Updated: 24 Nov 2006
Tears And Pavan
The Man Who Called Himself Jesus
Oh How She Changed
Two Weeks Last Summer
Hero And Heroine
THE MILL, BANBURY, 9 NOVEMBER, 2006
I did the 175 mile trip from London NW3 and then back home to East London after a lengthy chinwag with DC (got home at about 1.20 after stopping for a coffee and a sandwich en route at the most horrendously expensive motorway services (Moto on the M40) I have ever experienced - a veggie variety pack - three slices of bread with various cheese/egg fillings at £4.29!. Sorry I must be getting to be an old codger but I thought it was highway robbery in the modern age.
Acoustic Strawbs on the other hand stole just the hearts of the audience at the Mill - a single set only though, after a half hour set from the Blackhearts, a male/female duo from Lancashire with nice harmony vocals who performed many of their own songs and (I think) a couple of covers, one in particular notable was the Gretchen Peters song "Revival" on which the vocals and arrangement noticeably kicked up a gear.
Cousins and co meandered on stage after a lengthy "Spinal Tap" moment when the blackout came early and we were left awaiting their arrival, opening with "Benedictus"/"Simple Visions" (the excellent accapella start on "Lay Down" nowadays brings up the rear of the show). Highlights for me were the aforementioned "Hero And Heroine" - just love that blistering ending - "The Man Who Calls Himself Jesus", which grows better and better, and the splendid "Two Weeks Last Summer" which has grown in intricacy over the period since I heard it right back towards the beginning of the September UK tour when it had only just emerged, tinkling its bells, into the light. A stunner. The other killer was a very strong version of "New World" which really delivered power and heart.
"Ghosts" and "Autumn" were all present and correct, as were excellent versions of "Oh How She Changed" and "Midnight" Sun", Lambert showing a level of control in his vocals on both songs. Only one banjo toon, "Cold Steel".
The levels could have been a bit better, DC sometimes rather low in the mix and the respective guitar levels could have been equalised a bit (Lambert quite loud from where I was, Chas and occasionally Dave C not always audible), but the lighting was good, and I might just have been able to get a few pix of Lambert who normally plays shrouded in a sinister and all-encompassing darkness. The Mill is a very pleasant venue though to see the Strawbs, proper raked seating (none of this standing malarkey), a good stage area, room for the boys to move and play. Whilst maybe still tired after the US trip, they were clearly enjoying themselves here, and DC has a whole new bunch of stories to tell around the songs, stimulated no doubt by raking over his memories in the process of compiling the the boxed set.
Thoroughly glad I went (although paying a tired price today); nice to see quite a few Witchwooders and friends.
So sorry it has taken so long to get round to reviewing Banbury, but it has been a manic few days. Strawbs on the Thursday, John Lees' Barclay James Harvest on the Friday and then Brian and Cathryn on the Sunday. Coupled with the fact that we had to go to Sussex on the Saturday to visit my family, and then Hampshire on the Sunday to see our son, we don't seem to have stopped. Very tired, very broke but very happy.
One of the nicest things about live concerts is the people that you meet. We always seem to end up chatting to some really nice people, sometimes active Witchwooders, sometimes lurkers, sometimes long term fans and sometimes people quite new to the band. Banbury was no exception. Met Bob and Lou for the first time and they are a really lovely couple.
Might have knocked up a few miles this weekend, but that was nothing compared with the Strawbs. Very strange decision to play Banbury so soon after returning from the States. Poor guys were still jet lagged.
There were a couple of empty seats near Bob and Lou, so Calli and I moved back a few rows to sit with them, and Dick came over as well.
We had not expected a support act, but we were treated to a half an hour by the Blackhearts, a Lancashire duo. Both very talented singer/songwriters.
The fact that they were still running on US time did not affect their playing an iota. They were just as good as ever, if not better.
I think that Chas's pedals were a little too loud, but not to the extent that it was a problem. In fact a couple of their songs seemed quite different, particularly "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus" and "Two Weeks Last Summer". Not sure whether this was due to the additional volume in the pedals, or whether they had updated some of the songs. No actually I am convinced that "Jesus" has been updated. It was fabulous.
The main problem with the sound though was me! I had forgotten to switch my phone off, and our son phoned right in the middle of DC's intro to "Tears And Pavan", and because we had moved seats I couldn't find my phone. Strains of "Layla" rang out across the theatre. Huge apologies to everyone. I'll never hold my head up again.
