Updated: 23 Nov 2010
Where do I begin….to tell the story……of how great a Strawbs tour can be..........
"You alright love?" Fighting back tears she turned to face the kindly-looking gentleman with twinkly eyes and a flat cap who had just asked the question. He had been whistling cheerily and was almost certainly on his way home to feed his whippets when he had spotted her anguished face. The sight of a grown woman sobbing prompted him to help if at all possible, but how could he? How could he know? How could HE know? How could he KNOW? HOW COULD HE KNOW the misery in Ali's heart at that very moment? "I'm fine thanks"; the words tumbled out but inside Ali ached to scream from the rooftops "I'm NOT alright! Of COURSE I'm not alright!! Strawbs have got a night off tonight, slap bang in the middle of their tour!!!!!" The man resumed his whistling of the Hovis tune and walked on by. Swirling thoughts of the seven consecutive days and nights of ecstasy she had just enjoyed entered Ali's head and, sighing loudly, she switched on Dorothy the satnav (Ali was sitting back in her car having dropped me off). Putting her foot down as though her life depended on it she sped off without giving Darlington railway station so much as a backward glance, apart from carefully checking her rear-view mirror. How would she survive? How WOULD she survive? How would SHE survive? How on EARTH am I ever going to finish a review of seven nights of absolutely amazing Strawbs gigs?
I will try. The tour kicked off in Bilston at The Robin 2, much-loved for its rock venue atmospherics with a lovely high and well-lit stage. I enjoyed the evening immensely – despite being rather loud it was euphoria-inducing for many Strawbs fans to see the electric band after what had seemed like a very long time, and to welcome the new face of John Young and the back-again face of Tony Fernandez. It was of course wonderful too to meet up with several Strawbs' fan friends again. Fantastic to hear some of the setlist additions - for me "The Promised Land" and "Lay A Little Light On Me" were shining jewels in the crown. Terrific to hear "Just Love" live again too. In fact the whole set was mouth-watering. I had looked forward with great anticipation to hearing the entire Hero And Heroine album played live, all in exactly the order it was burned into my teenage brain in the days when changing the running order of songs as the mood took you involved getting up (gasp!) and carefully wobbling a needle, hoping not to scratch the vinyl in the process. At Bilston a few sound hiccups and my desire to have more control over the volume button didn't detract to any great degree from the amazing "first time" experience of seeing electric Strawbs in 2010.
Next up was The Cluny at Newcastle - unfortunately strong winds and rain put a bit of a damper on "walk up" ticket sales. The weather did nothing to dampen the band's performance though, and being second night of the tour meant I was able to take in more without being so lost in a dreamy haze. John's keyboards sounded louder and seemed to make more impact to me than on the first night.
Onwards and upwards to Reeth, in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. The scenery in the area was absolutely stunning, as was the show in The Buck Hotel. Reeth may be in the middle of nowhere but the venue is obviously a powerful magnetic force and draws some great names and enthusiastic audiences. Ali and I chatted with a couple at our table who had seen Buddy Whittington there the previous week, and I noticed Nine Below Zero listed on a poster. Again, what can I say....Strawbs rocked magnificently and this was my favourite gig so far. This was also the first occasion on which we were treated to two full sets, including "The Flower And The Young Man" and "So Close And Yet So Far Away". Beautiful, both.
Leaving behind the splendour of The Dales (but not many chunks of cheese at the Wensleydale Cheesemaking place "taste" counter) we journeyed on to The Flowerpot in Derby. Hmmm. When this venue was announced there was a bit of muttering in the ranks as the last time the band played there it was unbearably hot and extremely loud, but for me watching/hearing music performed in a wide variety of venues and the different experiences that brings, the highs and lows, all contribute to keeping live music an exciting experience. If I knew exactly what to expect at every gig I'm sure a lot of the fascination would diminish. So, it was off to The Flowerpot with an open mind. There was no heat problem tonight, but the band had to think on their feet to overcome a fault with one of John's keyboards. ("The black one" according to Dave Cousins). Most of the gig was played with John using just the white one after the black one seemed to have died, although I'm told it started working again right near the end. Whatever, I think the band should be applauded for their fighting spirit in the face of adversity. Prior warnings about volume levels at The Flowerpot were unfortunately correct, and pretty much the only space I could find to stand among the packed crowd was unfortunately in front of a speaker....I wonder why....I really must get myself some ear-plugs! My verdict - too loud for me, but still enjoyable thanks to an exciting buzz supplied by the appreciative audience which contained several more Strawbuddies I hadn't seen for ages.
