The Hangman And The Papist
A Glimpse Of Heaven
Josephine For Better Or For Worse
Tears And Pavan
Framed (Dave Lambert solo)
Heavy Disguise (Hud and John)
The River/Down By The Sea
I Only Want My Love To Grow In You
Part Of The Union
Hero And Heroine
[Benedictus - Haywards Heath only]
Will You Go
Tell Me What You See In Me
What a wonderful concert it might have been in Banbury last Friday. It was marred by the ridiculously high volumes that came crashing through the speakers. Me and my girlfriend's ears have just stopped ringing today! Please tell the lads that they don't need to make up in volume what they lack in playing skills. Musically they were flawless, but all the nuances were totally lost (particularly Dave's singing) in the high levels of sound especially when you consider what a small venue it was.
Also, whilst I'm in criticise mode, why no "Benedictus"? It's like Led Zeppelin leaving the stage without playing "Stairway to Heaven". Otherwise a brilliant evening.
My party of twelve had a really great time at the Mill, not all of them diehard fans before the gig, but they are now! First time I had seen the band since 1972 Grave New World tour......absolutely amazed at the quality of this lineup, the sound was excellent and the boys can still really rock despite the advancing years! I certainly shall not be waiting another 27 years to see them! Thanks for the great Web Site, its where I found out about the tour.
Really enjoyed the show. Good to here some of the old songs live again. They band were all in excelent form. "Tell Me What You See In Me", "Sheep" and "Witchwood" brought it all back to me what I had been missing for a few years.
Only thing that spoilt it was the vocals disappeared into the backing a lot. Knowing the songs I knew the words but it would have been nice to hear them. I don't know what it sounded like where you were. We were up to the left and just in front of the sound mixing desk. Anyway it was still a great show and they all worked together well and their enjoyment folowed into the audience.
Wish the band well and suggest they do it again next year - perhaps a visit to Swindon as well. they always went down well here.
Some ramblings on a lifetime following the Strawbs, which reached an unanticipated high at last week's concert in South Shields.
I may have been fearful of inner accusations that I was trying to relive my own youth through my children. But I felt some apprehension last Thursday as I drove through the Tyne Tunnel with my twelve year old son to see the reformed Strawbs at South Shield's Customs House. After all, it was a full twenty years since I last saw the band, having then trekked from Cambridge to Hammersmith Odeon for the final night of the Deadlines tour.
This was a pretty fair performance (albeit promoting a disappointingly bland album), but failed to compare with my first Strawbs' concert at Newcastle City Hall, coinciding with my fifteenth birthday in March 1973. This was the Bursting At The Seams tour, which opened with the taped intro from "Down by the Sea", accompanied by dry ice and satanic red light, before tearing into an intimidating "New World". The band couldn't play a bum note for me that night, which stands as my pinnacle concert (we all have one if we're fortunate). The only sour memory was the press reaction to Hud's (admittedly excessive) impression of Little Jimmy Osmond which generated the overblown headline "Strawbs: Inane Strutting and Impersonations" and foolishly diverted the review in Sounds, Melody Maker, or was it NME?
1974 brought the re-shaped band back to Newcastle for the Hero And Heroine tour, and I was fortunate to see them again in September 1976 wonderfully promoting the hugely under-rated Deep Cuts.
For a variety of reasons, I found myself in London on the final Saturday of November 1976. Becoming aware that an afternoon rally against terrorism was causing congestion approaching Trafalgar Square, I heard, from Charing Cross Road, the distant opening of "Hangman And The Papist". Squeezing through the crowds in front of The National Gallery I finally saw Dave Cousins (and acoustic) at the foot of the Column giving all he had in the way only he can. He only performed two or three songs, but blew Joan Baez off the stage and made my day. I also met my future wife for the first time that night, and I can still remember what Dave was wearing.