They played without an interval. A slightly shorter set than sometimes, as they had had a support, but still a cracking performance.
Only a few more days, and another Strawbs concert. How fabulous is that?
Tears And Pavan
The Man Who Called Himself Jesus
Oh How She Changed
Two Weeks Last Summer
The Flower and the Young Man
Shine On Silver Sun
Hero And Heroine
THE QUAY THEATRE, SUDBURY, 17 NOVEMBER, 2006
It was a great concert. Excellent company, thanks to Nigel and Lindsay (and of course Calli); a lovely theatre in what looked like a very picturesque Suffolk village, (other than the fact it was abysmal weather and also dark); first rate lighting; crystal clear sound quality, and the Strawbs playing at their absolute best. Shame that this was the last performance of the tour. I felt that they were just warming up nicely.
The traffic there was very heavy, (being Friday rush hour), so it took longer to get there than planned, so no time for a meal. We had to make do by nicking crisps from Chas in the bar before the concert started. (Welcome appearance of Grace at the concert, so I wasn't alone in the purloining of crisps).
Sadly, no photography was allowed in the auditorium, so you'll just have to imagine the light reflecting off the guitars, splaying over the brick walls of the theatre, like moonlight scattered by gentle ripples on a mountain lake. Saw one or two people taking sneaky snaps with their phones, so it's possible the odd picture might make its way to Strawbsweb.
The guys have worked amazingly hard this year, with many gruelling tours, and the box set, but they all looked very fresh and happy. Don't know whether it was because they had been inspired by their US trip, or whether it was because they were glad to be back, but they played superbly. Most notable were "Two Weeks Last Summer", which gets better every time I hear it, and "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus", which has been recently updated.
I've beaten you Nigel!
Anyway, mega thanks to roving international Strawbs reporters Calli and Pete for their offer of a lift to The Quay on Friday, no big apples in sight that night, just Nigel, me and dreary drizzle for company. The four of us met up as planned at a pitifully lifeless Harvester pub, where it seemed the half-dead wandered aimlessly, groaning to themselves as if questing for a meaning to their humdrum existences or better still an end to their misery (the loos were hard to find), and where the drinks and roasted peanuts were mere contaminated water and gruel in contrast with the delights on offer in the land of strawberry milk and honey to whence we journeyed, where faces would shine with ecstasy all around and...Ok, I'll get on with it!
The Sudbury gig really was excellent though - the place was completely sold out making it impossible for me to sit with Nigel, I was almost devastated, but he sat behind me and prodded me quite frequently to reassure me he was still there, which was thoughtful. The band played a lot of my favourites and I really did think the sound quality was as good as I've ever heard anywhere, lighting was brilliant too as Pete has said, and I'm not apologising for turning round once or possibly even twice to declare my enthusiasm.
DC was on top form vocally and in excellent story-telling mode too – I won't say much about his tales as I don't want to spoil them for those who haven't had the pleasure of hearing them yet, but the guy next to me found the one about the photo next to the bed so funny he laughed non-stop for about the next three songs which was wonderfully heart-warming for everyone sitting near him, and it was also great to hear the one about Jake the former Dunkeswell thatcher extraordinaire - I actually met Jake years ago, and I have a sneaking suspicion there was a little more than good fortune involved along the way for him, like his seriously wicked sense of humour.
Dave Lambert and Chas were both superb too (excellent "Cold Steel"), and as mentioned, the sound was so clear that everything could be heard perfectly, each instrument, all the harmonies – beautiful, and in a lovely theatre with a very appreciative audience. I think my highlight (apart from "Midnight Sun" which always gives me a gasp rating of 11/10) was "Man Who Called Himself Jesus" – surprising for me, not usually one of my favourites but at Sudbury it really was magical.
It was great to see the band (and Neil) all looking happy and relaxed after their travels. Pleasant little get together in the bar afterwards where Nigel and Chas discussed winceyette nighties (must be the Brentford Nylons connection I suppose). Nice to meet Bernard Spilsbury and find out we had more in common than our Strawb addictions, as we mulled over fond memories of brutal security regimes at Kamp Butlinz in Clacton, and our mutual appreciation of resources at Southend library. (Sorry not to have got to say goodbye Bernard, if you read this!).
