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18 FEB 2007

Updated: 22 Feb 2007

  • Another Day In Bilston - Peter Rand's poetic take on events
  • The Spirit Of The Song - Ralph Tonge's review of the day spent playing Strawbs music before heading off to the first electric gig of this tour
  • The Pleasures When We Meet - Part 2 of a multi-event review from Lindsay Sorrell


    ANOTHER DAY IN BILSTON - Peter Rand's poetic take on events

    A Dutch HGV on the M6 horizon
    I got there on time but no-one was rising
    I lugged in the gear from the car on my own
    Claridge in Room 233 quite alone
    Another day begins.

    A Strawb scuttled awkwardly, shyly away
    Unable to share in the upcoming revels
    Dick brought a studio here for the day
    While we checked the tunings he checked the levels
    Another day begins, another day.

    The solos and chords went right over my head
    I brought a keyboard which started out dead
    Playing the songs too slow or too fast
    They started first, but I finished last
    Another day begins, another day.

    We strummed along awhile
    The coffee wasn't free
    But the smiles shone like teeth from DC
    Another day begins, another day.

    Far too soon it was time to be leaving
    A barperson collared me bobbing and weaving
    He caught my eye with a quizzical stare
    Was it my pint, was it here, was it there?
    Another day begins.

    For now it's goodbye to Dick Les and Heather
    Lindsay, Kev, Ali, Ralph, Andy, Paul
    Next time we'll do New World and Forever
    Next time the room we book won't be so small
    Another day begins, another day.

    With apologies...

    photo by Alison Brown more pics from Ali.

    THE SPIRIT OF THE SONG - Ralph Tonge

    Any sort of write up can't really do justice to the enjoyment of the day but I thought I'd try to capture some of the Strawb excitement of Sunday and small hours of Monday.

    Really for me, the day began with a phone call to Claridge at 12.07am. He was all alone in the Dudley Meeting Room at the "Quality" Hotel in Walsall, but fully equipped with a variety of guitars and studio gear etc. Having already written a couple of songs (in very much the way which Ernie Wise used to produce the "plays wot he wrote"), and downed much of a bottle of Bacardi, Claridge was feeling a little nervous about the forthcoming musical activities. I did my utmost to calm the troubled lad down, and arranged to text him next morning when I arrived at the hotel.

    I woke early and set out for Walsall, driving through fog and sunshine, and seeing some very beautiful scenes of mist hanging over fields and hedgerows; all of which added to my Strawb-esque mood.

    I wandered into the hotel at about 9.00 couldn't see anyone about but eventually found the Dudley function room and discovered Pete Rand had already arrived and unloaded a load of gear for his keyboard setup. Dick Greener appeared soon afterwards en route to get breakfast, reporting something of a late night which involved a lesson from Dave Cousins in guitar tunings. Sad to say it appears that all who witnessed the impromptu seminar have now lost the secret of the lost chord, although Claridge still thinks its "E shoved up a bit".

    Claridge had by this stage surfaced and guitars were appearing; Heather Malcolm and Les Cotton appeared at about this stage, as did Lindsay. First task really was to tune up and to set up all the recording equipment. I'd borrowed a couple of mic stands and mics, and Dick had brought loads of gear and a mixing desk which took us the best part of an hour to set up.

    During the course of the day we were joined by Kevin, Nigel, Andy, Paul Brazier, Ali Brown; and at one stage Dave Lambert popped his head round the door (thankfully Claridge and I weren't massacring "The Winter And The Summer" at that stage!).

    The setup was quite tricky, and both Pete and Dick needed cold showers after the strenuous setup. A real moment of glory was when Pete's keyboard rig sprang majestically into life thanks to the hotel's loan of a monitor and some re-wiring and assistance from Inspector Gadget (Les).

    Last years Bilston gathering in musical terms had been lots of 10 second introductions to songs and not much singing, including the almost mythical Claridge arrangement of Postman Pat. This year the Witchwood crew were better marshalled and had a goal of helping Dick with the Songbook project and trying a few basic arrangements which Heather, Pete, Dick, Les and Kevin and myself had got together.

    Heather was really the Witchwooder who got the singing started with "Further on down the road" which took on extra power with the adrenaline of being involved in such a group performance. We all followed and covered some classics including "Autumn", "Glimpse Of Heaven", "Witchwood", "I'll Carry On Beside You", "Martin Luther King's Dream", "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus", "Evergreen" and many more. Not all were complete performances but the spirit of the song and the passion of Dave Cousins' writing came through in our performances I think.

    Somehow I ended up singing "Hangman And The Papist" I was hoping to take the Tony Hooper part on this one, but somehow Claridge became Tony and I became DC! Bit of a throat shredder but I thought I'd go for broke and belt it out. The occupants of Walsall must have been enraged and bemused at the noise belting out of a sleepy hotel on a Sunday afternoon.