Since 1979, while I was aware that there had been sporadic reformations and releases, I thought that my relationship with the Strawbs had been assigned to memories of school and university; although for the sake of nostalgia I did invest in Old School Songs, new issues via Road Goes On Forever and imported Japanese CD's when they occasionally appeared.
It was the opportunity to see the "1973 band" (plus Brian Willoughby) which drove me to the Customs House last week. Forgive me guys, in truth I was unsure if you were all still on the planet, but to hear the band in such magnificent form was a joy. Dave Cousins looks a good ten years younger then my calculator suggests (I still have the 1973 programme which gave his age then). He probably has a bit less hair than in his troubadour days (I can't talk) but his voice and stage presence are undiminished. Hud, John Ford and Blue Weaver sound as good as ever (the ageing process having had uneven success among them), and Dave Lambert looked and played as if he had been totally unaware of the passing of the last twenty odd years.
The set was varied, and while slightly predictable it did provide some songs which I hadn't previously heard live, having missed their Witchwood tour twenty seven years ago, ("A Glimpse Of Heaven", "Witchwood", "Josephine"), as well as Dave Lambert's "Framed" in his too brief solo slot.
For me the secret of the band's sound at its best, and therefore their appeal, was an ability to combine acoustic and electric guitars with keyboards, while leaving space of the "love or hate it" Cousins vocal. From my first hearing "Benedictus" on Radio 1 Dave Cousins' voice has always gone straight to the heart and on to the hairs on the back of the neck. All of this emotion was there last week, when, in fairness, I struggled to find it in many of the tracks on the records from Deadlines onwards which, too often were congested by MOR/AOR guitar solos and keyboards that replaced subtlety with padding.
Not that the "old Strawbs" held back in any sense. I haven't heard the closing section of "Down by the Sea" performed better nor the "Hangman and the Papist" played with more conviction. The specific poignancy of Dave Cousins' introduction to this song should stay in the memory of those present, but it took me back to similarly black days in the mid 70's.
The audience was far from huge, predictably for a Thursday night on South Tyneside, but I hope that the band recognised the pleasure they had given. We left after mingling with band in the bar. My son realised that his father occasionally is worth listening to; I finally had the chance to mumble some expressions of thanks for years of pleasure: and I got an autographed copy of poetry by one of our finest songwriters. I couldn't have put it better: "Love Dave Cousins".
A remarkable one-off gig was played last year when past and present members of The Strawbs turned back the clock to celebrate three decades of music making. The musical marathon, which took place in the grounds of Chiswick House in London and covered all three periods of the band's colourful musical evolution, will eventually lead to a live CD after the impending release of a box set of Strawbs rarities (including studio outtakes). Both are eagerly awaited.
But it also spawned a lower-key tour - now on the road - featuring members of the band's 1972-1973 line-up which bucked the glam rock trendies (yes, I know Dave Cousins did have a bit of tinsel on his guitar on TOTP) to show that the creators of such top ten hits as "Part Of The Union" are still alive and performing. The tour will take some of the founding fathers of British folk-rock across Britain. Before hitting the road, Richard Hudson, the drummer and a thoroughly nice bloke, promised a few surprise and he wasn't kidding ... Blue Weaver had spent some money on a new set of keyboards!!
Another surprise was that one of the stop-offs was at Worksop's Regal Centre, a council owned venue where Dave Cousins & co. played to just 78 people back in 1991. But what a difference a decade (or nearly) can make ... along with some decent advertising. This time round the travelling troubadours nearly filled the place and proved that they had lost none of their sense of fun, originality and love of live performance.
They even managed to slot two lead guitarists into the line up - old hand Dave Lambert and newish boy Brian Willoughby. - which sounds like a contradiction until you hear them play. In fact you didn't even notice the join as the pair neatly juxtaposed the riffs.