A shame Calli, Pete, Nigel and I couldn't stay longer but we had a fair few miles to cover between us, and as three of us had some driving to do before reaching our destinations we didn't fancy overdosing on J2Os so headed back for another satnav magical mystery tour. Well done, Medium Pete, for managing to concentrate with such rowdy passengers and me. No need to thank me for my navigating – it was nothing. Nearly forgot the Strawb Wars when we drove off and ended up next to each other at the Rayleigh Weir traffic lights - wound our windows down - "Something for Nothing" vs "Hero and Heroine" were belting out at about a million decibels each. All those red, amber and green lights constantly changing were very atmospheric weren't they, not to mention those pretty flashing blue ones going round and round everywhere too.
Do you ever get back home and not know where you have been. Well, fortunately for me, I knew I was going to Sudbury but relied heavily on my brilliantly obliging chauffeurs Pete and Calli to find the theatre when we got there. I had rather forgotten to note down the name of the establishment we were heading for, before leaving home, despite grabbing a couple of the last remaining tickets on the Monday before the show.
This night, was to be no end of season kick about - using a football analogy which is so appropriate given the number of times Lindsay mentioned something about Man U getting lost somewhere in Southend on the way up ........oh..... and the way back.
Occasionally, during the journey (it really was a bit more frequent than that) we strayed on to the subject of the boxed set to pass the time away - each reciting our own favourites and what we all felt about this wonderful release. It was a good job it was a long journey because we plenty of time to explore not only each and every element and disc and the discussion was helped, no end, by Pete's friendly lady - the one in the Satnav, who seemed intent on guiding us to out destinations using every farm track known to man in an attempt to shorten our journeys up and back. It's a good job the stars were out that night in more ways than one - nothing like a good old fashioned sextant to keep you going in the right direction as we navigated the North Sea. The puddles were really that deep after all the rain.
Anyway we all arrived very safely, if somewhat a little later than planned due to an unplanned watering hole stop (traffic huh !! - who was it who sniffed the alco pops ?) and so without food for over 8 hours we (I) tucked into a couple of packets of "Walkers" (crisps) just before the show started. This is dining a la Witchwood tour all over again. We sent out our spies in search of Steve Young who was reputedly going to be in attendance. We drew a blank and can only hope that if some unfortunate episode kept him from us tonight, then it is not too serious. We did meet Bernard Spilsbury and admired the art work on the walls. (Pictures hung in frames from the walls I should add)
The theatre was full, almost to overflowing - completely sold out it seems as the show kicked off - (there we are, Lindsay's influence has got to me again), with the lovely acapella "Benedictus", followed by "Simple Visions" and "Tears And Pavan". By the time we got to "Tears" we just knew it would be a special night with the sound complementing nicely the ambience of the evening and bringing us this lovely mix of acoustic offerings in this very pleasant building.
It was good - I just knew it was good, as after every number Lindsay was turning round and uttering "Aw that's brilliant" and like a parrot, rather sheepishly all night, all I could say in reply was "yes it is". We even engaged the couple sat next to me into our conversations on the pretence that we might get a nibble on their the packet of Jacobs cream crackers at the interval which they had discreetly hidden in a hand bag. (But not so discreetly that I didn't spot it - hunger does funny things especially on a night like this).
This was the last date of the year and I could go on and on about how we all enjoyed the show, the set list was very similar to recent ones and although we never got a sniff of one of the three B's, "The Battle", "Bacarole" or "Blue Angel", I did manage a glass of local cider by the name of Apsins or something similar. Everything else was just perfect and a fantastic way to end up our live Strawbs year. Pete has promised to do the complete set list so I won't steal his thunder over that.
Once the show was over, time for a quick chat before Eastwood (Lindsay !!!) we all journeyed home...except for me after another two hours, it was Westward and towards the setting sun, that had actually disappeared well over 10 hours before I managed to get back.
Thanks again Pete and Calli for doing the honours from London...you are stars too, but are you really going to wear that at the Christmas party ?? Don't worry, your secret is safe with me. Of course we do all plan to meet again at that Christmas party and hope fully the Cry No More extravaganza, providing everyone can get lifts, stopovers etc planned as it's just two days before Christmas and those from the East would never be able to walk back in time.
If we all have as much fun again in 2007 as we have had this year, it's going to be yet another vintage year of Strawbs delights.
