Reprinted by kind permission of Dave Cousins.
Thirty years ago a group of earnest young men called the Strawbs, who run a folk club in Hounslow, release their first single. A guy from the local record store comes to the club with a box of 25 singles and sells the lot. Dave, Tony and Ron appear on Tony Blackburn's show wearing pink frilly shirts and the music press describes the record as "moody".
Then comes the first album with a cover shot of ties in a salad bowl, and pictures of the band in Osterley Park in furs posing in the bamboo. The album features John Paul Jones and Nicky Hopkins and points to the way ahead. Bowie mimes to "Poor Jimmy Wilson". The second single is highly controversial because it's called "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus". Tony Blackburn apologises on the radio before playing it and Spike Milligan phones up for a copy. The earnest young men invite themselves to his party in exchange. Then an afternoon in Soho with Quentin Crisp. James Taylor does his first UK gig supporting the Strawbs at the Marquee and gets his share of the takings, £4.00.
Off to Denmark for the next album with the principal cellist from Sadlers Wells. Rick makes his appearance on record and is credited and writes to Dave to thank him. They meet in a pub - where else ? Rick joins the band and they go off on his honeymoon to play in the "Rock'n'Roll Circus" in Paris where they first meet Salvador Dali.
A couple of punks called Hud and John join as the new rhythm section and there they are at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Rick becomes the new superstar, and Dave presents a cheque for £20 from the proceeds to Ralph Richardson.
Rick says Yes - and so does Blue! Ballet dancers and mime artists at the Shaw Theatre. Of to the States for the first tour where the band drinks its fee in the first week at the Whisky-A-Go-Go, and Zeppelin drop in every night. Strawbs win the darts match - but fall out in the swimming pool, which turns into a mud bath. Lampoon, a blond flash and Top of the Pops.
Chas, Rod and Hawken come on board. Fripp phones Dave to suggest some acoustic gigs. Goodbye UK - hello USA. Sixteen tours in total, with Santana, the Eagles, Blue Oyster Cult, Zappa, Z.Z. Top, REO Speedwagon, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Billy Preston and 59 weeks on the album charts. John and Robert take over the keyboards, then the last tour of the 70s with Andy and Brian.
Punk comes in with a vengeance. The Clash become mates and Dave considers changing his name to Stiff Joints, but decides enough is enough.
The turnaround is the Cambridge Folk Festival. The punks are back as the rhythm section, Blue's on piano, Brian's on guitar, and Dave and Tony are together again up front. Great reaction, and since then the various combos tread the boards - from Bergen to Bangor, from New York to Newcastle.
Thirty years on and it seems like yesterday. Here's to tonight and forty years on.
Strawbs - Cousins, Hooper and double-bass player Ron Chesterman - are new US label A&M Records' first signing. They release their first single "Oh How She Changed" on 18 Jun 1968: their second, "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus" follows in Nov 1968, but their first album Strawbs is delayed to May 1969 after A&M executives reject the first version. Strawbs record new material and the unwanted tracks later surface on the rare privately-pressed Strawberry Music Sampler album.
Dragonfly is recorded in Oct 1969 with Clare Deniz. By Feb 1970 when the album is released, Clare has left, followed by Ron Chesterman. Lyndsay Cooper takes over briefly, and in Mar 1970, with Rick Wakeman also on board, this line-up plays the Rock'n'Roll Circus in Paris. Cooper is replaced by John Ford and Richard Hudson from Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera.
After a tour with Roy Harper, Antiques And Curios is recorded live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall by the new five-piece line-up: the gamble pays off as the concert gets rave reviews and Melody Maker praises Rick as "Tomorrow's Superstar". The album is released in Oct 1970, the first to be released in the U.S.
Release of From The Witchwood, recorded in Air Studios between Feb and Mar 1971, Wakeman fitting in his contributions with his sessions work. On 3 Jul 1971, Strawbs appear on Top Of The Pops' new album slot: they play "Hangman And The Papist" during which, to Dave's irritation, Wakeman is seen brandishing a paint roller.
Blue Weaver joins the Strawbs to replace Wakeman, who joins Yes. He appears in concert with them at London's Shaw Theatre. They record the single "Benedictus" in Oct 1971, released in Nov 1971: the rest of Grave New World, their best-selling album, is completed by Dec 1971 for release on 4 Feb 1972; a nation-wide tour follows, and then the band's first tour of North America, opening at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in L.A.
