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Dick Greener
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ROBERT KIRBY - 1948-2009

Image taken from video footage, supplied by Jon Connolly - more images in Robert Kirby 40th Gallery.

Robert Kirby died on Saturday 3 Oct 2009


  • The Guardian, 9 Oct 2009
  • Dave Cousins

    I was in a hotel room in Liverpool on Monday morning when I got an email to tell me that Robert Kirby had passed away.

    At first I had a feeling of deep sadness, but during the day that mood changed to a feeling of warmth as I recalled the times when I had been so close to Robert.

    He was quite the most joyous person I have ever known, and I'm sure that everyone who met him experienced that same exuberance.

    Even when he had been told he had just six months to live he celebrated.

    When he was told it as a wrong diagnosis he celebrated.

    I want to celebrate Robert Kirby as a wonderful musician, a captivating raconteur, and most of all as my dearest friend.

    Raise your glasses to Robert, he'll be doing it back.

    Thanks Robert for all you gave us.

    Dave Lambert

    'A pint of Guinness for my friend over there please' as far as I know, those were not Robert's last words to the world but they were the last words I heard him say, apart from 'cheers' after I had thanked him.

    Quite eerily, the last memory I have of him is the same image as the one captured in the photo' you have on the Strawbs website, from Twickenham after the show; raising his glass of Guinness in response to my raised glass.

    I first met him in 1972 when he orchestrated and conducted the LSO on "The River" and "Down by the Sea" for the Bursting at the Seams album. I liked him instantly and always looked forward to the many sessions we subsequently had with him.

    Robert (always Robert never Rob or Bob) joined the band for two years in the mid-70's when we were working mostly in the US and Canada and usually on long and gruelling tours. He was a breath of fresh air. Humorous, entertaining, relaxed and always warm he soon became a fully-fledged member of the Strawbs' Family. After one of our US shows I was in the Gents when in walked Robert. We had already had a few beers and were fairly jolly by this time. He spied a floor polishing machine in the corner, the type that has two handles and a revolving brush. 'I wonder if this thing's on' he said and immediately stood on top of the machine, pulled the lever on the handle and proceeded to spin round at an astonishing speed. The sight of Robert's rapidly spinning face accompanied by his squeals of delight was too much for me, I fell to the floor laughing hysterically. Tom and Jerry never did it better. 'Bloody hell that was hairy...' was the only comment he made.

    He would often talk passionately about the quality of the Nick Drake recordings when, frankly, the world was completely unaware of them. I was delighted for him when those recordings were re-released in recent years and went on to receive the acclaim they now enjoy. Robert was so proud of that, more, I believe, for his friend Nick Drake than for himself.

    When I heard the news of his death I was shocked into a state of disbelief. Only a few weeks before he had arranged and rehearsed the orchestra for the climax of our 40th anniversary week-end. We had the usual fun-filled rehearsal and the performance went like a dream. As always happened the orchestra had fallen for Robert's loving charm and were ready to play their hearts out for him.

    Personally I don't believe that Robert ever planned to grow old gracefully, or even at all. He lived life to excess and enjoyed, almost, every moment of it. At university he once won a burping contest for saying 'The Bishop of Bath and Wells' in one breath. Typically he would then go on to eat in one of those restaurants who issue the challenge; 'if you can completely finish our huge steak dinner we will pick up the bill'. Robert never had to pay the bill.

    My deep condolences to his family and to his many loving friends. You had to love Robert, and those who knew him will understand I mean that quite literally.

    Dear, dear Robert. 'A pint of Guinness for my friend over there please...'

    Rod Coombes

    I just got the sad news about Robert Kirby. In fact his card is sitting on my desk because we had promised to keep in touch more.

    Robert was a lovely man ,very nice and very funny too and of course a fine musician and arranger. We go back to '73. Apart from Strawbs, if you like Nick Drake, as many do , Robert did all those lovely arrangements and was about to launch off on a series of Nick Drake memorial concerts which would have sold out all over America and Europe. That may now be a double memorial.

    Sitting behind my kit on the 40th concert, Robert gave a wonderful sense of calm which saw us through considering we had no rehearsal and did it 'live'. When the orchestra made their first entry under Robert's control, I have to confess the hair stood up on the back of my neck - musically always a sign of a very special moment. How fitting we should part company with such a fine memory.

    Dick Greener

    Difficult to believe it's only three weeks ago that Robert conducted the Royal Artillery Band through his arrangements for the Acoustic Strawbs' "Evergreen", John Ford's "Heavy Disguise" and the full band's "River/Down By The Sea" and the magnificent "Where Silent Shadows Fall", which had many fans in tears as the grand finale of an emotional weekend-long celebration of Strawbs' 40th anniversary.

    I met him on a number of occasions, and he was always the nicest of men, approachable, amusing and self-effacing. Whilst we Strawbs fans know him for his contributions to Strawbs and Dave Cousins albums, both arranging and playing, he was well known outside our world for his contributions to Nick Drake's fantastic albums, underrrated when released, but these days quote as an influence far and wide. He has contributed to artist as wide ranging as The Magic Numbers to Vashti Bunyan, Paul Weller to Roger McGough. See the list at For some more links with information about/interviews with Robert see below.

