Updated: 10 Mar 2015
Turn Me Round
The Hangman And The Papist
PALACE THEATRE, SOUTHEND, SUNDAY 8 MARCH 2015
Acoustic Strawbs gave their all, as ever, last night at The Palace Theatre (which celebrated its centenary a couple of years ago) in my home town. It was great to catch up with Dick and a few other friends to partake of an evening which included several Strawbs' classics, all done to perfection and started off with an interesting version of "Turn Me Round". Always one of my favourite Strawbs songs, it is slightly difficult for me to shake off the electric version in my head but I really enjoyed the more spacey feel of the acoustic version and look forward to hearing more of it.
Being part of a triple bill on the current tour means Strawbs can only play fairly short sets, about 40 mins I think, but the power and passion are in no way diminished by the set length. Stand-out song for me last night was "Autumn", which is actually quite unusual for me. Something about the atmospherics particularly seemed to grab me, along with the rest of the spellbound and sizeable audience. (I mean the atmospherics seemed to grab me, not the audience). "Hangman" was also superb, in fact the usual "every one a winner" still definitely stands after last night's performance for me.
The other bands on the tour are worth watching too - I've seen Martin Turner plays the music of Wishbone Ash several times now, thanks mainly to my friends Gill and Andy who are also Strawbs fans and sat with us last night. (They are big fans of Wishbone Ash, having met at one of their shows at Dagenham Roundhouse many moons ago (aaaah..). Carl Palmer and his two sidekicks are also quite fascinating to watch and having only ever seen ELP at a big festival before it was great to be able to watch CP drumming from a few rows back. It's stunning drumming and the guitarist and bassist were excellent too. Unfortunately it's not really enough to keep me interested for a whole set (even a short, triple-bill type set). I need lyrics!! Still, I'm glad I've seen them and how CP can have that much energy is quite staggering.
So, thanks to Strawbs for a wonderful evening, more appreciated than I can put into words. Thanks also to Dick for his charming company, and belated Happy Birthday to Dave Lambert!
For one reason or another, it's taken me a while to get to one of the gigs on this tour - I was set up for Gravesend, but it ended up that I would have got there after the Strawbs' set, so in the end I didn't go. But Southend for me is a doddle, provided the M25 is clear, which it was this Sunday, and I got there in under an hour.
Settling into Row K of this beautiful variety theatre, as the Acoustic Strawbs took the stage, DC promised us a variety indeed. Our heroes opened with their newish opener - "Turn Me Round", performed just on two guitars leaving DC free for his trademark expressive hand gestures. Back in the day when the Acoustic Strawbs started out and we were still reeling from the fact that songs like"Ghosts" could be performed acoustically, if you'd asked me for an unlikely candidate for "acousticking", I'd guess TMR would have been up there in that category, but I think it works brilliantly. Driving chords mainly from Lambert and note perfect solos, Chas's 12-string adding some grace notes as well and the vocal chorus backing from DL and Chas (which sort of gets lost on record but is just right in a live environment. Superb.
"New World" as ever was a tour de force - DC's vocal kicking up a gear even from TMR, and a splendid final growl, followed by the other "Northern Ireland" song, "The Hangman And The Papist" complete with churchy organ pedal sounds. "Ghosts" was intricate and powerful, just as it should be, then a near perfect "Autumn". The last song of the set, of course, "Lay Down", strong accapella opening, beautiful performance.
Sound for the Strawbs could have been a bit louder overall, but that was certainly rectified when Carl Palmer hit the stage after a 5-minute changeround. I'm not an ELP fan particularly, but enjoyed the instrumental set, particularly their version of "Fanfare For The common Man", complete with canned fanfares at the outset, and the obligatory drum solo from Palmer which was the right side of OTT (just!) and showed that he really is a world class drummer. His two colleagues Paul Bielatowicz on guitars and Simon Fitzpatrick on bass/stick are very accomplished indeed. When they walked out without a keyboard player in sight I did wonder just how the keyboard-heavy music of ELP would fare, but was quickly convinced. A combination of clever effects and immaculate playing allowed them successfully to emulate those keyboards in various ways, and their stylish playing was a joy to watch.
I missed part of Martin Turner's set but caught a few numbers, some of which were oldies, some from the new album they have in the making. All demonstrated that the band is well-combined and confident, and that the smooth style which was a feature of the earlier Ash albums carries through to their modern day incarnation. The old BBC variety show "Sunday Night Is Music Night" is an apt description - a very enjoyable and varied evening indeed.
Southend photos by Dick Greener - more photos from Dick