Next morning the touring party made its way to Milton Keynes - round and round and round we went as MK must be the roundabout capital of the universe. Unfortunately someone tried to cut Nigel's car up (on a roundabout of course), and a hefty bang threw Ali (in the front) and me (in the back) towards the centre of the car. Thank goodness we had both remembered Jimmy Saville's "Clunk Click" advice. Ali sustained a few aches and pains which thankfully seem to have lessened, and I was unhurt. Poor Nigel had a bit of bonnet misalignment to sort out though. The b@\&%+s drove off without stopping but Nigel reported it to police, just in case. A tad flustered we made our way into The Stables, a highly-respected venue where I have seen Strawbs several times and various other bands too. The Stables is undoubtedly a super venue; airy and arty and set away from roundabouts and riff raff. The sound system is superb and the place (including the car park) is extremely well-run with an army of volunteers and a clientele that doesn't mind paying slightly over the odds for such a civilised experience. I have to say that for me it always feels just a little "too" safe and civilised for Strawbs gigs, with its "tasteful" stage lighting and barmen who ask what kind of dry white wine one would like. Doh? A large one of course! Needless to say, the band played to perfection once again and it was lovely to meet up with yet more fans and even have an introduction to Tony's wife and very enthusiastic mother-in-law.
And then...to Liverpool. I had last seen Strawbs at Liverpool University in 1978, when I believe that gig was the first of the Deadlines tour. That was an unforgettable night for me, and the experience of seeing them in a similar student venue (or even the same one?) brought back so many memories. Everything about the gig was fantastic, make that FANTASTIC, with the thundering power of Chas and Tony underpinning perfect performances from both Daves and John. The lighting was stunningly exciting, just as I remember it at Strawbs gigs so often back in the day. Practically everything seems to have changed in the intervening 32 years (gulp!) and I therefore find it absolutely incredible and astonishing that I am still lucky enough to experience a Strawbs gig so reminiscent of those late 70's university tours. The main difference tonight, apart from the obvious line-up changes, was that bodies were sitting on rows of chairs rather than lounging on Afghan coats or velvet jackets on a sticky floor, and no strange or exotic smells wafted my way all evening. Despite this gig taking place in what felt like a sub-zero temperature with only ice-cold lager on which to warm my hands, it was absolutely amazing and my favourite of the tour to date. I think..
..it was strongly rivalled last night however at The Green Hotel in Kinross. The show was held in a lovely venue, a room in a massive golfers' hotel in bonny Scotland. Once again the sound was superb; everyone and everything blew me away. I didn't want "Lay A Little Light On Me" ever to end...OK that might have made life a bit difficult but it was just soooo intense. (That song has always meant a great deal to me, having been brought up in a very religious household from the age of seven when my mum felt she had found "the Truth". Life from then on involved communal study of religious literature most days, preaching on doorsteps every Saturday morning and praying multiple times throughout the day. I had already decided by the time of the release of H&H that I needed to make up my own mind about what I believed, and when I first heard LALLOM it was the first time I felt as though someone, somewhere, could understand that kind of dilemma. Needless to say that song will always be very special to me.
As others have hinted, the price of a ticket is a bargain if only to gaze in awe at Tony's face for a couple of hours - I've never watched a drummer with such an array of facial expressions! His accompanying drumming is often almost frighteningly powerful. Phew! A quick glance at Chas instantly restores serenity, although his thundering basslines often belie the air of calm to provide excitement in all the right places. Dave Lambert is playing as superbly as ever, with several new touches and twiddly bits appearing in various songs. His new guitar (a brown and cream one for the technically-minded) gives some different sounds which have become more familiar over the course of the shows. Dave Cousins continues to give his all, and more. With adrenalin obviously flowing like crazy on stage, his arms flail wildly maximising lyrical impact and his energy levels are truly awe-inspiring. It is obvious that the band members are enjoying themselves immensely and that their enjoyment is shared by enthralled audiences. Also obvious is how much audiences enjoy a spot of DC banter - although I don't personally feel the electric set warrants a lot of chat in the same way an acoustic set does, a little bit of chat early on undoubtedly gives Strawbs' virgins some kind of idea of "who" they are watching. (Maybe it's just a "me" thing, but I generally warm to an act more once I feel there has been some kind of connection.)
Ok, that's about it....I was going to mention the wonderful sightseeing experiences along the way (Newport Transporter Bridge including an exclusive visit to the control box), trekking up a muddy hill to touch the Angel of the North (it's masssssive, man), distant snowclad mountains, Buttertubs, industrial-sized Toblerones (thanks for enlightening everyone Pete M.) and Chas's crochet tips, but I have seriously run out of time. It's been fantastic to meet up with everyone so far, and a mega round of applause goes for Ali for putting up with me shoulder to shoulder, mile for mile. Over and out, for now!
THE GREEN HOTEL, KINROSS, TUE 16 NOV 2010>
Just thought I had to comment on the Strawbs gig in Kinross at the Green Hotel . It was brilliant . I've been trying to see the Strawbs for about 5 years now and there was always something came up to stop me from getting to the gigs. But this time I made it and I was very glad I did. Wwhen I read that they were playing the full Hero And Heroine album from start to finish I was very happy, as I must confess this is the album I've listened to since it came out in the mid seventies.
