Updated: 1 May 2007
The Flower and The Young Man
Martin Luther Kings Dream
Glimpse of Heaven
You and I When We were Young
Part of The Union
Alex Bowler, Bass, Vocals
Jon Blake, Lead guitar
Philip Blake, Drums
Jeremy Gainsford, Acoustic Guitar, Lead Vocals
David Usher, Keyboards, Vocals.
What a surprise! Imagine asking your best friend for a rowing boat – but getting an ocean liner instead. Well, even a discerning Strawbs fan would have to admit that is pretty much how Benedictus rates. Clearly these five are not just fellow enthusiasts, but also musicians competent pretty much to professional standard, performing music they have treasured for over two decades.
Here, all I am seeking is to be objective. The last thing I want to do is to allow my own love of this music to exaggerate what is on offer. But for the life of me, I could not hear a note out of place. The sound balance too was excellent thanks to Herculean efforts of the sound engineer Bob Burnell. On the night, one was literally immersed in a wall of sound.
We all know that David Cousins' voice is unique and distinctive. I must admit to wondering how Benedictus would respond to this challenge. Jeremy Gainsford has his own presence, wisely avoiding attempting the impossible. I am open to correction here, but could not help notice that at times there were reminiscences of Tony Hooper and John Ford vocals. Noticeably, the more he let rip, the better the performance became. Also noteworthy was the keyboard performance. Predominantly, the sounds were particularly close to Blue Weaver's style, also like Hawken on the appropriate numbers, but there was no confusion or crossover. I feel unfair in not writing more about each of the other performers, but, truth to tell, they were all excellent. Believe me, if they were otherwise, I would tell you! But in all honesty, I could not spot any weaknesses.
Before you ask, there was no recording made of this performance as Bob had his hands full dealing with particularly difficult acoustics this first time round. But in the end, it all came off so well that he opinioned they likely will make an attempt at the next concert. Having heard it myself now, I expect it would be something Cousins himself would be chuffed with!
But enough of all that. What was the actual performance like?
Autumn / New World - The unmistakeable opening chords rose up, their mood demanding attention, then it was straight into "New World". This really set the scene - the music, the evening drawing in, the subdued lighting, it all provided a great atmospheric frame for the whole proceedings.
Lay Down - There cannot be many occasions where feet start tapping and people sing along to music based on the 23rd Psalm. But that is what happened here. Guitars nice and sharp! The central guitar solo differing to the Strawbs' own version inasmuch as the melody was focussed rather than a range. The ending was perfect, identical to that we all have known and loved for so long now.
The Flower and the Young Man - Another track from Grave New World, another fulsome performance. It was here that one of the reminiscences of Hooper's vocal style cropped up… lovely intro, plenty of harmonizing, with tonal variety keeping it all interesting.
Martin Luther King - Fittingly, this was introduced as a song about striving for justice. I could not help notice that some sang along. Including this in the repertoire certainly added depth to what the concert was all about.
Glimpse of Heaven - David Cousins wrote this one about the Devon village of Branscombe. Benedictus introduced the song amidst comments on recent media coverage of beachside salvage booty, but particularly about just how beautiful the place is, and how the local church has an unusual three-tier pulpit (Cousins used to be a chorister, maybe there is something symbolic there?) Musically, the starting point was different, instead commencing by guitar. Vocals a touch like Hooper's here, which was very interesting. Today, it is attention-grabbing to hear "Part of The Union" live as Cousins now provides lead vocals. Similarly, the Benedictus performance hinted at how this track would have sounded had Hooper provided the same. Adding still more interest to this version was the keyboards portrayal of the stream that accompanies the lyrics. Here, the style was much like Chris Parren. Put that all together and you get a version which was, quite simply, fascinating.
Benedictus - Blue, you have to get along to a Benedictus concert and listen to this! Amidst different musical punctuation to the Strawbs on download or disc, the Benedictus keyboardist added even wider bass tones. The sound was formidable! I felt like the cat on the front of 'A Taste of Strawbs'. At risk of purring!
You and I When We Were Young - An offering from the "Ghosts" album came next, with keyboards noticeably moving to the Hawken style. Lead vocals not alluding to that of any Strawbs singers, but fitting nicely. Harmonizing vocals starting at later verses than compared to the actual Strawbs themselves. Happily, the audience were treated to not one but two guitar solos amidst this piece. What was very noticeable was that both were unhurried, beautifully paced. This really made for them to be poignantly expressive. I was impressed. I think so would have been Willoughby and Lambert.
Grace Darling - Amidst the crises of life, do you think there is anyone looking out for you? Those of you who have read the lyrics page will realise this anthem is about just that. Strawbsweb had earlier hinted at ethereal authentic sound throughout the concert. Whatever they used, it sounded almost like a woman's voice in the distance. I am not that easily moved, but it sent shivers down my spine.
Part of the Union. - As you might expect, everyone stood, then moved their feet, and clapped. Sounding alternatively like Hooper, then Ford, and then himself in his own right this was another instance when the lead vocalist let rip, and it was really great. Everything note perfect. Beautiful bass. Lovely drumming too. Watch out Hud and Coombes!
Lay Down (Encore) - The crowd would not shut up, the band returned, played this, and then promised more gigs – 'Ooray!
Well, that is how it all happened. I appreciate distance means that not every Strawbs fan could turn up. Notwithstanding it was a case of "You don't know what you missed". If "The Road goes on forever, get on it and give this tribute band a listen. There really is something substantial behind it all. Benedictus' means 'Blessing'. See them and get one!