The Strawbs started out as a bluegrass/folk outfit in 1964 before progressing to become over the years a full blown pop/rock band, and very good they have always been too. They keep playing concerts to this very day in fact, either as the acoustic Strawbs or as the full blown electric Strawbs.
In all there have been 31 musicians who could call themselves a Strawb but Dave Cousins, with his unique and emotional vocals, is the only person to be able to say he has stayed the course (apart from a brief hiatus in the early Eighties.) But some mighty fine musicians have passed through the ranks over the years. Female vocalists have included Sandy Denny and Sonja Kristina while those who have warmed the keyboard seat include three Wakeman’s (Rick, Adam and Oliver), Blue Weaver, John Hawkins and Don Airey.
Dave Lambert was there for an awful long time and of course John Ford and Richard Hudson are famous for being in the band and writing their best known hit single, the simply excruciating “Part Of The Union”. Fortunately Dave Cousins kept his hand firmly on the quill for most of the song writing.
In 2010 the BBC finally unlocked their vaults and released in entirety the music recorded by the Strawbs for the Beeb. Volume one is a compilation of songs collected from various radio shows over the years and a very fine selection it is too. But it is the second volume where things really step on the gas with three full ‘in concert’ recordings taped from 1971-1974, when perhaps the Strawbs were in their pomp.
The first CD features Rick Wakeman and you can hear why Yes were so glad to steal him away. Next up was Blue Weaver who, not to be outdone by his illustrious predecessor, really gives some welly to the keyboards on the second outing. Weaver had an illustrious career after leaving the Strawbs, first with Mott The Hoople and then later finding fame and a massive fortune working with the Bee Gees. Then came John Hawken who moved onto many different regions of rock music.
But more importantly for the listener is that the music throughout is of the very highest standard. The songwriting of Dave Cousins is a wonder to listen to, varying from soft lullabies like “Tears/Pavan” and the sumptuous “A Glimpse of Heaven” to the full blooded progressive rock of “Sheep”, which used to finish their live sets back in the day where the band could be mistaken for playing with the power and the passion of Deep Purple (apart from Dave Cousins distinctive vocals).
You also get two versions of “Hangman and the Papist”, one from 1971 and the other from 1973 (as is the nature of these collections, many songs are repeated due to their popularity in the set). The Strawbs would yearly add a little twist to each song to keep the enthusiasts happy. On this, perhaps one of Dave Cousins most famous songs, you can hear how the band have progressed.
The Cousins’ wonderful hit single “Lay Down” is played with much gusto and is far more representative of the Strawbs sound whilst still remaining commercial. To hear a marvelous rock band who have now become a worldwide institution, please dig out this album, turn it up and enjoy. (Just skip “Part of the Union”).
The Strawbs have had far too may band members to name them all, but song wise what you get stretched over the two CD’s is this:
CD1 (Paris Theatre, London 05/08/1971)
Hangman and the Papist
Martin Luther’s Dream
A Glimpse of Heaven
In Amongst The Roses
Flower and The Young Man
The Shepherds Song
When You wore a Tulip
CD 2 (Paris Theatre, London 25/03/1973)
Hangman and the Papist
The River/ Down by The Sea
Winter and Summer
Part Of The Union
CD 2 (Golders Green Hippodrome 11/04/1974)
Out in The Cold/Round and Round
Heroes and Heroines
The River /Down by The Sea/Lay a little Love on Me