Updated: 11 Nov 2009
Oh How She Changed
The review will be published in the Chichester Observer and the West Sussex Gazette. There's also an interview with Dave Cousins by Phil Hewitt, Entertainments Editor of the Chchester Observer.
A somewhat sweet and sour experience was served up when the Classic Legends of Rock tour came to Worthing on Friday evening. There was a Strawbs delight to open the show, followed by all you could have wished for from Wishbone Ash, both bands ably demonstrating they are indeed rock legends who have lost none of their magic. But the evening closed with Dutch band Focus, whose esoteric form of DIY music left a great deal to be desired.
Criticism must be levelled at some of the audience, too. Presumably because it was a triple bill, some people were mainly interested in one or other of the two later bands to play, but the impact of The Strawbs' first two numbers, their iconic "Benedictus" and "Simple Visions", was slightly diluted by the sight and sound of literally dozens of people trooping in late to take their seats.
However, as the ultimate professionals they quickly captured the hearts of the audience with "New World", as relevant today as when it was written, followed by the sheer magic of "Oh How She Changed" and the evocative "Ghosts".
Dave Cousins was in fine form, his distinctive voice delivering to perfection the wonderful and thought-provoking lyrics for which The Strawbs are famous, while Dave Lambert's vocals seem to get better and better and the guitar work from him and Chas Cronk was as impressive as ever.
Then it was the hauntingly beautiful "Autumn" before they closed with "Lay Down", probably the ultimate favourite for their devoted afficionados and earning them a great reception from many new fans who had not heard them before.
After the interval, things really rocked as Wishbone Ash took the stage and delivered a full-on powerhouse performance which filled the hall with a wall of sound. This was classic Wishbone from Martin Turner, still sporting the traditional rock star image, and Ray Hatfield and Danny Wilson, ranging from fabulous harmonies to superb interplay between three enormously accomplished guitarists bursting with energy and enthusiasm. The emphasis was on numbers from their Argus album, with "Warrior" and "Blowin' Free" outstanding in their impact, bringing the audience to their feet and demanding an encore.
Better that the evening had ended there as Wishbone left everyone wondering 'how do you follow that?' The simple answer is that you don't - or rather you shouldn't try to do so. Focus apparently have a considerable following of their own, but in Worthing they just didn't gel. Accomplished musicians they may be, but their self-indulgent jamming seemed interminable and soon had people voting with their feet - a disappointing end to what until then had been an evening of classic rock at its best.
PALACE THEATRE NEWARK SATURDAY 24 OCT 2009
As expected the Acoustic Strawbs delivered a set containing crisp clear guitar work and vocal harmonies fronted by Dave Cousins' distinctive lead vocals. The Strawbs acoustic set kicked off with "Benedictus" running into "Simple Visions". This was followed by "New World". The three acoustic guitars plus Chas Cronk's bass pedals made great effort to capture the awesome power of the album track, with Dave Cousins' vocals as emotive as ever. Next came one of the Strawbs' oldest/newest album tracks, the folky "Oh How She Changed" with excellent lead vocals from Dave Lambert and great harmonies too. The atmospheric "Ghosts" and the seasonal "Autumn" followed before an all too brief set was brought to a close with the hit single "Lay Down". Whilst the appreciative audience wished for more the confines of a three band show meant that there was sadly no encore.
Next on were Wishbone Ash who played their classic album "Argus" A set full of catchy riffs, great lead vocals from Martin Turner, fine harmonies and bluesy guitar solos. The two lead guitarists shared duties, swapping over effortlessly and so often that the guy on the spotlight couldn't keep pace. The set concluded with a rousing encore of "Jailbait " to an enthusiastic response from the crowd. Having only recently become acquainted with Wishbone's Ash's material via a "collection" album "Argus" is a glaring omission from my collection.
What we needed now to complete the night was the sound of a Hammond organ, a flute, and yodelling. Luckily Focus were up next and provided this and a whole lot more, including extended intros, extended endings, drum solos, scat singing (Double Dutch?) and a car horn! Like a mad Pied Piper, Thijs Van Leer led his band through an hour of 70's prog rock including the hits "House of the King" and "Sylvia". The set included many album tracks (mostly with "Focus in the title) including the melodic Focus II/Focus III medley before finishing with a heavy extended version of "Hocus Pocus". Focus were not to everyone's taste as a few left during the "Eruption" medley, which was possibly overlong and overindulgent, but these were in the minority as the set received a great audience response.
Audience favourite – Wishbone Ash
Personal favourite – The Acoustic Strawbs.
ALBAN ARENA ST ALBANS, 1 NOV 2009
EPSOM PLAYHOUSE, EPSOM, 3 NOV 2009
Benedictus/ Simple Visions
Oh How She Changed
The King Will Come
Leaf and Stream
Throw Down The Sword (accompanied by Thjis van Leer on keyboards)
House of the King
Aya Yuppie Hippie Yee
All three bands, (Strawbs, Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash and Focus) have equal billing on the Classic Legends of Rock tour, but I thought that there might have been a bit of a risk that some people would assume that the first act was just the support, and so not turn up till late. At Epsom, at any rate, this was not the case. The theatre was packed right from the outset.
It's a fairly gruelling tour: almost thirty gigs on nearly consecutive nights. I looked for signs of fatigue amongst the bands, but there were none. In fact both Dave Cousins (Strawbs) and Ray Hatfield (MTWA) looked slimmer than when I saw them last, and Danny WiIlson (MTWA) looked like he'd bulked out a bit, (as if he'd been working out in a gym).