I was not disappointed - the band were tight and, as said in other reviews, Dave Cousins' vocals were spot on. "Hero" was the highlight for me. To hear it played live at such an intimate gig was truly fantastic. One other note. I met DC at the interval and asked if he could sign something for me for my friend that could not make it. At the end of the gig DC did sign a card for my friend and also sat with me and had a drink with me. He explained the writings in his book to me, his thoughts, what he was thinking at the time. This made the gig very special to me . After living with this album for 30 odd years, to have the lyrics explained and read out by the man who wrote it meant a lot. I don't know where else to write to tell Dave he made me a very happy person. At the end of our conversation he did sign my book as well but by that time it didn't matter - I was just so happy that he took the time to explain the lyrics to me. Dave Cousins is a real gentleman, he took time out to talk to me and for that I will be thankful the rest of my life.
I was very scared of meeting the band in case they turned out like a lot of hyped up new bands who don't care, only in it for the money, but I did not have to worry on that score. If you are reading this and you get the chance to go see the Strawbs, please do go, you will not be disappointed,and if like me you want to know more about the lyrics and what's behind them, buy the book, it is well worth it. It gives you a new perspective on the lyrics and what they mean.
STANLEY THEATRE, LIVERPOOL, MON 15 NOV 2010
Reproduced with permission from Liverpool Student Media
The Strawbs are one of those acts that you should mark out in your diary as "leave free" for. With a career spanning over 40 years and considered one of the finest exponents of the British Folk/Rock tradition, it is no wonder their gigs are attended by some of the most dedicated followers of live music anywhere.
During the summer of 2010 they even had great success as the Acoustic Strawbs during this year's inaugural High Voltage event in London.
The first part of the show was a collection of songs that blended together well and complimented the band's unique style of playing and entertaining their passionate crowd. Opening the night with "Turn Me Round" and "New World" Dave Cousins and the guys proved once more that their personal sound and intelligent lyrics are amongst the best.
After a short break the band came back to the stage and lead vocalist Dave Cousins announced they were going to play the whole of the 1974 release, Hero And Heroine to thunderous applause. The animated crowd were certainly not let down by the choice of material played by the guys on the night.
With tracks such as the three part opener of the album "Autumn" delicately ringing in the audience's ears, the band gave a virtuoso rendition of the classic album including a wonderful and sentimental version of "Sad Young Man".
Although not part of the original band John Young on keyboards has had years of experience behind him to cope with the most demanding of sets, his keyboard skills were beyond reproach on the evening and a pleasure to see this talented musician enjoying being part of the legendary group.
The Strawbs finished an incredible night of reminiscing and good music with songs such as "Round And Round" and the superb "Lay A Little Light" which had the respectful crowd heap praise on the band for their performance.
Oddly, I don't think I had ever seen the band play in Liverpool, the closest, and yet not so far away was in St. Helens. It was a bit of a Witchwood gathering too with the two Northern Fools Les and Pete, swelling the travelling party.
Every one else merrily eating by the time I arrived in my hotel, close to the Cathedral and somehow a 12 foot high wall surrounding its car park topped off with rolls of barbed wire somehow gave a sense of premium security in this city (or did it?) vaunted once as the City of Culture. I arrived too late for happy hour, very happy if you are on time, as were one or two of the party - Lindsay and Ali. Happy hour turns into very happy hour, as the bar during that time, is totally free. Oh to be Free.
It was getting close to the published start time of 7.30, so after making contact with the others I found my way to the University building housing the event. It was a bit concerning when I arrived as there were only 6 people inside, but that news was tempered by the fact it wasn't a 7.30 start after all. It seems most of what turned out to be a good and very enthusiastic crowd were all enjoying pre gig drinks in the Philharmonic pub (more of that later) ...all timing their arrival very carefully and filling the hall nicely in the 5 or ten minutes before the gig started. They must have been aware of the student bar that only contained cans of beer and lager
This, by after show voting, based on a number of measures edged ahead as the very best gig of a terrific tour so far, great lights, great sound and most of all, the band were on top form delivering yet another master class in their material. Even the cold nature of the hall disappeared in the second half as the intensity and enjoyment of the occasion took over.
Here I start the review of the second half where "Autumn" assumed similar majesty to the band with the Hawken/Coombes lineup. Was there singing from the gallery on the choruses ? Well I'm sure I wasn't imagining it.
John Young intros into "Sad Young Man" and as DC puts his guitar down, before venturing into the opening verse. The audience listened intently to his theatrical delivery which put every emotion in to the song that also carries some great guitar work from DL with that haunting tune that goes round and round in your head.
That's my two for this gig, "Just Love" in the next.
Just as the gig finished, back to the Philharmonic amongst a downpour and a bit of sight seeing. Well for the ladies in the party at least. They had to have (wanted) a peep into the gents "world famous" urinals. I can honestly say this is the first time I have ever written about Urinals in a Strawbs review. Their only problem was being rather shy they did not want ask the bar staff for the permission that they needed, so Pete Rand - the Fool, offered to take them by his hand for a visit. Amongst all the warming brandies they came back rather thrilled at a sight neither had seen before. Good old Pete.