    He will be very much missed.

    Geoff James (close friend of Robert's)

    "I know how happy Robert was about the Strawbs big do and flying along with his music just now, when he was in Florence recently with his Nick Drake orchestration he went to a cafe and was addressed by the owner as "Maestro", it made him laugh........ of course it fits him perfectly - Robert and I have been pals since we were 7 in the church choir and have seen through 54 years of laughter and music (and cider making) together and this is a hard loss!"

    Nick Awde (author of "Mellotron: The Machine and the Musicians that Revolutionised Rock")

    I'll never forget the look of mischievous joy on Robert's face as he rifled through his shelves of LPs and newly acquired CD-reissues in search of the most obscure tracks containing the sparks of his genius. His enthusiasm for anything was, as they said, infectious. Part of a unique generation of creative souls who cut their teeth in the teeming 60s and 70s, Robert's trademark blend of professionalism and personal accessibility proved that the arranger could be as much a part of the band as any other musician - something that Strawbs so astutely recognised by inviting him onboard for several years! No matter how small the project, Robert treated everyone as a star and that's what him a star - and a devoted family man. His sudden passing is a huge loss for all of us - and so, just as he nurtured and guided the memory of his friend Nick Drake, we should do the same for Robert.

    Photo by Lee Wilkinson, official photographer of the event

    Helen Kirby

    As Robert's ex wife, married to him for 29 years and the lucky girl who lived under the same roof as him for 34 years, I'd like to be pay tribute to a truly, special and amazingly talented man. He was talented not only musically but also in his unique skill at making everyone around him feel happy. There really aren't words good enough or big enough to attribute to Robert to do him justice. To our children, Constance and Henry, and myself he was our "Big Friendly Giant" whom we miss and who is irreplaceable in our lives.

    My thoughts now are not only with Robert and his untimely death but all those who loved him who are struggling to come to terms with their grief. He had a rosy and happy future planned and it is truly tragic that it was stolen from him.

    We had a family joke after his bout of cellutitis last year where we thought he might lose a leg. We referred to him as a "leg-end"………and now more appropriately a legend, I would suggest. The joke was his actually typical of Robert, able to find humour in the face of adversity

    Jilly Jayne

    I met Robert when I was 14 and we were inseparable for 10 years. Since then we have been intermittently in touch and were recently reunited, falling straight back into where we had been all those years ago. We had such plans for the future. These things were not to be and I, like everyone who knew him, am devastated. He was incredibly talented & the kindest, most unassuming person you could wish to meet, and I loved him so. Right to the end he was up-beat, telling me not to worry.

    His music will always be there for me and for everyone. I hope that all who know him will remember him for the lovely man he was.

    Steve Ashley

    I love those pictures of Robert on your site. There's a nice one on my site too at and a link to a You Tube of the concert we performed together at Cheltenham Folk Festival in February

    Robert and I saw a lot of each other in recent times, since my 60th concert. He came here for that and then again to record some new arrangements and then this year for the Festival gig. He was such a kind man and a phenomenal musician.

    The arrangements he produced for my last album are incredible. If you have a minute, have a listen to the song, "Land's End" on my myspace page - The strings at the end are so wonderful.

    He often talked about his gigs with Strawbs and the fun he had.

    I still find it hard to believe that I can't just call him up on the phone. But he's left us all some amazing stuff to listen to and smile about.

    We are all going to miss him.

    Oliver Wakeman

    I was very sad to hear the news about Robert. Even though I only met Robert on two occasions, the rehearsal and at the 40th Anniversary show, I must say I found Robert to be very welcoming and extremely enjoyable to work with. He certainly added a beautiful dimension to the end of the concert, a moment I'm sure we will all remember for a long time. I only knew him briefly but I am glad I had the pleasure of that meeting. Please pass on my condolences to his family.

    Judi Cuervo

    I'm speechless. What terrible news. I spoke quite a bit with him at the 40th--what a warm and friendly man. Never met him before but so easy to talk to. We're so lucky that we were able to see what was probably his final performance and I hope he knew what an effect it had on us all. So, so sorry to hear this.

    Lindsay Sorrell

    Dreadful news. I've been working away at my PC all morning and have just seen the Strawbswebnews email. I really, really am so sorry to hear this. Sadly I didn't even get a chance to say "hello" to Robert at Twickenham with so much going on and so many other people to catch up with, and I'm always going to regret that now. I've chatted with him several times over the years and always found him lovely company, incredibly interesting and absolutely brimming with zest for life.

    I'm stunned by the news and so sad to think we won't see him again. Really glad he made Twickenham and contributed so much to the event, of course.

    Nigel Bennett

    This is very sad news ..... I was lucky enough to be able to speak, albeit briefly, with Robert at the 40th .... and as you say after that triumphant and emotional finale, this is news that is very difficult to take in .. - You are so right, he will be very sadly missed. He will, I'm sure, always be held in high esteem within the world of Strawbs and beyond.

