in West London, a marathon all-day concert to celebrate the Strawbs' 30th anniversary. With duo/solo spots from Dave and Brian, Dave Lambert, Hud and John, Brian and Cathryn Craig and Rod Demick, as well as a guest slot from Cry No More (Roy Hill and Chas Cronk), the bill featured the 1990s line-up, augmented by Adam Wakeman and Fairport fiddler Ric Sanders, the Hero and Heroine band (with Wakeman standing in for John Hawken), the Grave New World band plus Willoughby and finally the Bursting plus Brian line-up, which was effectively to become the Strawbs' new incarnation thereafter.
Pretty much everyone got up on stage for the encores, including dear old "Nobby" Chesterman and Tony Fernandez (the latter, being left-handed, couldn't play the right-handed kit being used by Coombes and Hud). The whole thing was a magnificent triumph for Dave, who had masterminded the project, putting the various teams through their paces.
Inevitably, the boys all had such fun that they decided it was time to tour again. The Bursting plus Brian took to the boards for a triumphant UK tour in Spring 1999, after a sell-out warm-up gig at the Bergen Rock and Blues Festival in Norway, which was also broadcast live over the internet. They revisited some of the repertoire not heard for some time, notably the welcome return of "I Only Want My Love To Grow In You", "Tears and Pavan" and a rocking version of "Sheep". They even finished with "Will You Go", just like they did on the '73 tour ....
Strawbs on tour in '99
Also in 1998, Dave Cousins appeared as a special guest at Fairport Convention's annual Cropredy festival, fuelling hopes that we might finally get to see the band at this prime folk event. His performance of "Ringing Down The Years" is included on Fairport's Cropredy '98 CD.
Dave at Cropredy
On the CD front, Korean re-issue specialists Si-Wan issued Dragonfly on CD and promptly sold out! They followed it in 2000 with the first album, Strawbs, long-awaited on CD. "Part Of The Union" had a regular airing on British TV ads for UK insurance company Norwich Union.
Despite the running order having been settled (after hundreds of suggestions were received from fans who were asked to respond via an open letter on the website) and extensive sleeve notes having been prepared by Dave Cousins and John Tobler, the 4CD boxed set, first announced in 1998, seems to be in limbo at present (the same applies to the expected Hudson-Ford compilation.). A&M in the UK has effectively disappeared after PolyGram, its parent company, was acquired by Seagram and merged with its existing record company interests. Efforts continue to be made to try to get the project back on track.
The tapes recorded at Chiswick in 1998 were finalised and released during the 2000 Tour as the first CD from Witchwood Records, The Complete Strawbs. More controversially, a number of bootlegs have hit the scene, of distinctly variable quality - a rather back-handed compliment confirming the band's popularity nevertheless. And, most recently, a major landmark, the issue on CD by Witchwood Records of the legendary Strawberry Sampler - outtakes from Strawbs first A&M album along with other long-lost tracks. Only 99 copies were pressed back in late 1969, and very few copies still exist today.
The band toured again in Spring 2000, building on the success of the previous year. The popular "acoustic set/electric set" format made its debut in 2000, with the return of "Winter And The Summer" and a reworking of "Queen Of Dreams" as well as a new Dave Lambert song and two acoustic Hudson-Ford numbers from Hud and John. In the main set, surprises included "Burning For You" as an encore, and a rocked-up version of "On My Way", the first song they ever recorded professionally. Owing to the illness of his wife, Blue Weaver was unable to do all the dates, and Adam Wakeman stepped in to help out. The band returned to fill London's Queen Elizabeth Hall on 8 May 2000, 30 years give or take a month since their first triumphant concert there.
On show at The Stables, Milton Keynes, 2000
A further tour followed in April/May 2001, with some real surprises on the setlist front: a stunning acoustic set version of "The Flower And The Young Man" with Lambert taking the lead vocal, and a blistering opening for the electric set with "Turn Me Round". "Ghosts" was resurrected, to much acclaim, as was "Remembering/You And I (When We Were Young)". Coinciding with the tour, the band were featured on the Classic Rock Society's first cover mounted CD - 30 Years in Rock, which features a few unreleased gems, including a Cousins/Wakeman track "The Shepherd's Song". Dave and Rick duetted in late 2001 at the CRS's anniversary gig, the first time they played together for 15 years.
Live on stage, 2001 tour
Solo CDs have come out from John Ford (Love Is A Highway in 1998, and Heading For A High in 2000 - a further CD "Natural High" is in preparation) and Brian Willoughby (Black and White). Rod Demick's is recorded but still not yet released. The Ford/Hudson/Terry Cassidy spin off band The Monks also saw their hard to find second album Suspended Animation come on CD as well as the single album recorded by their later (and very different) incarnation, High Society. Hudson Ford released a single "Just Say No" which dealt with the troubled issues surrounding the single European currency, and played the song, with others, to the members of the Conservative party at their annual conference.
But the next major development in the Strawbs' career was a big surprise: all stemming from Dave Cousins' sprained wrist......