If you care for a peep, here are a few (none of Pete I hasten to add)
Great night in Liverpool, topped off with some more, post midnight port.
Fantastic night in Liverpool! Stunning light show, fantastic sound, amazing performance, euphoric crowd reaction. The best show yet - Strawbs in their prime.
Agreed, a great show! In my view, Hero And Heroine is a fab choice to play in full, there's not a single track on there I don't love. Amazingly powerful sound through a great system. Bass was thunderous. DC in fine voice too. Nice to meet up with Ali, Nigel, Lindsay, Pete and Jane, and Paul Barlow. Note to guitar fans...Dave Lambert split guitar duties between the trusty Les Paul, and a new Tobacco Sunburst Squier Telecaster, sounded great too.
Shame it decided to absolutely hammer down with rain as we walked from venue to pub....we got somewhat drenched....
Photo by Les Cotton - more photos from Les
Turn Me Round
Flower and the Young Man
So Close and Yet So Far Away
River/Down By The Sea
THE STABLES, WAVENDON, SUN 14 NOV 2010
Prog rock doesn't get much better than that (to paraphrase one of the catchphrases of the host of the UK's TV show Masterchef, Gregg Wallace) !! Well, the Strawbs have cooked up a pretty amazing musical feast for those who more or less filled out the Stables at Wavendon the other night.
A sizeable stage with plenty of room to move around and express themselves, with great sight lines all round so that everyone can see everything, a well-filled auditorium of VERY appreciative fans (two standing ovations!), and a PA system of superlative quality for our mate Paul Smith to play with. After the previous night's rather iffy sound system, the Stables PA delivered much clearer vocals and far less unintended distortion. On top of that, the Strawbs visibly rise to new heights when playing at the Stables, one of their favourite venues. What's not to like ??
Dave Lambert's strident guitar intro to "Turn Me Round" set the tone for much of the gig - full on electric Strawbs, with a few quieter interludes - the song's a belter with Cousins, decked out in a natty dark Victorian-style frock coat, spitting out the lyrics and easily reaching those higher register moments. The Fernandez/Cronk rhythm section underpins everything, with Tony bashing those drums like there's no tomorrow, a joy to watch and listen to through out. Chas of course provides a strong bass line (quite frequently carrying the melody of the arrangement). And John Young proves himself an entirely acceptable keyboard player for the Strawbs, a less flamboyant soloist perhaps than Oliver Wakeman (or his dad, who I saw the following night!), but adding a solid keyboard contribution, as well as additional vocals from time to time - it's been a while since the Strawbs had 4 voices to play with!
Two tracks from Grave New World - the farthest back this line-up reaches. "New World" has great mellotron and drums, with Dave's guitar and vocal soaring over it. "The Flower And The Young Man" might be a surprising choice for this line-up, but offers the first spot for the big accapella sound of Strawbs harmonies, and of course John on keyboards.
And then the much heralded "The Promised Land", starting with some discordant guitar work, and Cousins then launching into the main vocal - very satisfactory indeed ! "Ghosts" follows: nice to hear the three opening phrase/coda on Cousins' guitar, John's harpsichord and Lambert's lead, (usually handled acoustically by the three guitars). The usual guitar pyrotechnics from Lambert of course.
A change of pace for a Cousins ballad, the beautiful "So Close And Yet So Far Away", which may even have been my favourite piece - Cousins dumping his guitar and able to utilise his expressive arm movements to deliver an emotion-packed performance. And then to finish Act 1, an extremely well delivered "River/Down By The Sea" which really blew the place down.
The second Act was of course the never before attempted Hero And Heroine live in sequence. "Autumn" is of course a hardy perennial both with the acoustic and electric band, and works well here. A great treat to hear live for the first time "Sad Young Man" - a song I think has great dynamics - the quiet almost pastoral descriptive bit, then the louder bit with the more cutting lyrics. Very short pauses between numbers, so quickly into Lambert's "Just Love", which we've had before, ditto "Shine On Silver Sun".
With the more intense side two, Cousins in particular pulls out all the stops vocally, with "Hero And Heroine", after the visually appealing drumsticks-raised lead in from Tony, gets going at a great pace, with the final repeated riff getting DC pogoing up and down. "Midnight Sun" sees Chas switching to 12-string, and Tony Fernandez (just to prove he can !) limiting himself to a couple of shakers throughout.
"Out In The Cold/Round and Round" follows - always a crowd pleaser. The first song melodic and lyrical, and "Round And Round" racheting up the energy and bitterness, with the duet between keyboard and guitar to open and ending with Cousins' mannered final verse and some guitar hero/drummer crashing chords.
"Lay A Little Light On Me" hasn't always been my favourite Strawbs song, but it comes over fantastically live, with probably the most sensational Cousins vocal of the night (a toss-up between that and "So Close" for me). Really really powerful stuff, DC's critique of the hypocrisy of organised religion, is very well received indeed, The massed vocals include a few "Shine on silver sun" choruses (recorded backwards for the album) and segues into a reprise of "Round And Round" to finish the set.
