Updated: 11 Mar 2007
Part 1 - First leg - 11 to 26 January
RED LION FOLK CLUB, KINGS HEATH, SATURDAY 27 JANUARY 2007
Saturday evening we went to the Red Lion to see the show. Have got to say with my hand on heart that it was one of the finest shows we have ever seen at that particular club. The audience were in good form from the very start and gave the lads a real hearty warm welcome which continued throughout the evening with a standing ovation at the end .The sound was spot on and the boys gave us all an unforgettable night's entertainment. Wonderful!!
Benedictus/ Simple Visions
Tears And Pavan
The Man Who Called Himself Jesus
Oh How She Changed
Two Weeks Last Summer
Hero And Heroine
We'll Meet Again Sometime
NETTLEBED FOLK CLUB, NETTLEBED, MONDAY 29 JANUARY 2007
Get the audience eating out of the palm of your hand from the first number of a set and keep them there, must surely be the aim of all performers. Well, last night at Nettlebed, Messrs Cousins, Cronk and Lambert grabbed everyone's attention with the first note of "Benedictus" and didn't let go until the last note of the encore.
Well that is for those in the audience who hadn't been captivated by the guys as they took to the stage at this lovely old village hall, or indeed delighted to have seen Chas Cronk outside as we all queued to get in; no matter how many times I go there I always forget it's members in first, so queue we did but at least amongst probably the most passionate fans of any band.
Anyway having met Dick and friends we found ourselves sitting next to them as the guys struck up the opening bars acapella of "Benedictus", which set the scene for the next hour and a half, fantastic vocally and instrumentally, you need three eyes when you go to an Acoustic Strawbs concert, one for each of the band.
"Tears And Pavan" followed with some excellent guitar work from Dave and Chas, then one of the perennial favourites, "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus" - was this really the first track off the first album all those years ago? Sounds even better today than it did then.
"Oh How She Changed" followed, with "Midnight Sun" close behind, linked as always by Dave Cousins wonderful tales from the past, so good to see all three of the band members so at ease and enjoying themselves.
"Two Weeks Last Summer" was never my favourite Cousins song and, good as it was last night, it remains that way. Good job everyone is different: lady behind me thought it wonderful, a word I will reserve for "Ghosts" which closed the first half.
"Wow, they were good last year" said the resident organiser "but they are even better this year aren't they"? as he drew out the winning Raffle tickets before the boys came back straight into "New World" which reminded me of the first time I bought the vinyl album in its wonderful fold out cover and booklet - great vocals and musicianship again from the restart.
Into "The Battle", first time I had heard this line up sing this, hope it isn't the last, and then onto "Witchwood", written according to Dave Cousins after walking through Savernake Forest near to my home, great version last evening, all three voices in harmony and Lambert's guitar sounding like a fourth at times. He is a brilliant guitarist, I always expect to see him break a string or two playing with such fire and passion and then in a trice with wonderful subtlety. This was my wife's favourite of the evening, but it was run a close first by Lambert's "Cold Steel". His voice seems stronger this year.
"Autumn" followed, Chas' pedals to the fore at times, and again some great vocal and musical harmonies, then straight into a hard and fast "Lay Down", great contrast between the songs but the same wonderful performance.
The set "closed" with "Hero And Heroine", but everyone in the hall knew they would be back, and back they came for an encore of "We'll Meet Again Sometime". The warmth and extent of the applausemade it clear the audience had enjoyed a wonderful evening!!
As I have a very busy schedule and can't get to many other gigs must now wait until the Electric Band rolls into Southampton and Thursday of Cropredy, to see them all again, ....can't wait.
Nettlebed photo by Dick Greener - more pics from Dick.
Travelled out into the night to get to Nettlebed, my first time at this club. Got there just as Lindsay's friend Bev snitched the last place in the Village Hall car park (a tight fit even for a car, and she was driving a 4x4!). Still, plenty of parking over the road at the school. Non-members beware though, you have to wait outside in the cold, club members only are permitted to come in before the doors open, so wrap up warm.