    Image taken from video footage, supplied by Jon Connolly - more images in Robert Kirby 40th Gallery.

    Allan Frederickson

    Robert Kirby's fine contributions to the Strawbs music from arrangements to Mellotron work goes without saying. I have recently finished reading Nick Awde's Mellotron book "The Machine and the Musicians who Revolutionised Rock". I found the Robert Kirby chapter/interview one of my favourites in the entire book. Very interesting and insightful comments from Mr. Kirby. Robert Kirby was quite an extraordinary musical force and talent. It was great to experience his musical craft at the Strawbs 40th event. His passing is very sad news.

    Ken Stasion

    Very, very sad news. Robert is also featured in The Mellotron Book. Man, I'm really upset. There is no question he is missed in the world already. For sure. I'll be listening to him today. I was at the gigs in NY and so, did see him although at the time I was unaware of the line up changes but do recall the gig as being very, very electric and powerful. In The Mellotron book there a few very nice photos of Robert. We love you Robert, we love you.

    Pete Madeley

    I'm very sorry to hear this sad news. Condolences to his family.

    I sat next to him at Bob and Lou's party a few years ago when it was at the golf club and the power was out, so the acoustics played completely acoustically. He spoke then of his relief at not having lung cancer (as initial investigations suggested), and how he was really enjoying life. At the 40th he seemed very well and enjoying himself. What a musical legacy he leaves.

    After the show ......

    Cinnie Morgan

    The entire Strawbs 40th was, to quote Joannie, "surreal." This sad news makes it even moreso. I sat within 18 inches of him, dazzled by his work as a conductor, familiar with what it takes because my dad was an orchestra conductor. I watched him move, I watched the orchestra members keep one eye on their music and the other on him every second, as he drew them all together. And, yes, I was one of those WWers in tears at the end. It just seems impossible that he is gone so soon.

    Robert Kirby left behind a legacy, a body of work that should inspire each of us to do the best we can at whatever we do. In the end, that is the best any of us can hope for.

    Michael McNeill

    I'm sorry to hear that sad news. Robert Kirby contributed much to the sounds of the Strawbs and the sounds I remember from my youth. Sympathies.

    Andy Slack

    So sorry to hear this. As others have said the finale of the weekend was such an emotional high spot that no encore could have surpassed it. R.I.P.

    Joanie Eggert

    I am also shocked and saddened by this news. His contributions to Strawbs' and David Cousins' recordings over the years have been a big part of what made their 'sound' so exeptional. As a person trained in classical music, who at one time entertained aspirations of studying to become a conductor, I was keenly aware of his mastery at the 40th, watching him draw every nuance from his orchestra, to blend the sound seamlessly into the mix with the electric players on stage.

    I was also sitting quite close to him that evening as he conducted - I could have reached out and touched him - but he was one of several people over the weekend who I was unable to speak to or collect autographs from (in addition to the program, I was also collecting autographs on the 'taste of' inset), something I truly regretted then, and even more so now.

    Although I admit to being unfamilar with any of his other work outside of the Strawbs, I am sure that it was equally stellar. the music world has lost yet another great talent.

    RIP Robert Kirby

    Calli and Pete Bradley

    Really sad to hear. Heard his interview with Robert Elms on BBC London about 6 months ago & his influence on music was wide. From the interview he seemed a warm, modest man, who truly cared for music and everyone he worked with.

    Our condolences to his family, friends and loved ones. A truly sweet man.

    Louise Richardson

    Really sorry to hear about Robert Kirby. He will be sadly missed.he was a gentleman of the music industry. He came to one of our parties a few years ago, what a wonderful character he was. He was the heart in the "works of art"of many orchestrations.

    Jane Walton

    What sad news, I too spoke briefly to Robert at The 40th and got him to sign my programme, which he did with great modesty. His contribution to the finale was very special indeed. Whilst at Twickenham I finally bought 'Two weeks Last Summer' and loved The World and That's the way it ends, both of which feature his wind septet. I had been thinking I was glad to have meet Robert, as he had contributed so much to the music I/we love, so to see the news today on Witchwood was a great shock and sadness.I send my heartfelt prayers to his family and friends.

    Jean Dulskey

    I was saddened to hear the news about Robert Kirby. I managed to speak to him and get his autograph at the 40th weekend. I told him that the event at Twickenham was the second time I had seen him this year. He immediately guessed the other occasion. It was at the Cheltenham Folk Festival, where he assembled and directed an orchestra to play with Steve Ashley, and recreate the arrangements Robert had done for Steve. The difference between recorded versions and live versions are many, but one major difference is that you rarely hear elaborate arrangements done in a live concert. I feel very privileged to have gotten these two wonderful experiences.

    I am a new member to Witchwood - have resisted joining for years although I already have met several other Witchwooders both in the US and the UK. It was terrific meeting more of you at the 40 years on event and that inspired me to finally become part of the Witchwood group. I expected that I would just "lurk", but felt I had to pay tribute to the wonderful talent that Robert Kirby was.

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