As the reverse-recorded "Hero's Theme" is played over the PA system, the crowd rises to its feet for the first of two standing ovations. We are rewarded with a driving version of "Lay Down" from the acapella chorus opening, to the trademark closing chords. On their feet again, but that's the end of a fantastic show, which will go down in my mind as one of the most enjoyable I've attended.
The Stables Wavendon on a dampish Sunday evening in November; what a fitting venue for the The Strawbs at their truly most electric. I came expecting a pumped up show but was blown away by the ferocity of some of the delivery. So many great moments to think back on:
Dave Cousins hitting that final awesome note on the final line of "Round And Round", not just the once, but again on the reprise. Spine tingling; the vocal was immaculate anyway but the ability to hold that note in the powerful way he did was special.
Last time I saw the electric set it was "Out In The Cold" that stole the show, but this time it has to be its sparring partner "Round And Round". Tony Fernandez on drums was immense throughout the show. He was the driving force of most of the evening's power play but his stoking up of this particular number was the moment for me. Clearly a rock drummer; I saw moments of John Bonham in the way he attacked the kit. Really fantastic stuff for the old rockers in the audience.
"Hero And Heroine" was the heaviest I have heard it in years. Dave Cousins was really getting into the building of the finale to the track and for one brief moment I thought we were on for a first in rock music. I sensed a 'Cousins does head-banging' moment but he regained his composure and the moment was gone.
Dave Lambert's vocal on "Down By The Sea" and "Autumn" is always a joy but the delivery on "The Flower And The Young Man" was sublime. One of my favourite guitarists anyway; but he is also such an underrated vocalist.
"Just Love" was a great party moment with such a feelgood strain running throughout. The crowd absolutely loved it!
"Lay Down" still has a special place in my heart and though it has so many rivals in the repertoire its inclusion is always so warmly appreciated. I enjoyed the slight variation in the arrangement once again which added extra and additional spice to the intensity of what is a classic track.
What a great evening; perfection served up in shed loads.
Oh and I got my "Shine On Silver Sun" and "The Promised Land"; does it get any better?
Having been to the Stables a number of times I was wondering if I would give it a miss this time around in favour of another less visited venue. I am glad I changed my mind virtually on the morning of the show, because after missing Derby the night before and remembering Reeth and the ones that went before that, I just couldn't miss it.
And what a memorable performance, it turned out to be, generating perhaps the greatest crowd reaction in all the times I have been there and also perhaps also one of the largest.
The one thing about Wavendon is that the sound is spot on good. In fact due to my late booking, I was sat right next to the hi tech sound desk and if I had wanted I could have lean't over and overidden the decibel limiter. That was not necessary of course with Paul controlling the sound to perfection. The venue is noted for fantastic sound and with two sets again which meant the closing numbers "The River", "Down By The Sea" closing a great first set. These songs are a must at all electric shows and with Tony's thumping drums agglomerating the sound into a wall to wall experience. The crowd showed their appreciation with stunning round of applause and cheering.
That set everyone up for the second half where the levels of appreciation seemed to get louder and louder with every passing number culminating in standing ovations at the end of the set and also the encore. This was a Strawbs tour de force, a superb memory from what is fast becoming a fantastic tour. Liverpool next, can it get any better?..you will just have to wait until part 5 to find out.... a little clue... it might.
THE FLOWERPOT, DERBY, SAT 13 NOV 2010
I think Strawbs fans fit into two categories: Folkies and Rockers and have preference for either the acoustic or electric concerts. At the acoustic ones you expect to sit down an clearly hear it all word for word but a rock concert is more about sound and atmosphere. I don't expect to hear a performance played identically to the record, if that was the case they may as well mime to a backing track.
I enjoyed the Derby concert. John Young was up against it even before his organ malfunction (maybe emulating our hero Pete Fool) as Oliver Wakeman is an impossible act to follow (except by one of his family maybe.)
Back in the 70s Hero And Heroine wasn't my favourite album, being the last one I bought before my rediscovery of the band in 1990 but I thought it was a good choice for a live performance, maybe an idea copied from tour-mates Wishbone Ash, who played the Argus album all the way through.
A fine night - had a few beers (perhaps nobody noticed,) met up with old friends, enjoyed the music and had a good time. That will do for me.