The tour, like last year, was originally scheduled to feature the Groundhogs, but Tony McPhee fell ill at the last moment and had to pull out. I'm guessing that because Strawbs, like MTWA and Focus, were scheduled to play at the ill-fated Memories of Woodstock Festival, all three bands had fostered a sense of affinity, so Strawbs were invited to stand in for the Hogs. The Acoustic Strawbs are an ideal band for this tour, as without a drum kit, the logistics during the changeover are so much easier.
Chas Cronk is better known as the Strawbs bass guitarist, but for the majority of the songs played during the Strawbs' set he played his twelve string acoustic guitar along with his bass pedals. Only during "New World", and "Lay Down" did he actually play bass.
Hadn't realised what a great bassist Bobby Jacobs is. During Focus's song "Aya Yuppie Hippie Yee", there's an instrumental break comprising just bass and drums (Pierre Van De Linden) which turned out to be a really good bit of pure jazz.
Martin Turner, of course, is also an excellent bassist. We were sitting in the middle of the second row, right in front of the bass speaker, and could feel every note.
All three bands, as well are blessed with stunning guitarists. Throughout the Strawbs set I noticed two women in the row in front of us who were simply oozing pheromones at Dave Lambert. Not surprising as Dave has a phenomenal stage presence.
The original guitarist with Focus Jan Akkerman was rightly reckoned to be one of the world's best guitarists. His replacement, Niels van der Steenhoven is every bit as good.
Wishbone Ash have always been famed for the interplay between their two lead guitarists, and Martin Turner's band has not broken the mould. Originally his guitarists were Keith Buck and Ray Hatfield, but Keith has recently been replaced by Danny Wilson. Danny is an excellent addition to the band. The interplay between him and Ray has extended to them reaching over and playing each other's guitars.
Highlights from the Strawbs set for me, were "New World" and "Autumn". Dave Lambert uses his guitar to imitate a seagull during "Autumn", and the sound man had somehow managed to create stereo separation so that the auditorium was filled with seagulls. Think the sound man came to the fore during "New World" as well. At one point when Dave Cousins screamed "... may you rot in your grave new world," he held the last note and it reverberated round the theatre. Very spooky, like something out of Hammer House of Horror.
Saw MTWA recently and they described that particular tour as NEAT (standing for Never Ending Argus Tour). They've been playing the entire album live now (in the track order that they had originally intended), for about two years now, and there is still no sign of either them, or their audience, of getting bored. Argus is one of those albums that is high in almost everyone's list of favorites. They rounded up their set with another classic: "Jail Bait". Martin too has a phenomenal stage presence. One moment he looks like a rock god dressed in his pristine white suit, the next moment he's gurning and looking like a rock gargoyle.
To be honest, I think I prefer Thjis van Leer's solo records to Focus, but Focus are still a very good fun band to see live. Think they were worried that if they wrote songs in Dutch they would limit their audience, (though most prog rock fans are quite happy to go and buy an album by Yes without being able to make head nor tail of the lyrics), so most of their songs are instrumental, interspersed with yodelling, or similar vocal gymnastics.
Mortified to discover that I've been mispronouncing Thjis's name all of these years. I've been pronouncing it as Theece (to rhyme with fleece), but it's actually pronounced Tice (rhymes with mice). Thjis also has a phenomenal stage presence. When sitting at the keyboards his upper body is constantly in motion, as if he was attempting to conduct the other members of the band to keep time, or as if each note he played had surprised him.
Not normally a massive fan of their song "Hocus Pocus", but I think I've changed my mind, and would probably say that this was the highlight of the entire evening. All the other band members left the stage and we assumed we were in for a Thjis solo. He began with a flute solo, then miraculously began accompanying himself on flute and keyboards! He had two microphones, one electronically enhanced so that when he sang in to that it sounded like a full choir. By moving his head, he was able to simulate the cast of an entire opera. Then suddenly, he was yodelling that familiar refrain and the rest of the band returned and burst into "Hocus Pocus".
Photo from Pete Bradley - more from Pete.
ROBIN 2, BILSTON, 5 NOV 2009
CITY HALL SALISBURY (WITH FOCUS AND EDDIE AND THE HOT RODS), FRIDAY 6 NOV 2009
Just returned and although now just past midnight there was no Midnight Sun or sight of Copenhagen, from this Wiltshire's only city. If only we had climbed the Cathedral spire, maybe Copenhagen would have come in vision... but not tonight, only simple visions got an early presentation in the set.
Otherwise the set remained like most on the tour, very well received and travelled through the catalogue. The sound was fantastic and Lindsay who had hitched a lift with Judy and me enjoyed the rather short set, enormously.
Eddie and the Hot Rods followed and like Lindsay had beaten the M25 track out of Essex , were very entertaining, energetic and got a very good reception... getting the crowd on their feet.
Having returned and gone onto Strawbsweb and viewed recent photos, I am getting seriously worried about Focus, their guitarist (his name escapes me - can't remember everything) has worn exactly the same t-shirt at Epsom and Bilston and who knows where else ??
Still they did their bit, full of mood and Sylvia and a bit (actually a lot ) of Hocus Pocus, but Thjis with his Hammond and showmanship entertained the audience, leaving everyone to wend their homeward journeys happily.