Present day bass player Rod Demick (another nice chap) sportingly stepped aside to allow John Ford (who after all had come all the way from New York where he now lives) to re-invent the 1972/1973 line-up. After all you can't have two lead guitars and two bass players as well. But Rod sportingly took on the mantle of one-man support "band" with just a little help from Brian Willoughby and put on an opener worth seeing in its own right (don't forget the promised fiver, Rod). The big softy sang and played a superb version of the Ray Charles hit "You Don't Know Me", his self penned "Tuesday Blues" and "Loose Change", written while he was selling hot dogs (I'm not making it up) and the stirring folk ballad "Carrickfergus", which betrayed his Northern Ireland roots. Many of the songs are on his solo CD Straight From The Heart - another plug, Rod!
Then the Strawbs took to the cramped stage and showed just what all the fuss was about, by producing an action packed, back to the roots, two hour set, which had the audience baying for more. It was the Strawbs at their best, pandering to a devoted audience with all the old hits, many of which had been given a god dusting off and new arrangements without detracting from the originals. It was not a night for true blue-blood folkies. The Strawbs put a bit more emphasis on the rock side, without losing any threads from the traditional weave of meaningful words and subtle sound. A far more raunchy version of singer/songwriter Dave's "Josephine For Better Or For Worse" lost none of its whimsical charm; his "Witchwood" retained its spookiness and "The Hangman And The Papist", its message, still relevant 28 years on.
Another oldie was "Stormy Down" included "as a country song," explained Dave, "because we haven't got round to writing a song about Worksop - yet!" Dave Lambert contributed a solo spot - "Framed" from his solo album of the same name. He was then followed by Richard Hudson (for one disentangling himself from his drumkit) and John Ford with "Heavy Disguise" from Grave New World.
Of course the set would not be complete without "Lay Down" and "Part Of The Union" - the latter sung by John Ford as it was on the original hit single. Only the tinsel was missing.
All too soon it was time to be leaving ... the band did an encore - the haunting "Will You Go" (b-side to "Lay Down", according to Dave in a moment of forgetfulness - it was actually on the b-side of "Part Of The Union") and the upbeat version of "Tell Me What You See In Me". They then nipped into the bar for a pint or two ... a ritual which has lasted all through the 31 years and 20-plus line-up changes which forged the Strawbs. The road goes ever on and on.
The Strawbs had just started their first major tour since the 30th Anniversary festival triumph last September at Chiswick.
Then, John Ford had come over from the states, where he lives and plays in Richie Blackmore's band, and the gig had featured the whole of the Bursting at the Seams line-up (Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert, Blue Weaver, Richard 'Hud' Hudson, and John), but with the unusual addition of Brian Willoughby giving two lead guitarists. It had also been great to hear John singing the lead again on "Part Of The Union", as he is again doing now. It had been so well received that John has now come over for a whole tour, and they were playing with the exact same line-up. Here, they also had a full-length show, whereas at Chiswick there'd only been a shorter slot.
As soon as they'd come on, it struck me that Dave [C] was looking bright, and sure enough there was a fantastic mood in the camp, really coming over in the music. Straight into a lively rendition of "New World".
At Worcester they had some momentary problems with Blue's cables. As the next track on the setlist was "Stormy Down", and this is about a place between Cardiff and Swansea, and Blue is from Cardiff, Dave temporised with a quip about how there was one candidate who only got one - his own - vote in the Welsh elections, and pointed at Blue. Of course it was all in great humour, and once they got it going they played another storming number.
As they continued with "Hangman And The Papist" and "A Glimpse Of Heaven", the versatility of the line-up began to come clearer. At Haywards Heath I had a very close view of Dave Lambert and even as a non-musician I could appreciate the skill with which he played. Having two guitarists allowed them to arrange a more intricate sound, truer to the FTW versions. Both nights they combined marvellously - by an end-result, it worked. Next came the most uptempo version I can recall of "Josephine, For Better Or For Worse". But after "Witchwood" came a real treat. There are just some numbers you've long given up hoping you'll ever hear played, and "Tears And Pavan" was one of mine! They pulled it off with style.