Photo of John Young (prior to organ failure) by Dick Greener - more photos from Ali
Turn Me Round
Flower and the Young Man
So Close And Yet So Far Away
The River/Down By The Sea
Sad Young Man
Shine On Silver Sun
Hero And Heroine
Out In The Cold/Round And Round
Lay A Little Light On Me/Hero's Theme
Round And Round [reprise]
BUCK HOTEL, REETH, FRI 12 NOV 2010
Then, via wool shops in Newcastle, and an Angel of the North that was being buffeted by winds that made it hard to stand, to Reeth, a lovely village in Swaledale. The village had been invaded by Strawbs fans with all the hotels and guest houses being filled. The gig was a sell out. For this gig I sat beside Paul's sound desk, and the sound was wonderful. The reintroduction of "The Flower And The Young Man" and "So Close And Yet So Far Away" slightly softened the hard approach of the first two nights. It wasn't until the intro to "The River/DBTS" that DC gave his first anecdote of the tour! I was able to hear John's keyboards clearly for the first time (although the 'tron sound was still too far back in the mix for my taste). He played wonderfully well throughout, and there was a great bit of interplay with DL's guitar on "Flower". My only quibble with the set list is that by playing H&H in its entirety means that the song "Hero And Heroine" comes midway through the second set. Each night this has been the moment when the audiences have really erupted, and in some ways perhaps it would have been better as an encore or with the last verse being reprised instead of "Round And Round". Finally, the band cheat: they play a recording of the "Shine On Silver Sun" backwards: surely they could learn and practice this with all those hours in the tour bus? All together now "Ehns Noriash Nohs......" There was a very convivial evening with the guys in the pub afterwards.
If any of this makes no sense, blame the cider, not me ! When I first saw this gig on Strawbsweb, I thought, where ? I searched maps high and low and found this place seemingly in the middle of nowhere. But after a bit of touristy bits enjoying the North Sea coast and ambling on the promenade at Amble, followed swiftly, by a trip to Warkworth, not the castle , but the age old bridge, I set my inbuilt compass for the South and a turning I saw on the A66 which said "Reeth".
After spotting Reeth on the A66, the previous day, if any one is in the area and fancies a bit of excitement , I suggest you take this route, up , down , all around, bends that are 90 degrees , others that seem sensibly innnocent. A fine introduction to Swaledale.
I suppose since the gig was announced I wondered what we would get, but what we did get was the first two set show of the tour, which mean't that both "Flower And The Young Man" and "So Close Yet So Far Away", would get an airing.
As it turns out the band were re-united with a sound guy friend from the Focus , Wishbone Ash "legends" tour..the previous "Sold out" tag meant that it was going to be a good night of fun.
The hotel itself changed from a traditional UK pub environment to a small theatre behind giving a chance to sit next to Paul Smith on sound and if I had lent over I could have twiddled a knob or two, but that wouldn't have helped much. Instead I concentrated on the performance and to day it was getting better, almost seems a slight on what went before, which was fabulous, but tonight everything was in place, great sound, great sold out audience, great booze and only a 50 yard dash to the guest house.
The featured songs... "Flower And The Young Man" with a capella breaks and "So Close And Far Away" were delivered in a way so reminiscent of Strawbs its very best. Indeed "So Close" ..... captured the essence of the emotion that Strawbs have brought over many a year.
As Lynne Madeley had decamped to the front, she advised me to hold hands with husband Pete and sway along to "Winter Long" (I think that was an order) in her absence.... well I'm not much of a substitute but I enjoyed it all the same (without the hand holding bit) I'm sure Pete didn't miss it that much.. Lynne maybe , but not me !
The one thing you get with way out places, is that time stands still. No-one worries too much about formal closing and we all sat around in the bar to a very late hour enjoying the ambience of the evening. I sadly had to depart earlier than the others, which gave me a touring black mark, but with a need to get back South next day and a 4 hour 30 minute drive ahead to meet my deadline, I was steadfast in my sobriety.. OK almost.
We all managed brekkie the next day, gazing out at the moors lying Northward and upwards from the B & B. Great sight. This was day three, three great gigs all different but very special in their own way. I'm glad I made them.
I really enjoyed the show at the Buck Inn on Friday night. David Cousins and Dave Lambert were well on form. Dave sings with great passion, and has such a unique voice. Love it when Chas and the two Daves harmonise. I bought Burning For You at the gig and it brought back memories. The beer's always good at the Buck Inn which is a bonus. The sound at the Buck isn't always the best but the lads coped admirably.
Photo by Alison Brown - more photos from Ali
Turn Me Round
The Promised Land
The River/Down By The Sea
Sad Young Man
Shine On Silver Sun
Hero And Heroine
Out In The Cold/Round And Round
Lay A Little Light On Me/Hero's Theme
Round And Round [reprise]
THE CLUNY, NEWCASTLE, THU 11 NOV 2010
Next day (after Bilston) we headed northwards avoiding any seal sanctuaries, meeting on the outskirts of Newcastle to eat. Lindsay managed to do the meal justice despite still suffering from an excess of Toblerone the night before: yes a whole industrial sized bar. The Cluny was apparently full the last time the electrics played on a hot early summers evening. Sadly the torrential rain and 80 mph winds appeared to have put a number of people off going out, and the place was less than half full, resulting in little atmosphere. This was a great shame as the band were in good form again and this performance deserved a better attendance.