Chelmsford Folk Festival: Dave Lambert joins the band on stage for encores. Tony Hooper decides to leave the band, and in Sep 1972, Strawbs management announce that Lambert has joined the band: the new line-up's debut is at Watford Town Hall on 28 Sep 1972; later in the year the band also play at the Royal Festival Hall.
"Lay Down" released on the same day as Dave Cousins' solo album Two Weeks Last Summer. By 9 Dec 1972, the single reaches no. 12 in the UK charts.
"Part Of The Union" is released as the Strawbs' next single and reaches no. 2 by 17 Feb 1973. It stays there for three weeks whilst the no. 1 slot is held first by the Sweet and then Slade who leapfrog to no. 1 with "Cum On Feel The Noize". Meanwhile the Strawbs undertake a marathon tour round Britain to promote their Bursting At The Seams album - 52 dates during February to April culminating at the Rainbow on 13 Apr 1973. The album also reaches no. 2.
After a gruelling US tour Strawbs bursts at the seams, with Cousins and Lambert regrouping a new Strawbs line-up with Rod Coombes, Chas Cronk and John Hawken. Hud and John split to form Hudson-Ford and score a hit with "Pick Up The Pieces". In Nov 1973, Hero And Heroine is recorded in Denmark, but not released in the UK until Apr 1974 to coincide with a disappointing British tour. However, extensive tours in North America in late 1973/early 1974 have consolidated Strawbs' appeal, particularly on the Eastern coast. Increasingly the band concentrates on the US market.
Recording Ghosts at the Manor. Completion of the album is delayed by illness and touring commitments and the album is released in Jan 1975, coinciding with a further tours of the US and Canada. "Grace Darling" and "Lemon Pie" are released as 45s. A visit to Japan follows, but John Hawken leaves before the next album is recorded in Jun/Jul 1975. Despite a back-breaking and well-received tour to promote it in North America Nomadness isn't as well received as its predecessors.
The band headlines a London concert at Victoria Palace, one of only three UK gigs in the year: the band now features keyboard players Robert Kirby and John Mealing. In early 1976 Strawbs switch labels from A&M to Oyster. Work starts on Deep Cuts, but there is a hiatus between sessions whilst new producers Rupert Holmes and Jeffrey Lesser are brought in. Many of the songs on the album are co-written by the new writing partnership of Dave and Chas Cronk. In Sep 76, after a showcase concert at Cardiff Castle, the band tour in the UK again.
Burning For You is recorded in Holland, released in Jun 1977. The single "Back In The Old Routine" gets an airing on Top Of The Pops. Strawbs head back off to Dublin to record Deadlines for Arista Records. However, the master tape is damaged and parts of the album have to be re-recorded in London. It takes three expensive months to complete and isn't released till 3 Feb 1978.
A BBC "Sight And Sound" concert is simultaneously transmitted on BBC2 and Radio 1 in stereo. Andy Richards is the new permanent keyboard player.
The UK Deadlines tour ends at the Hammersmith Odeon: Dave Lambert's last gig with Strawbs. In Summer 1978 he leaves to concentrate on his solo career, after recording one track for Heartbreak Hill. Sessions continue later that year with guitarists Miller Anderson and Jo Partridge, but the album is shelved later in the year when Strawbs part company with their management.
Dave and Brian's acoustic tour climaxes at London's Collegiate Theatre: the tour is so popular with folk club organisers that a repeat tour is organised for later in the year. In Aug 1979 Strawbs reform with Brian Willoughby taking over the guitar slot for the Port Rush Festival (his debut gig is a warm-up at the Turk's Head in Twickenham). A "reunion" tour is announced for Feb 1980.
Heartbreak Hill goes into limbo again, despite an imminent record deal with Elton John's Rocket label, as Dave Cousins announces his departure from the band he founded to be Controller of local radio station Radio Tees. With Dave's blessing, Roy Hill is recruited briefly as lead singer in his place, but after a couple of gigs the band splinters - it looks like the end!
After an appearance on Rick Wakeman's Gas Tank TV show, the Strawbs reform (Grave New World line-up plus Willoughby) for Cambridge Folk Festival. In 1984 and 1985, they perform on an occasional basis in the UK and the US, rebuilding and enhancing their loyal fan-base.
After further appearances in the US and Europe in 1986/1987, a new album is released - Don't Say Goodbye, the first for 9 years. The tours and the album feature new boys Rod Demick and Chris Parren. This line up performs throughout the late 80s and early 90s.