Once inside, it's a spacious, attractive village hall, with seats laid out and a bar at the back (people at the bar were a bit noisy - you could hear them during quiet bits of the set, which is unusual for a folk club). The stage was very well lit - not the usual Stygian gloom which DL normally receives, so the camera came out from the car boot for use in the second set from a second row vantage point. And yet one more surprise - as well as some of the usual suspects (Nige and Lindsay and Alan Pooles who'd been in touch with me by e-mail), suddenly realised that the bloke about to sit in front of me was Roger Horton (Hi Roger!), a colleague from one of the committees I sit on at the Publishers' Association in my other life. Small world!
The boys were in excellent form, lots of verve and power, with excellent sound, provided, I was later to discover, by Paul, fresh (or possibly not) from a tour with Beth Nielsen Chapman. The opening accapella bit of "Benedictus" was a superb start, indicative of just how good the show was going to be. A highlight for me was "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus", listening carefully to see just how much this had developed and solidified since the very earliest outings.
Reflecting on the emphasis of the Acoustic set which has varied over time - there's frequently been a concentration on Hero & Heroine period material - still three in the set - but currently there's five songs from the very earliest period of the Strawbs: "Jesus", "Oh How She Changed", "The Battle" all from the first album, to be re-issued this year, and then "Two Weeks Last Summer" and "We'll Meet Again Sometime" which although they first saw daylight on Dave's 1972 solo album, also date back to those early days.
"Two Weeks" was also particularly fine, and on this occasion "Ghosts", which I've heard on many many occasions, seemed fresher and more vibrant, all parties belting it out with heightened enthusiasm and giving it a new sheen. Was great to see all three enjoying themselves on this song - DC leaning towards Chas and smiling when Chas took the lead in the final instrumental section, then turning to DL when he joined in.
The second set began with "New World" - again some reworking here I think, which has notched it up a level. For me, though, the focus of set two was "The Battle", despite a few involuntary meanderings on the lyrics. An excellent example of the Acoustic Strawbs technique of moulding songs which, on record, have complex arrangements, keyboards, cellos, strings, echoes etc, into a three-hand acoustic format (well three hands plus Chas's feet!) and producing something which really is a tour de force in an acoustic environment. The bass pedals are really powerful here, reproducing much of the orchestral/keyboard backing of the original, and adding real texture to the whole thing. The new banjo-based "Witchwood" plays nicely too, also benefiting from three voices rather than just two.
And finally, after a powerfully abrupt "Hero And Heroine" closed the second set, back to the stage for another returning acoustic reworking - of "We'll Meet Again Sometime", merging the powerful riff-trading which the Cousins/Lambert/Willoughby version initiated with stronger and more powerful vocals courtesy of the current three voice line-up - the accapella finish a very nice touch indeed, the closing bookend to the opening of "Benedictus".
Very glad indeed to have caught the show (after having missed out on my usual trip to Kings Heath a couple of days before), despite the lengthy trek out there - much easier on the way home all the way to East London (not as far as Lindsay and Bev all the way back to Southend) , but still a fairly late night. But as I won't make another till the final show at Matlock Bath, it had to be done! So I did it!
Feeling in desperate need of a Strawbs fix, I was delighted when one of my highly accommodating fellow student friends rang me late yesterday afternoon to tell me she was game for anything involving an evening out. "Anything" entailed, of course, her driving the pair of us round the M25 during the rush hour to Oxfordshire, to savour the delights of a band she'd barely heard of, at Nettlebed Village Hall Folk Club – a friend indeed!
My navigational skills being as reliable as ever, we only drove past the club a few times before pulling into the tiny car park where Bev somehow managed to park her jeep in a space that I wouldn't attempt to park my roller in. (woops, missed out the word "skates" there). At that very second a strange, prickly (nettlebed) "déjà vu" sensation descended upon me - it was almost as if a familiar figure I'd encountered at lots of Strawbs gigs was peering at me through the darkened gloom. No sooner had I said "Hello Nigel" than, equally eerily, Dick seemed to pass before my eyes without so much as a flicker of recognition; it was as though he hadn't even seen me, which he hadn't. Our quartet now complete, we queued out in the cold and watched in awe as the Nettlebed elite, members of "The" club, said the magic word which made the doors stay open long enough for them to squeeze through. Excitement mounted in anticipation of what lay ahead; fifteen minutes passed in what seemed more like quarter of an hour, as wild discussions ranged from magic roundabouts to apple festivals to mysterious forces in Swindon (Bert's Breakdown Service). Eventually the gathered riff-raff (our lot, together with a sizeable queue) were allowed to venture inside to partake of the warmth and bonhomie on offer. Dick and Nigel gallantly charged to the front to save some decent seats for us all, while Bev and I went for the drinks. Before long the hall was filled to overflowing, with people crammed all along the sides, standing at the back, and generally wedging in wherever they were able. (n.b. - some sat on the seats too).