From my position in front of Chas and John I was better able to hear the keyboard: it was clear when playing a featured part, but too far down in the mix to hear the mellotron sounds. Watching Chas play the bass was a magical experience, particularly on "The Promised Land". Overall the sound was much better quality allowing the subtleties to come together. It is worth watching Tony all the way through a gig, partly to see his constant variation of facial expressions, and partly to watch his drumming style which is probably the most aggressive of any Strawbs drummer (was the muppet Animal based on him)? He fits Strawbs music perfectly, for example adopting a very sparse, less-is-more style on "Turn Me Round", via a twirling the sticks in the air during the "afternoon of our lives" on DBTS to a full on battering of the kit on H&H.
After Birmingham, Newcastle was next on the agenda, revisiting from 18 months previously when a heatwave made it feel like a midsummer day in May. We had all decided to take our own route to the venue,that is Pete and Lynne , Ali and Lindsay and me.... I decided to take if not the shortest route one that at least avoided a continuous mile on mile of continuous motorway drive.
I was high on Shap Fell, thinking of my friends below, but they had gone some other way when gales and heavy rain struck me on my own. A foretaste of weather to follow, like the 80 MPH wind that was later to affect numbers at the gig with weather warnings to "stay indoors" flashed on local news reports.
We did of course...Inside The Cluny. A sturdy building under the Byker Bridge, but before that.......
Down the A66 , and through Kirkby Stephen and the tea room (where I first met Les) where the Acoustic lineup played on their way to the Edinburgh festival a few years back. Happy memories, past a few snow covered hills for a pre planned luncheon meet up with the rest.
The gig was all we expected it to be, but with my tour consisting of 9 gigs I had intended reviewing 2 songs at each in chronological order, but as Newcastle, like Bilston was one long set, "Flower And The Young Man" didn't get an airing ...so that will come next, so it is straight on to "The Promised Land" and "Ghosts".
Ah "The Promised Land", what delight that is and written by Chas. There is one thing about this tour.... it rocks... and in the closing moments of the song reinforces the magic that has already gone before in the opening 2 numbers ..full on Strawbs. Bravo .... encore, more , more ,more and it's only the third number
I think it was Pete that said at the Cluny, John was further forward in the mix than the night before. A thought I endorse and in "Ghosts" there is great opportunity for him to demonstrate his obvious abilities. "Ghosts" appears in both the acoustic format and full band and never fails to deliver, tonight was no exception.
Morning breeze, spinning leaves, sleepy trees at least it was by the time we got back to our large comfy hotel with swimming pool and gym....wait we will have none of that on the tour. So as most other residents were tucked up in bed (I assume) we decided it was time to open the after midnight port washed down with a hobnob or two just for good measure.
Life is good on the road. Tomorrow it's Yorkshire.
Turn Me Round
The Promised Land
The River/Down By The Sea
Sad Young Man
Shine On Silver Sun
Hero And Heroine
Out In The Cold/Round And Round
Lay A Little Light On Me/Hero's Theme
Round And Round [reprise]
ROBIN 2, BILSTON, 10 NOV 2010
Well now, where did that come from? I don't know whether whilst on tour over there last month the guys have been taking some of those strange Canadian vitamins you seem to get emails about at 3.00 a.m. but something has happened. This was just about the most confident, loudest, rockiest, and best electric show I've ever seen, and I've seen a few.
I took my son (25 today - happy birthday Duncan!) along, and he thought "Promised Land", which he'd never heard before was "awesome". The whole thing (once Dave L had been promoted in the mix a little after a couple of numbers) was spot on. You could tell the band were really enjoying it and putting a huge amount of energy in, and it just seemed like they - as a band - had found a new lease of life from somewhere, or had rolled back the last 25 years or so. Hero And Heroine performed in its entirety was a real treat, and I fundamentally disagree with some of the reviewers from over the pond who suggested that the time spent on "Sad Young Man" and "Lay A Little Light On Me" could have been better spent, as I thought that these two shone as brightly as all other stars on the album and it was fantastic to see them performed live. "Hero And Heroine" itself by the way was as magnificent a version as I've ever seen.
Was it vitamins, or something else? Well, although I kind of feel that I've got my Dave Lambert, and Dave Cousins back, with Chas being forever solid as a rock, I must say a few words for Tony Fernandez and John Young. Tony and Chas clearly work well together, but I thought that the tempo was driven solidly on by Tony to great effect, keeping the whole thing punchy and firm whilst adding a little danger, as if driving a juggernaut at great speed … in control, but only just. John Young was just great (despite the fact that he must have been shattered after a dash back from New Zealand where he was playing less than 48 hours previously). He really brought the keyboard parts out whilst not dominating anyone else, and added some little parts and flourishes of his own here and there which added much to the songs and to the evening. I hope I will see these two playing with the band on future tours as in my view the fit is perfect.
Where does Dave C get his energy from? He was clearly a little drained by the end, but the intensity and energy invested into last night's performance was fantastic … um … for a man of his age. Now I need a word with his vitamin supplier ….
I thoroughly enjoyed the concert last night. The 'heavier' treatment worked well with all the songs. Classic tunes will always have strength.