A further album Ringing Down The Years is released in 1991, alongside a collection of early Strawbs/Strawberry Hill Boys material Preserves Uncanned (previously released on cassette only in the US) and the 1967 sessions with Sandy Denny (Sandy And The Strawbs). In 1992 A&M dip their toe into the re-issue market with the Choice Selection CD. The Strawbs 1990 Central TV performance is released on video and CD as Strawbs Greatest Hits Live.
Strawbs 25th anniversary - a major tour, the Suffolk'n'Good Festival and a further tour with Lindisfarne: Tony Hooper's day job takes its toll: he leaves the band a second time. Dave and Brian record a second duo album The Bridge.
Heartbreak Hill sees the light of day at last. Further re-issues of the band's late period material follow - Deep Cuts, Burning For You and Deadlines - then 2CD compilation Halycon Days. The BBC raid their archives for some 1973/1974 live material Strawbs In Concert.
30th Anniversary Concert at Chiswick House. Prompted by much better than expected sales of Halcyon Days, Polygram's re-issue of six of the band's original albums (complete with bonus tracks and new sleeve notes) is underway, and a boxed set [was] promised for later in the year.
This feature appears as published in 1998 - there is now an updated version in the history section.
Don Airey - Don's impeccable keyboard CV - Rainbow, Jethro Tull, Gillan, Deep Purple and Gary Moore - made him an excellent recruit for the 1993 Silver Jubilee tour, though he left before the Christmas tour later that year.
Talking John Berry - Double-bass player with the Strawberry Hill Boys in their bluegrass and Limeliters-style close harmony days. Reputed to have left the band owing to Cousins and Hooper's fondness for curries, an unlovely trait at close quarters when sharing a single microphone. Nicknamed after his fondness for the "talking blues".
Ron Chesterman - "Nobby" Chesterman was found by Tony Hooper playing at the Enterprise club in Chalk Farm, North London and was a Strawb from 1967 to early 1970, when he left to join Noel Murphy and Shaggis, under the unlikely name of Draught Porridge. Latterly has worked as an archivist in his home town Chester. He features on the first two A&M albums and the releases featuring Sandy Denny: All Our Own Work/Sandy and the Strawbs.
Rod Coombes - Lulu's backing band the Luvvers was Rod's professional debut, followed by a stint with the Jeff Beck Band at the time of the hit "Hi Ho Silver Lining". He next worked in experimental jazz rock before joining Juicy Lucy in 1970. Onwards to Gerry Rafferty's Stealers Wheel for one album, including the hit "Stuck In The Middle With You". Joining Strawbs in Autumn 1973 as Cousins and Lambert rebuilt the band for Hero And Heroine, Coombes is said to have contributed much to the mid 70s band's arrangements, as well as a song for each album (his Ghosts contribution appeared as the b-side to "Grace Darling" but appears on the CD re-issue). He left the band after 1977's Burning For You.
Lyndsay Cooper - Experimental jazz influenced cellist and double bassist, who joined briefly to replace Clare Deniz, moving over to bass when Ron Chesterman also left. Played the oddest Strawbs gig on record at Rock'n'Roll Circus in Paris in April 1970 with newly-joined Rick Wakeman, where the band backed the circus acts, but left shortly after as Hudson and Ford were recruited for the classic 1970-71 line-up.
Dave Cousins - Dave and Tony Hooper met at school in West London back in the mists of time. They started playing together, first as the short-lived Gin Bottle Four, later as the Strawberry Hill Boys (from which the Strawbs emerged sometime in late 1967/early 1968). Renowned in the mid 60s as the fastest UK banjo-picker around, Dave's own haunting compositions began to displace the bluegrass/ traditional material, and he developed a well-respected guitar playing style with a series of unusual guitar tunings which complemented them to perfection. Dave is undoubtedly the heart and soul of the Strawbs - as songwriter, front man and lead singer - and he has led the band throughout their many changes: from the early days through folk-rock with a progressive flavour, to the fully fledged rock band they are today. His complex epic songs are the cornerstone of the Strawbs' appeal both in the 70s and today - delivered in his inimitable vocal style with acoustic guitar accompaniment over a keyboard and rock band backing. These days he combines a highly successful career in local radio with his musical activities, both with the Strawbs and as a duo with Strawbs guitarist Brian Willoughby.
Chas Cronk - As a sessions musician, Chas was responsible for getting Rick Wakeman his first session gig. He played in Philip Goodhand-Tait touring band and on Wakeman's Six Wives sessions. He joined Strawbs in Autumn 1973 for Hero And Heroine, and from Deep Cuts onwards, he forged a songwriting partnership with Dave Cousins until the dissolution of the band in 1980. Since then, Chas has played in various bands including the Steve Hackett Band, most notably forming Cry No More with Roy Hill - a band with a fiercely loyal local following even today in the Strawbs' West London heartland and which scored a hit in Germany with "Oh Sharon".