Here comes the difficult part of writing a Strawbs review - trying to find yet another way to describe how the musical feast we were given transported us all to another time and place (although Nettlebed Village Hall on a Monday evening was where we actually wanted to be). The whole gig was superb, shall I pick some special stunners….I'm still thinking…"Simple Visions" sounded extraordinarily fresh…."Midnight Sun" - I've melted just typing the title…..oh yes "The Battle" - not one of my "favourites" by a long way, but what an amazing experience it is to listen to that song played live – truly embodying the "uniqueness" of Strawbs, if that's not too much of a contradiction in terms. All the guys played and sang their hearts out as ever; Dave Cousins threw in a couple of very amusing new tales and tasteful reference was even made to Dave Lambert's socks – artefacts believed to be of major cultural and historical significance for many.
For me it has frequently been difficult to relax when introducing someone to Strawby delights for the first time, but I needn't have worried as Bev enjoyed the gig - Dave Lambert's guitar playing impressed her mightily, as did Chas's foot pedal contributions and Dave Cousins' banjo playing, and she declared "Jesus", "Ghosts" and "Two Weeks Last Summer" to be her most memorable songs, recounting lyrics from each after the gig had ended. It had been her very first Strawbs encounter (apart from having listened to a couple of discs from the boxed set on the way there – probably not the wisest of introductions on my part, but all I could lay my hands on in the 30 seconds I had to get ready). Allegedly but a toddler when "Part of the Union" was released, Strawbs were a tabula rasa as far as Bev was concerned (probably because we've studied the same courses and know what a tabula rasa is now).
A wonderful evening yet again; it was lovely to meet up with everyone, two and four legged friends alike, and made all the more satisfying when Bev gratefully accepted the loan of a couple of Strawbs albums. Thanks Bev, Boys (Strawberry Hill variety and others) plus the friendly natives of Nettlebed for such a memorable Monday.
*"Bennett": a name commonly used to describe personages hailing from Zeals, occasionally also known as "Nigel".
Nettlebed photo by Lindsay Sorrell.
A second visit to the bed of nettles, within a year or so and I must admit my pulse was racing just a bit with the anticipation.
Will she ? won't she ? that was the question - she certainly did and despite my early arrival I didn't have to wait long, before Lindsay and Bev arrived followed very shortly afterwards by an exuberant Dick.
Nettlebed, as it is affectionately known to the locals, is one of those unique venues where you are supposed to book in 24 hours early , (presumably to satisfy local licensing arrangements) , but this time, having not risked that wrath last time, I decided out of a little bit of excitement with an element of surprise not to announce my arrival until I entered the door.
This venue does have a lot to offer and for a Monday event always has a very healthy and packed audience for the boys. Quickly glancing at their gig list it had quite an impressive ring to it and not just tonight. Espied the famed Ian Cutler of Blue Angel Orchestra in attendance, taking in the water as well as frequent sound guy Paul, who had yo yo'd up and down to Glasgow a few times in the nights before. Still he arrived well in time and fresh enough to twiddle all his knobs in the expert way only he can do for the Strawbs.
We were subservient to the last and all observed the quaint local custom of firstly allowing those members of the "village" club to enter the auditorium. At 8 p.m as the rest of us snaked a queue 30 yards long, waited our turn and shivering, no, expectantly waiting, for our own allotted time slot. Chas joined us to pass the time of day..err night and after a 20 minute wait we were eventually allowed in, to pray for yet more excitement. As Lindsay has already reported, Dick and I grabbed the seats in a second and as if by some strange synchronisation to the second row it was a long way to go, but we made it in just that second. The girls grabbed the drinks and everything else that was in fashion.