I have never seen the Strawbs live before but I've had their records since I was 17. I did shake David's hand last night and told him directly how good it was. Good to see these guys out on the road.
Take an atmospheric venue, add the world's greatest band and a Strawb-starved audience and you KNOW that it's going to be a great night. Well it certainly exceeded even my high expectations!
John and Tony create a new shape for the band and the performance of Hero And Heroine in its entirety was a masterstroke. Too many highlights to mention them all but the rendition of "Promised Land"' was quite magnificent and "Out In The Cold" warmed the cockles of the heart. There was a real buzz about the band from the outset, a raw passion that shone through in "Midnight Sun" and "Lay Down". Dave Cousins' delivery of "Round And Round" remains startling and quite extraordinary and Dave Lambert had the Robin rocking to "Just Love" and "Hero And Heroine". Chas and Tony linked together beautifully and John looked as though he'd been a Strawb for 35 years.
Fantastic night, brilliant value. Would have liked just one song from Deadlines or Heartbreak Hill ("Joey And Me", "The Last Resort" or "Desert Song"?) and an extra encore number after "Lay Down". I know that's being greedy, but when you can't get to Liverpool and it's still three weeks to Skegness.........
The themes that emerged from Bilston were energy and noise. The energy came from the band who played a tight high tempo set list. The noise was from the excessively high volume which simply distorted most of the sound: apparently the band could hear next to nothing on the monitors. I think the sound system at the Robin may be at fault. The Valuable Fools opened the evening pleasantly, and had a couple of songs I liked. In retrospect it is clear that they suffered sound problems: at times the vocals and guitar seemed to be in a different key to the rest of the band: However, when the Strawbs also suffered from the same problems it became clear it wasn't the bands but the system. I spent the gig at the front by DL and marvelled at his fingerwork. The Robin didn't seem as full as previously but at the front there was a very enthusiastic and appreciative atmosphere. DC seems to be struggling with a cold, but was passionate throughout, giving new life to old favourites. The rhythm section of Chas and Tony really drove the band on. It is my firm belief that Tony's sole reason for existence is to drum on "Hero and Heroine"! Being at the front and to the right made it difficult to hear John, who had literally just flown in from New Zealand.
There was a change in DC's interaction with the audience: no intro's or anecdotes until halfway through the set when he introduced the band (with the customary affectionate abuse of Tony), and the announcement of H&H in its entirety. I confess that when I heard that all of H&H was to be played, I was not enthusiastic about "Lay a Little Light On Me" (not the most exciting track on the album): Live it was a revelation. I don't think I have seen DC convey more passion and emotion into a song before: he really lived every word (OK perhaps every word but one!). The closing riff was awesome. Another high point for me was "The Promised Land" with the intro as featured on the Live at the Calderone CD: sensational. It was good to see a number of Witchwooders: Julie, Adie, Bob and Lou. Sadly I missed Mike.
Whether you take in a single concert or a multitude of gigs, the anticipation of an electric tour, always raises excitement to new levels.
The show at Bilston was opened by the Valuable Fools and it sounds like they had a good time and enjoyed their reception. Sadly never got to take up Mark's invite to say "hello" as there were far too many long term friends from far and wide that I took delight in meeting and saying " Hi " to after the show - sorry Mark
So what of Strawbs. Tonight was our introduction to this line - up, which includes John Young who had flown back into the UK after a day long flight from the other end of the world and literally hours before the guys took to the stage. It was our chance to welcome him as the new Strawb, although weeks behind his "real" debut in Canada. The complex nature of Strawbs music really challenges, but despite the long trip and his UK debut, there were plenty of times John came to the fore, adding his perspective to classic material, known and loved by many a Strawbs fan.
This is clearly, a hard rocking outfit and it delighted those that love the live music experience. Loud and in your face and this night was the ideal way to blow away any cobwebs ahead of the rest of the tour in a spectacular way. Adding intensity, to the anticipation of what was to follow. And blow them away they did,with Tony powerful drumming and Chas's rhythm section setting the backdrop for Dave's lightning guitar and power chords.
Always challenging themselves and playing live we enjoyed songs a few years back some of us would not have dreamed to have ever heard or thought we might hear live from the stage, with DC's passionate, aggressive and sometimes, subtle and gentle vocal, lighting and darkening the shades of the lyrics.
Tonight was about letting the power flow, letting the beat get into your brain, accepting it with an abundance and joy remembering the times when you had to turn the stereo up as loud as it would go, wobbling the "ornaments", because you just wanted to, as a temporary substitute with the band not "out to play"
"Turn Me Round" set the mood magnificently. A throw back from an opening number of a number of years ago so it was good to welcome back that particular friend. Hardly drawing breath, the band then launched into the iconic "New World", with vocals searing in their intensity and feeling.
Phew, this is going to be fun, I remember thinking, as I looked forward to the next number, my description for this will follow in "part 2 of lots" - Newcastle.
Photo by Lee Millward - more photos from Lee