Updated: 20 Dec 2015
Most of the dates in the latter part of 2015 had to be rescheduled owing to Dave Cousins' health problems. A few gigs late in the year went ahead as planned.
Turn Me Round
The Hangman And The Papist
THE FORUM, KENTISH TOWN, LONDON, 14 DEC 2015
This supporting gig for Family was moved from Sunday 13th at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, owing to the structural defects at that venue. A few people may not have been able to move to the Monday evening, but the vast majority turned up for a blisteringly good concert. Joined by Chris Parkins for the evening, we were upstairs in the balcony tables and seats, where, rather a long time ago I saw the Beautiful South. Good acoustics, good view, though a bit far away from the action for much in the way of quality photography (for me anyway!). Nice to run into Neil Byford too, attending as guest of Jim Cregan: Neil's been in the wars healthwise too, but has come through well and looks great - good to see and catch up.
The Acoustic Strawbs have had a long layoff owing to Dave's health problems, but there was absolutely no sign of that in their performance, which came over as though they'd never been away. Cousins in particular was in excellent voice, which cut through the mix, every word thoroughly audible. The mix was a bit tentative at first, but after not very long at all, it ended up as one of the best mixed Acoustic Strawbs gigs not to employ their own sound man. In some respects, maybe a (semi-)acoustic trio is easier to manage sound for than the full Family 9-piece, but I thought the sound desk did a better job on our boys than the rest of the gig! Certainly Chappo's voice didn;t always cut through quite as sharply as DC's.
This was the "festival" or "support" 45 minute set. "Turn Me Round" is a great opener, Dave's expressive hand movements matching the emotionally charged lyrics, then the two "Troubles" songs, "New World" and "The Hangman And The Papist" followed, with very brief introductions from DC. Both tracks scored great recognition from the Family audience, and really big cheers all round.
The two lengthy multi-part epics - "Ghosts" and "Autumn" made up the bulk of the set's remaining time, "Ghosts" in particular was powerful and tight and held the audience's rapt attention. Then finally, after a truncated version of DC's "shopping days to Christmas" plug for the merch, to "Lay Down", which everyone knew, and the energy level on stage as well went up a further notch.
I guess the Family audience must be quite receptive to Strawbs music - they came to prominence around the same time in the early 70 (disbanding in 1973); in any event the Family audience rose determinedly to its feet at the end of the Strawbs' set for a standing ovation - it's not often you see that sort of response for a support band, but well deserved IMHO, as they had just delivered a really cracking set.
Returning to my seat after catching up with DC before his trip back to Deal, I really enjoyed the Family set. I'm not that familiar with Family's work - I had listened to some of their albums before without really "getting" what they were about, and was hoping that a live gig would be more inspiring, and I think I was right, as it turned out.
Chappo commands the stage with effortless ease, with expressive movements and his unique voice (sound familiar to any Strawbs fan?). There were excellent contributions from the two lead guitarists (one of whom was Jim Cregan, who also played with 70s popsters Cockney Rebel, the other Geoffrey Whitehorn). The use of two drummers (one of which was erstwhile Family member Rob Townsend, the other John Ringwood(?)) really came into it's own with the thunderous rhythm and chugging guitars of "The Weaver's Answer" towards the end of their set. The saxophonist/flautist (Nicky Payne) was also very very good indeed., and I've never seen vibes, played with glockenspiel-like beaters, figure so prominently in a rock set, expertly played by longtime member Poli Palmer, with Paul Herschel(?) on another more standard keyboard/organ setup at the other side of the stage. Larry Smith(?) played solid bass.
You can get a feel for the playing at the following YouTube links, taken from their 2013 reunion gig at Shepherds Bush. Chappo says thanks to the band, but it's hard to work out names.
A favourite for me, towards the end if not the last encore, saw Whitehorn and Cregan coming up to the microhones and adding chorus vocals on "Sweet Desiree".
All in all an excellent evening, hope they team up together again.
Kentish Town photos by Dick Greener - more photos from Dick