After 2 hours in the car and 30 minutes out in the cold, the boy's room gently beckoned. Meandering my past the stage I was thinking I may have arrived in heaven.
Then hearing a male/ female vocal harmony drifting from inside and being somewhat humble, I adopted the disguise of some one who didn't need the gents and swept back to my seat and cried. Three times I made this lonely trip this trip and three times the cockerel didn't crow, as each time I was defeated by the sounds of the choral harmony inside - at last I saw them escaping with a bit of a satisfied smile, the opening act had warmed up, but now to me, it was not much of a surprise.
The show kicked off and the Southend contingent roared - as did the teeming masses and the ever so gentle hordes, everyone excitedly greeting and cheering with long and sustained applause. The "Benedictus" and "Simple Visions" this set list trip was the same as it was from the Thursday before at the Putney mission. That show was great, as was this one as well and the middle one in Stratford, well that was just a glee - Yippee !! . It's a shame I missed The Red lion in Brum, because I understand that was beautiful too - the songs the stories, everything and all played out, to audiences full.
You always learn a bit when out at night and tonight was certainly not one of an exception. In the right place at the time I was asked to perform a mission. I wondered just what the reaction would be, when I was in possession. So off I wandered backstage and took charge of the lady on her leash who then spied Chas, looking for light relief, but bent over in a compromising position.
The female rock dog took her chance, then started licking his cheeks and showing more than a hint of affection. Rather than be a spoilsport, I let her carry on, as little old Gracie was seriously enjoying it and having lots of fun. Perhaps I should make it clear for those that are beginning to worry, Gracie the new kid on the block Rock Dog, is now as famous, as old "Bella."
Too many set highlights came and went and most have already received a mention, but if I can add, "The Battle", the "Midnight Sun" and the contagious dreams of "The Man who called himself Jesus".....the "Witchwood" and of course much, much more, but of course the set list has already been done.
QUAY ARTS CENTRE, NEWPORT, IOW, SATURDAY 10 FEBRUARY 2007
Just a quick note to say what an excellent concert I saw and heard at the Quay Arts Centre in Newport IOW on 10th Feb. The Acoustics (the group) were on top form and the acoustics (the sound quality in the hall) were excellent. Dave C commented on them and Dave L agreed that it was one of the best venues for sound quality.
All the tracks previously listed by others were included in the set list, my favourite on the night probably being "Witchwood". An excellent version and rendition, made even better by Dave C saying it was inspited by a visit to Savernake Forest, a wood I have also visited and can relate to.
Early notice from Dave L - the original lineup of Fire are reforming for 2 concerts later in the year somewhere in Surrey (Dave said where but I forget) when they will be performing The Magic Shoemaker in its entirety plus a few other numbers ("Father's name is Dad" being quoted).
HUNTINGDON HALL, WORCESTER, TUESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2007
A confession, musical heresy, perhaps, given that I was in the glorious Huntingdon Hall, formerly a non-conformist chapel on Tuesday night, listening to the Acoustic Strawbs: I prefer the relatively "unplugged" incarnation to the full electric band. In defence: last year's gig at the Robin 2 in Bilston remains a memory to treasure - reinforced at some point I'm sure by the DVD when it's released but to be able to sit, watch, listen and hear every word, chord and note was a treat almost beyond measure. To do so sitting in a box pew in an almost full hall with Chas Cronk, Dave Cousins and Dave Lambert performing on a stage set before the central pulpit and stained-glass windows gave a host of songs with so many religious references and contexts another dimension.
To keep it brief:
1) Personal highlights included the accappella "Benedictus" to open (a privilege to hear it in such surroundings); a superbly realised "Oh How She Changed" with Dave Lambert's vocal interpretation spot on, aided by perfectly restrained and pitched close harmonies and melodic interplay between all three guitars; "Witchwood" - a delightfully ethereal version which proves that the "humble banjo", in the right hands, can create its own bit of magic; "Ghosts" and "Autumn" - wonderful arrangements, allied to mesmerising guitar playing, together with nicely balanced, expressive vocal performances from Dave Cousins and Dave Lambert; "New World" may be thirty-five years old but still retains its relevance and power ; "Lay Down"-, dynamic voices to open before romping along close to the legal speed limit; "Hero and Heroine" driven by Chas Cronk, lived by Dave Cousins and taken to another level by Dave Lambert's bodhran, then unhurried switch to lead guitar - a six-star climax to the set.