Rod Demick - A former member of Wheels and pub-rockers Bees Make Honey, Rod was for many years bass player in David Essex's band before joining Strawbs to replace John Ford on bass in 1985. A prime mover in Strawbs' offshoot Turkey Leg Johnson, Rod is about to release his first solo CD, Straight To The Heart.
Sandy Denny - A regular around the London folk scene in the mid 60s folk boom, where Dave Cousins heard her perform and, according to legend, asked her there and then to join his band. She travelled with them to Denmark, where they recorded an album's worth of soft folk-rock material in a recording studio based in a cinema. When the tapes failed quickly to find a record deal, Sandy went her own way, with a flourishing solo career taking off under Alex Campbell's patronage, and subsequently folk-rock superstardom with Fairport Convention and her own band Fotheringay. In the mid 70s, she was several times voted Top Female Vocalist in the music press. The Copenhagen tapes were later released on vinyl in 1973 (All Our Own Work) and on CD in 1991 (Sandy And The Strawbs). She died tragically in April 1978, prompting Dave's heartfelt classic "Ringing Down The Years".
Clare Deniz - Principal cellist with the Royal Ballet, Clare joined the band between August and December 1969 to record the acoustic Dragonfly album which prominently features her accomplished cello playing. Sadly she had left the band before the album was released and the band moved on into its Wakeman period. She also contributed cello to the Ghosts album.
Tony Fernandez - Joining Strawbs in 1977, Fernandez played on Deadlines and the frustratingly unreleased (until 1995) Heartbreak Hill album before the band collapsed in July 1980. He plays on many of former Strawb Rick Wakeman's albums.
John Ford - John's single debut was "Mistletoe Love" in 1964 with Jaymes Fenda and the Vulcans. He formed a long-term partnership with Hud which lasted through the Five Proud Walkers, Velvet Opera, Strawbs, Hudson Ford, The Monks and High Society and then back with the reformed Strawbs until he moved permanently to the US to live in 1985. "Heavy Disguise" was his notable contribution to Grave New World - a live favourite in later years. He co-wrote "Part Of The Union" with Hud and was mainly responsible for the Hudson Ford hits "Burn Baby Burn" and "Floating In The Wind". These days John works as a solo artist in the New York area.
John Hawken - Joined the Nashville Teens in the early 60s, who backed Chuck Berry on his first UK tour and climbed the charts with "Tobacco Road". He next joined Jim McCarthy and Keith Relf's original Renaissance, then played in Spooky Tooth, Third World War and Vinegar Joe. Initially not very familiar with electronic instruments, on joining Strawbs in Autumn 1973 he contributed much to the big, gothic, mellotron-laden sound of the Hero And Heroine/Ghosts period much loved by North American fans, by then the Strawbs' main market. Leaving in Summer 1975, he regrouped with original Renaissance members in Illusion, before crossing the Atlantic to escape the onslaught of punk; he now lives in New Jersey.
Roy Hill - After he supported the Strawbs on their 1978 Deadlines tour, Chas Cronk and Tony Fernandez joined up with the Roy Hill Band to tour whilst Dave and Brian toured the folk clubs on their first duo tour in 1979. When Dave Cousins left the Strawbs, Roy brought saxophonist Bimbo Acock and guitarist John Knightsbridge from his band to join Cronk, Fernandez, Brian Willoughby and Andy Richards in the only Strawbs line-up without Dave - and probably the shortest-lived: two gigs only in July 1980. Later in the 1980s he formed Cry No More with Chas, recording several albums: the duo continue to perform a handful of gigs each year for their fans.
Tony Hooper - The other original Strawb, Tony played with the band from its earliest days up till 1972 when, uncomfortable with the trend away from folk-rock to out and out rock, he left after their first American tour. Contributing several songs towards the early Strawbs albums, the Cousins/Hooper vocal harmonies were a trademark of the early folk band. After trying his hand at record production, Tony has had a second career in publishing, which releases him from time to time for Strawbs activities - he rejoined the line-up for the Cambridge Folk Festival in 1983, staying with them for 10 years until after the 25th anniversary tour in 1993 and has rejoined the band for this celebration.