At this point, Dave Cousins introduced Dave Lambert and, with the others, left him to do a solo version of "Framed", the title track of his solo CD. Dave was full of fire throughout the performances and here it was laid bare. Then he made way, after introducing "Hudson-Ford" who came and played "Heavy Disguise", with John playing an acoustic guitar and Hud just doing vocals. Again, the same gusto.
The band then returned and when I heard the opening bars of the next number a wave of bliss enveloped me. They played "Sheep", with Dave Lambert again showing his prowess with the axe. By now they were well in the groove and the energy just went on building, through "The River", segued into "Down By The Sea", "I Only Want My Love To Grow In You", and finally into "Lay Down". John then took up the lead for a vibrant "Part Of The Union", roared home by the crowds. They ended their main set with "Hero And Heroine", which again took advantage of the two guitars.
Both times the crowd roared them back for an encore and at Haywards Heath there was a final treat. Dave Cousins produced a dulcimer and off they went with "Benedictus". They concluded their encore with "Will Ye Go" and "Tell Me What You See In Me" - another number that's interesting to hear "plugged in".
It's always great to hear music when the guys are in such spirits, because it infuses the whole performance and at the end it makes us remember why we go to gigs, and what, indeed, we all ultimately live for.
This review is guaranteed to be biased. No other claims are possible under the circumstances. The Strawbs and, most notably, the lyrics of Dave Cousins have been there or thereabouts for the last 29 years of my life. The last time I saw them perform live was in 1973/74. But now the time was right, the opportunity of seeing the opening night of the 1999 U.K. tour could not be missed. So it was that on Friday May 7th, I took a flight from my exile country of Sweden (a refugee from the politics of Margaret Thatcher in 1980, as well as a dose of Swedish passion!) and via Manchester Airport luckily found myself at Huntingdon Hall in Worcester for the opening gig.
Chris Jaeger, Director of the Hall, introduced Rod Demick as the support act, suggesting that this provided proof that "Old Strawbs never die, they just get better." Rod gave the evening a pleasant start with a half-hour six song set, mixing his own material with excellent choices from the likes of Bruce Cockburn - "If I had a Rocket Launcher" and fellow Belfastian (?) Van Morrison - "Moondance". Rod quirkily fulfilled the often unthankful task of opening act and was undoubtedly aided by his own Strawbs connection. Thanks for kicking off the evening Rod and thanks for reminding us of our ages with your reference to good old Radio Luxembourg, 206 on the dial!
Shortly after 9 p.m. Chris Jaeger reappeared to introduce the Strawbs. It was fitting that he too went back a long way with the Strawbs, since 1973 when he saw them perform at Brunel University. Finally, after over 25 years, he was especially pleased to be able to present them at his Worcester concert location. "He's pleased he's got us so cheap", quipped Dave Cousins as he led the band on stage and we knew that he was in fine humour. When a few seconds later the band burst into the opening bars of "New World", and Dave's nasal tones spat out the accusatory opening lines, we realised that it would be a good night.
The 15 song set focussed primarily on the Witchwood and Bursting At The Seams eras, understandable given the line-up (Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert, Richard Hudson, John Ford, Blue Weaver and the 'new boy', Brian Willoughby. The ecclesiastical ambience of the surroundings (Huntingdon Hall, a concert location since 1987, was originally a chapel dating from 1804 and described by Betjeman as 'a Georgian gem....unique and irreplaceable') provided a perfect setting for "The Hangman And The Papist", a song that Dave Cousins had hoped would not have needed to be a part of the Strawbs' repertoire for so many years, but which sadly still contains a large chunk of relevance as the century nears its end. Behind the stage the pipes of the chapel's organ were still in view, the inscription "Praise Ye The Lord" providing a suitably ironic foil for Dave's observations on the Northern Ireland situation. "A Glimpse Of Heaven" was equally well at home in these surroundings.