2) Big surprise of the night: "The Battle" - it was probably the least played track on my vinyl copy of Strawbs and, up to now, absent from my iMac though I always admired the extended conceit, images, wordplay and political and moral subtexts, the production never really engaged my ear or imagination. Thus, "amazing" is the only term for what three supremely accomplished acoustic guitarists can do to displace the memory of the original recording. Even better Dave Cousins singing, allowing the narrative lyric to gradually build - in duet at times with Dave Lambert - brought pace, variety and genuine tension to the song. As an aside, Dave Cousins recovered well from a minor blip with the lyrics - quite understandable with eleven verses ' and I could certainly sympathise with the occasional glance down at what I presume was a crib sheet on the adjacent table for the remaining verses. The impact of the ironic choral harmony to close: "As survivors of the battle/ Gave God their grateful thanks" - once again, given the setting for the gig, made this song a privilege to hear.
3) Slight disappointment - "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus" where, for me, a simpler introduction and treatment works best though I can quite understand the need to re-work and try out new arrangements.
4) Personal request - drop a few more newer songs into the set - for instance, "This Barren Land" is a true gem in terms of lyric, melody and structure and stands up well against the "classic" material.
To draw to a close: Dave Cousins between the songs chat remains worth the price of admission. It's testament to his song-writing skills and musicianship that away from the original studio versions, where the temptation was often to use all the bells and whistles and kitchen sink (his words, not mine!), that there is still so much pleasure to be gained from listening to the music, particularly in acoustic form. It is probably preaching to the converted but if, as, and when the Acoustic Strawbs return to the Huntingdon Hall, Worcester it's a "pilgrimage" worth making.
THE FISHPOND, MATLOCK BATH, SATURDAY 17 FEBRUARY 2007
So many highlights to recall, but I shall try my hardest. I made my way by train over to Dick's London abode (Dun Strawbswebin) - it was sunny, 60 degrees, and there were blue skies above me when I left home so I didn't bother taking a coat - mistake no. 1! I'd forgotten about all those chilly bits past Watford. We stopped off at The QuAwlty T0werS HoTel in Bilston, near Wolverhampton, to check in - all went smoothly this time for both of us (as opposed to last time - I remember the staff wouldn't even allow Dave Lambert to leave after the last Bilston bash for some bizarre reason!).
We soon hit the road again and Dick said "It is M6 North we want isn't it?" I assured him it was, knowing full well that Derbyshire was up a bit and left a bit from where we were, then noticed the directions which Dick had printed out actually said "take the M6 South". Confusingly similar aren't they. Dick pretended not to want to kill me as I confessed that we were heading in the wrong direction on the M6 (you had to go south a bit to get on the A38). Eventually, however, we arrived in Matlock Bath via a lovely scenic route (probably, in daylight). A lovely place, with lots of characterful Victorian buildings; I spotted the word "Fishponds" writ large on a building as we drove past and instantly I just knew that must be "Fishponds".
The venue turned out to be a club upstairs in a very pleasant pub - only downside to the place seemed to be the car parking arrangements. (I had been told when I rang earlier that it was possible to park alongside the venue, but that was not what we were told by barstaff and there didn't seem to be any option but to park opposite in a car park which had some very strange time restrictions for which it charged heavily, apart from if you wanted to leave the car overnight when it charged 10p!). Anyway, having decided to risk parking there we ventured into the pub and it was lovely to meet up with Andy Slack, MIKE BARKER, Julie (a newly initiated Witchwooder) and Chaaaas Crrrronk (I think that's what Dave Cousins said his name was when he introduced him). I hope I haven't forgotten anyone - this little jaunt has been quite amazing in terms of meeting up with Strawbs fans so I probably have, and will remember everyone I've forgotten as I press the send button as usual.