Richard Hudson - After playing drums in North London bands, Hud ended up alongside John Ford in the Five Proud Walkers (soon renamed Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera). The Opera released two albums and various singles before disbanding and Hud moved with John in May 1970 to join the Strawbs in time for their QEH concert, Hud originally was to play percussion only, but quickly moved back to a full drum kit. He contributed songs to several Strawbs albums, the best known being the Ford/Hudson composition "Part Of The Union". After Strawbs, he switched to guitar to front Hudson-Ford, again with John, and the duo quickly scored chart success with "Pick Up The Pieces" and went on to produce three albums for A&M. After dabbling with disco in the latter days of Hudson-Ford, the duo switched genres to punk as the Monks, again charting with "Nice Legs, Shame About The Face" and 1930s-style vocal harmony as High Society, in both cases with Terry Cassidy, who these days also doubles as Strawbs' indefatigable sound man. Hud has been with the reformed Strawbs from 1983 to date.
Robert Kirby - A long-time Strawbs associate who arranged tracks for Grave New World, Bursting At The Seams and Ghosts, and was one of two sessions keyboard players recruited after Hawken left in 1975 to record and tour.
Sonja Kristina - A few gigs with the Strawbs after Sandy Denny split. Later lead vocalist with Curved Air.
Dave Lambert - Dave started out in three piece Fire, with an Apple Publishing deal and a Decca contract to their name, who recorded one of the most collectable records around - the concept-based Magic Shoemaker album. After an acoustic period - he played a number of duo gigs with Dave Cousins - in 1971 he joined the King-Earl Boogie Band, whose album was produced by Cousins at the Manor at more or less the same time as Dave's own solo album Two Weeks Last Summer in 1972, on which Lambert guested. Dave's Townshend-influenced approach matched with Cousins' aspirations for rock stardom, and Lambert joined the band in September 1972 in time for "Lay Down". After the 1973 split, Lambert helped Cousins reform the band and the blend of their two differing vocal styles became a trademark of mid 70s Strawbs. A consummate lead guitarist, Lambert left the band at the beginning of the sessions for Heartbreak Hill in 1978 to pursue his own solo career, issuing one album Framed, which, disappointingly, was never released in the UK. These days Lambert continues to teach guitar in his beloved Kent, and has recently appeared once again with the Strawbs in their VH-1 session.
John Mealing - Formerly with jazz-rockers If, Mealing with Robert Kirby supported the band on keyboards between 1975 (when John Hawken left the band) and 1978.
Chris Parren - Keyboard player in the Hudson Ford band, when Blue Weaver was unavailable for the reformed Strawbs' tours in the mid 80s, Parren was a natural choice as replacement. He contributed to both the Don't Say Goodbye and Ringing Down The Years albums, and left in 1993 to work full-time in the Rocky Horror Show.
Arthur Phillips - Early recruit to the Strawberry Hill Boys, Phillips was a mandolin-player with transport - an attractive combination in those long ago halcyon days.
Andy Richards - Another classically-trained import for the Strawbs, joining after Deadlines in early 1978, in time for the tour which followed. The first permanent keyboard player in the band since John Hawken, he remained with the band until its 1980 dissolution, when he went on to find substantial success as a record producer.
Rick Wakeman - From dance band to sessions king to rock superstar, Rick catapulted to fame in a very short time, his first break being the Queen Elizabeth Hall showpiece concert of the new look electrified Strawbs, which he joined in March 1970. Touted as the new keyboard superstar, he left to join Yes in July 1971, shortly after the From The Witchwood album was released, also carving out a successful solo career with countless albums to his credit, with his first - The Six Wives of Henry VIII - also featuring pals Cousins, Lambert and Cronk.
Blue Weaver - Founder member of teeny-bopper band Amen Corner, Blue has probably had more pop chart success than any other Strawb: after several hits with the Corner, he went on to join progressive offshoot Fairweather, which also hit the charts with "Natural Sinner" before joining the Strawbs for their chart-busting period - Grave New World to Bursting At The Seams. After the Strawbs fragmented in June 1973, Blue ended up with Mott The Hoople and the Bee Gees, neither band being any stranger to pop success.
Brian Willoughby - Brian has played guitar for a wide variety of folk and pop stars, including Maureen Kennedy-Martin, Mary Hopkin, Roger Whittaker, New World. He joined Dave Cousins for an acoustic jaunt round the folk clubs in 1979 and the duo continue to perform together to this day. He joined the Strawbs when they regrouped later that year for the Port Rush Festival and has delivered tasty lead guitar ever since, contributing two co-written songs to Ringing Down The Years. He has just released his first solo CD Black & White, a mainly acoustic outing with vocals by Cathryn Craig and Mary Hopkin.