"Tears And Pavan" offered Dave Cousins the chance to once again produce his wit and talked about how the song was written partly in Switzerland and partly in a Greek restaurant, "mine's a hummus!", he joked. This marked the end of the first part of the set and the band left stage, apart from Dave Lambert, in fine fluent guitar form, who played "Framed" from his solo years. Dave in turn left the stage in favour of the Hudson Ford duo who performed "Heavy Disguise", before the whole band returned for a rousing version of "Sheep" with its near-hysterical description of sheep waiting for the slaughter.
Then came one of the real highlights of the evening for me, "The River/Down By The Sea", in which Dave Cousins' vocals were perfectly punctuated by the duelling guitars of Dave Lambert and Brian Willoughby. The near-hit, "I Only Want My Love To Grow In You" was followed by the hits, "Part Of The Union" and "Lay Down". Taking a look around the hall everyone could be seen mouthing or singing the words, the audience comprising mainly of hardy Strawbs fans. For a while I was back in those student days of the early seventies, albeit more conscious on this occasion!! I don't think I was the only one.
For a band that's been around for over thirty years, in various constellations, it's of course impossible to please everyone with the choice of material. Tonight's selection represented an excellent echo of the early 70's, as well as a taste of before and after, and seemed to be just what the punters wanted. Perhaps some more recent material could have been thrown in and I for one certainly missed "Ringing Down The Years" (and a lot of others when I start thinking about it). I can't help thinking about how difficult it must be find the right level of performance, the right balance after all these years. Presumably no one wants to just stand still and we've seen too many groups ending up in a quagmire of nostalgia and lack of direction (Spinal Tap!!). Tonight however, the Strawbs were alive and well and kicking in Worcester - maybe 'the years have left their mark' - but in a perfectly respectable and dignified way.
As I said earlier, this is guaranteed to be biased. I think I was too caught up in the buzz of the occasion to notice or comment on the more technical aspects of the performance. Not surprisingly there were a few stray notes and a few mistimed endings, but let's face it, who cares on a night like this!
After "Hero And Heroine" the set was over, but it took little persuasion to get the boys back for a trip into the folk-rock catalogue and more audience participation in "Will You Go". All too soon Dave Cousins was announcing the final encore number, which he described as the most-recorded Strawbs track, "Tell Me What You See In Me". Despite the audience's appreciation, a second encore never seemed on the cards. The lights went up and the audience of over 200 satisfied souls left the hall in good spirits, contented and entertained.
P.S. All was not quite over. A number of us hung around for signed record sleeves, photos and a general mingling with the Strawbs. One by one they emerged from the vestry(?) and obligingly signed and chatted with good humour, tolerance and for the most part I think the attention was appreciated. Hud was extremely interested to see the Spanish cover of "Part Of The Union/ Inveierno Y Verano" where he is elegantly dressed in a green, velvet-trimmed coat. Later Dave Cousins recalled how pissed off he was at the requisite dressing up - and it shows on the sleeve! I'll try to scan in this cover for use on the web site at a later date.
A couple of more personal reflections. It was a pleasure for me to attend this concert with my friend of some 27 years, Andy Velk (I also dragged him to a Strawbs concert in our student days at Reading!). Then what a surprise it was to be approached by Lars T. during the intermission. Lars made contact with me about six years ago when he found my name as the only other recipient of Heather Malcolm's magazine "Jamming" in Sweden. We met, exchanged stories of our Strawbs memories and pronounced ourselves as the self-appointed Swedish representatives of The Strawbs fan club (2 members as far as I know). I hadn't seen Lars ('what's a Dane like you doing in a place like that') for some six years and suddenly there he was, totally unbeknown to me, stretching over the pews of Huntingdon Hall to greet me. Finally, I have a short letter from Dave Cousins dated 1972 suggesting that we might have a pint at a coming concert in Reading. I never did have that pint with Dave and by the time I approached him in Worcester on Friday the bar was closed!! Oh well, I've waited 27 years, I suppose I can wait a bit longer.