The gig was absolutely brilliant, as have been all the gigs I've been to on this tour in my opinion - once again the sound was superb, and vocals and instruments could all be heard clearly. The place was packed with no seats to spare and around 30 or 40 bodies were squeezed into the bar area at the back of the hall - I know because I watched the start of the second half from there - not an inch to spare. A very appreciative audience, and so they should be - I lost track of how many songs I thought sounded as good as I'd ever heard them. I think "Witchwood" may have been my favourite of the night though if I think about it again it's bound to change so I'll move on. Paul Brazier will hopefully be along shortly with his own tales to tell of the day's and night's experiences, but I was a little worried when he didn't appear at the gig despite having phoned to say he was on his way - he did make it just before the end of the first set at least.
After the gig there was some pleasant chatting until we said our "au revoirs", then Dick drove us back through the night to the Quality - to our delight there was a Valentine's Day disco in full swing. Robbie Williams was blaring out of the sound system and the place was heaving with disco-lit gyrating bodies - I counted at least five. Dick and I were just about to boogie on over for some Saturday Night Fever when, horror of horrors, the music stopped! Devastated, we just had to sit and have a quiet chat and a drink. Shortly afterwards the band arrived, and Paul also appeared following his holy grail in search of a 24 hour supermarket. Suddenly, out of the foyer before me, the terrifying form of Dave Claridge appeared - truly a vision; I was stricken dumb (almost). Lovely to meet up again. Several hours of chatting among those gathered together followed, with only the very occasional silence. Paul brought out his lute, someone else got out their shiny resonator guitar, (who??) and Dave Cousins treated us to a private performance into the wee small hours - difficult to describe what I mean but some of the notes he played just seemed to hang in the air as if by magic - a few of those in attendance marvelled at being privy to such trade secrets and tried desperately to remember what they had witnessed at next day's strumathon.
Arrived at the venue with Mike to be accosted by a lady who was "looking for a man." However the perfectly innocent explanation was it was part of a ticket swapping arrangement and, once more, my Witchwood badge brought me attention. So welcome to Witchwood, Julie (I hope my punctuation is right as she is an English teacher.)
Before long we were reunited with Lindsay, Dick and Paul who were making their way to and from the infamous Quality Hotel near Bilston.
The first time the Acoustic Strawbs had played Matlock and the first time I had seen a concert at the Fishpond, though I used to visit the pub there back in the seventies. I soon found myself comparing the concert with the one in my hometown two weeks ago and this one wins on all counts.
A pub venue is definitely the right place for the Acoustics as the atmosphere was far better. The sound system was also superior. DC seemed much happier playing tonight and there were far more amusing anecdotes between songs.
As far as I know it was the same setlist as the rest of the tour but (and all those around me agreed) the playing tonight was excellent and, particularly the second set, really rocked.
Roll on the electric tour.
As Andy says two weeks later and eight miles further South the Acoustics visit Derbyshire again. Add in the additional ingredients of a superb PA and an enthusiastic audience and you have the perfect recipe for a night out with DC, DL and CC. Everything that was wrong with the previous Chesterfield gig - PA, atmosphere, distance from audience and audience size - was rectified twice over.
It's almost impossible to pick out highlights from a performance that had all the power of an electric gig but you'd have to say that "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus", "New World", "Hero And Heroine" and "We'll Meet Again Sometime" had heads bobbing .....
The only downside was that Andy was so taken over by the performance that he started singing loudly - my only advice to the Bilston crew is to not let him near the microphones.
Anyway the Fishponds at Matlock Bath is now on the list of must see venues and hopefully the Acoustics will make an early return ...... I predict a sell out next time !
What a weekend - two really fabulous, but contrasting shows, and two great venues. The Fishpond at Matlock Bath was a really nice little venue, a lovely room, really full, and I would say the best performance I have seen from the Acoustic line up. Full of light and shade and delicacy of touch. A friend who met me and my daughter there who liked the band in the early 70s but has seen nothing since said they were a revelation, and on the night he was right. Dave C was in full on storytelling mode and was clearly enjoying himself immensely. I hadn't planned on going to Bilston the following day, but my daughter, aged 17, made me take her as she enjoyed Matlock so much!
For Paul's comments on Bilston, see Electric tour page