I was rather surprised that the lads had decided to fit a couple of gigs into their itinerary so soon after arriving back to the shores of 'perfidious' Albion from the States. One could easily forgive them if they had appeared a little jaded. Fortunately for us, the pace of this speed-dating schedule did not seem to have had any affect on them whatsoever. Indeed, this night at the Quay Theatre turned out to be unmissable.
Just a brief word about the venue.
The Strawbs play their music in a wide variety of venues, village halls, schools, hotels, barns and the occasional rougher establishment. The Quay Theatre (an old mill) can rightly be proud in many ways.
The bar was pleasant with reasonably priced ale, the website design was clear with nice drop down pages (pity they did not keep it up to date with a Sold Out sign to warn anyone who may have turned - up on the night), the auditorium is compact with traditional tiered seating, the lighting was excellent-the unscripted 'free range' use of the reds and purples would have found favour in any Tarantino bordello scene. A nice, well illuminated show.
However, what seemed to hit the target tonight was the sound. The balance between the vocals and each instrument was spot on! Well done that man, whoever you are.
Then there were three.
Whilst reading some of the notes from the boxed set I was reminded that Chas had played in the Steve Hackett band. Amidst much fanfare, it was recently announced that another trio were hitting the road after a ten year hibernation. If you check the various web sites you can buy a Genesis ticket for at least £200.00 a gig, at a limited choice of sports stadiums around Europe. No such venues for our guys. I know what I like and I like more intimate shows. Don't give me music in a bowl; I like my Strawbs in a punnet and all for about £11.00. That's cheap as chips Mr. Dickinson!
It is worth just a moment to reflect what our three minstrels are doing. A schedule that has involved collaborations, new material, recording shows, and of course the live performances both here and abroad. And this has been a somewhat perennial activity in recent years. None of us are getting younger so hats off to them! Personally in the last few months I have been blessed with seeing a remarkable series of shows, especially in this part of the world, surely (don't call me Shirley) Essex is the hub of the Universe.
Before they went to the States they did a show at Halesworth in Suffolk. This was an interesting show, because of the lack of amplified sound. By sitting at the front of the audience I was treated to a truly acoustic gig. It was just like having the lads in your front room. I can concur that Chas has a brilliant singing voice. This show included "The Golden Salamander", "Dragonfly"-which was just superb, and "Heavy Disguise" (take two, as Dave started on the wrong verse), which were missing from the Quay set.
However at the Quay Theatre the Acoustic Strawbs were even more phenomenal. It is a thorny challenge to try and maintain such high standards, but I am totally unapologetic about endorsing this shows as the most polished I have been privileged to have seen. A show that was both brooding in content and delivery, yet full of charm.
Dave C was in expansive mood, telling us right from the start that 'We will make you smile.' And so they did. This wet end to the week was spontaneously lit up by the twin openings of "Benedictus" and (Hey me words have blown away) "Simple Visions". This is the true 'Sound of Music' Mr. Lloyd Webber!
D.C. broke up the set with stories and embellishments which had willing consumers discernibly charmed by it all.
"Tears And Pavan" was as accomplished as ever with those graceful guitar runs from D.L. It is interesting that Chas starts to work his magic with his 'woo woo' pedals here. They were subtle and not the least intrusive whilst adding body to the texture of the song. On a personal note, I wish that D.C. would use his 'thistle-down' singing voice for the vocals on "Pavan".
The rest of the set was as we have come to expect, with the addition of "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus" and "Two Weeks Last Summer" in place of the 3 previously mentioned omissions. "Midnight Sun" was excellent, "Cold Steel" is slowly growing on me and "Shine On Silver Sun" makes me just want to sing along. "Autumn" is always a stunner with DL showing his ability to colour sound with his fret board. The final two songs consisted of the rollicking "Lay Down" and the acoustic version of the brilliant "Hero And Heroine" for the encore.
We all have our own favourites, for whatever reason. "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus" is a classic from the Cousins stable. A tour de force with more lyrical wizardry than a Harry Potter spell book. A song writing master class, from one at the top of their game. Yet this song is not on my personal 'Best Of' compilation.
However, somehow the humanity in DC's voice, its modulation, and the fluctuations in pace, the supporting vocal harmonies, the balance and clarity of the instruments, all made tonight's version a brooding ,unnervingly brilliant rendition. On this night and in this place, the song with its quiet poetry became the mood, the humanity and the passion. Its bravura, the very essence of the Acoustic Strawbs.
Drawings by by Mary Spilsbury