Keep on Jamming!!!
Bursting At The Seams was the first LP I ever bought the tour was the first gig I ever went to, Birmingham Town Hall 1974, marvellous. I still remember the impact of the "Down By The Sea" intro - 2 Daves and 2 Gibson Les Pauls in a pool of red lit smoke. Well, those days are back, and a quick cross reference between the first (1973) half of the (BBC) Strawbs In Concert CD will demonstrate that the 1999 version is 25 years better.
From the opening power chords of "New World" to the beauty of "Josephine For Better Or For Worse" through "A Glimpse Of Heaven" (a 19 year old girl stood alongside us and sang every word) an ascerbic rework of "Sheep", the return of "Tears And Pavan" after 25 years out of the set, and the glorious 1976 summer 'radio-hit' single from Deep Cuts: "I Only Want My Love To Grow in You".
Wit, wisdom , history and superb musicianship.
Photo from Derek Eynon
We all had a wonderful weekend - I still can't believe I've been to two gigs inside a year after a gap of 22 years - and I'm really enjoying listening to Ringing Down The Years/Don't Say Goodbye that I bought while I was there. It was good feeling like a 14 year old all over again....
Greetings from the USA! Unfortunately, finances dictated that we not come over for the May UK tour this time around. I guess I spent too much on all those Strawbs CD re-issues! Anyway, thanks for keeping us up-to-date.
The cybercast was a true blessing! Thanks for arranging it. I know a few folks over here who have taken advantage of hearing and *seeing* it. Thanks for going the extra mile, uh, I mean kilometer, for us homebound US fans.
Thanks for your e-mail with the news of the extra Strawbs gig. I have just got back to UK after visiting US on my way back from Perth Australia where I have been based since last October. I drove down to Birmingham last Wednesday from Lancs and saw the band at Ronnie Scott's. Excellent concert and an ideal sized venue although the dinner was a bit pricey. They were very much on form and it was good to hear a set consisting mostly of their pre 73 songs.
Here I sit in NY, wondering why I wasn't in Twickenham last night. Thanks much for making me jealous, you bastard. If you hadn't told me, I'd have been none the wiser. I'm eager to hear how the show was. Hope this missive finds you and yours well.
[Made me chuckle! - DG]
Superb concert. Good(brave) support from Rod. He handled the equipment failures very well.
Listening to "Down By The Sea" was an absolute joy. I have heard it live many times and thought it was never as good as the studio version. Last night I realised what had been missing on previous occasions - 2 lead guitarists, trading off each other and combining perfectly to produce a sound that was, as they say, greater than the sum of the parts. That song and "Tell Me What You See In Me" had so much 'oomph' that they actually got the floor vibrating! Wonderful.
What a show - absolutely excellent, in particular the obvious mistakes by Dave, forgetting to plug in instruments!!! I quite liked his revenge when he described each of the band in a 'unique' but very funny way. Concerts are normally quite formal, rehearsed to a point where a mistake is quite embarrassing for the group. In this instance the informality and the encompassing nature of the show, made it seem like a group of old friends had got together for an evening out. Top Marks all round!!
What a night, had a fabulous time!!! Pity I didn't know about the London date before as it would have been closer. Never mind, I wouldn't have missed it for the world, as I'm sure it was unique. An added bonus was the girl who couldn't stop herself from leaping about, when in our hearts I'm sure we were all doing the same.
Congratulations to the team
Thoroughly enjoyed the gig at the Robin 2. Pity they didn't do "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus" - but the band sounded very together.
Vintage form, better than vintage. Go to all the shows you can get to.
I have been a fan of the Strawbs ever since I bought Lay Down on single and Bursting at the Seams on eight-track tape! It was great to see that band back together and not only playing as well as I've ever heard, but enjoying the concert as much as the audience. Here's to the next tour...maybe a live CD from this one?
Relaxing after the gig at the Stables, Wavendon, Milton Keynes, photo by Kevin West