    Personally my favourite moments of the afternoon were Heather's performance of "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" and Claridge's version of "Evergreen", but it was all good fun, and the strength of the songs shone through the occasional shambolic moment.

    By mid afternoon the room was at full capacity and the percussion section were complete Lindsay on bongos, Andy on triangle and Nigel shaking a mean pair of maracas! Kevin's lovely lady Jo added to the slightly surreal scene by cross stitching throughout with the occasional bit of singing, which made the crowded studio/meeting room just that bit more homely.

    None of us stopped for lunch, we kept going till about 4.40 when wisely the packing up began (probably took longer than it took to dismantle the Strawbs gear later that evening!). Stomachs were rumbling and so Nigel rallied the Fawlty Towers style hotel staff into action with a disciplined list of who wanted what. Really enjoyed talking with everybody, particularly Lindsay and Heather who I hadn't really had the opportunity to talk to earlier or on previous occasions.

    I ferried Lindsay, Heather and Dick to the venue The Robin 2. It's a good venue, but we were a bit bemused by the ferocious zero tolerance on photography, as well as the weird seating layout. The band came on at 9.00pm by which stage we were fired up ready for another great gig, and of course the band delivered.

    The standing area at the front of the band was left empty, although Lindsay, Heather, Nigel and myself did edge a little forward, but being truly British we only ventured a few feet before our inhibitions kicked in.

    It was really a strong gig, with all band members on great form. There were a couple of technical glitches, this being the first night of the tour, but all were dealt with as professionally as always. The sound was great, an improvement from last year, and John Hawken's keyboards were a little louder than last year. Dave Lambert's guitar set up really sounded sharper and clearer than before. Dave Cousins was in superb voice, as were Chas and Dave Lambert. The harmonies were crisper and accurate than I've ever heard them I think. Two new additions to the set "I Only Want My Love To Grow In You" (when is this song going to be selected for a Viagra commercial??!!) and "We'll Meet Again Sometime". Every song was a treat, performed with a real passion and ferocity. All of the band play like they are 18 years old, something I couldn't always say of the 1980s lineup; and I really appreciate Rod's role as drummer in this sound.

    Post gig chatting lasted for a while, and we made our way back to the hotel for drinks and chat. Great company. A really nice gathering of like minded souls. Nice to be joined by most of the band also; I chatted briefly to John Hawken who comes across as such a level headed (although he was the tallest person in the room by far!) guy. Nice also to chat with Chas about Dean Guitars. The hour was late and I had to drive back to Nottingham; I left the throng reeling from the catastrophic news that the bar was closing.

    Seriously, it was a great great day; and would have been such without the gig, but to have such a joyous day of great songs, great people and to finish it with a brilliant gig was something I consider myself very lucky to have "been there".

    I must thank Pete, Dick, Les, Lindsay, Heather, Kevin, Paul, Nigel, Andy, Ali and all the others for a wonderful day. I'd love to see any photos that were taken of the daytime session, and would particularly be grateful if any could be emailed to me as I want to get them printed for cherishing purposes.

    Hope we can gather to do something similar soon.

    photo by Alison Brown more pics from Ali.

    THE PLEASURES WHEN WE MEET - Part 2 of a multi-event review from Lindsay Sorrell

    DG: For Lindsay on the previous night's acoustic show at Matlock Bath, see Part 1 of this review and on Bilston, see Part 3 of this review

    I really can't remember much of the morning sequence of events, but it was an absolute delight to be reacquainted with so many Witchwooders who I've had the pleasure of meeting over the last few years. Grateful thanks to Pete Rand for getting the thing together in the first place, to Les for his usual technical wizardry, and to everyone who brought all the gear (and spent ages setting it up and putting it away again), and all the instruments which allowed everyone to have such a brilliant time. The photos tell some of the story, and from what I hear the odd recording may emerge too - the atmosphere was indescribable, such was the camaraderie with serious dollops of fun involved. Dave Lambert joined the throng for a while early in the day, clearly trying to pick up a few tips, but no-one minded a bit. So many talented people all together in one room - and me too - I completely lost track of how many songs were attempted and was amazed at how well the majority of them gelled, sometimes even at a first attempt. The session must have lasted for about six hours I suppose, so much enjoyment was being had that I don't think anyone even considered stopping for lunch - I just hope it won't be too long before we have some kind of repeat. I don't think I'd shaken a tambourine since I was picked for "Alexander's Ragtime Band" in the infants, and this was definitely my maiden gig on bongos. In truth the entire percussion section, provided by Ali, Andy, Nigel and, though I say it myself, "moi", was....unforgettable....really it was.

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