Strawbs - Dave Cousins

Strawbs have been around in various guises since the late 1960’s. Among the large number of musicians passing through the ranks of the band have been celebrated chanteuse Sandy Denny and prog-rock keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman. Band leader Dave Cousins is the only original survivor, but the current line up includes key members from the 1970s, Dave Lambert (guitar) and Chas Cronk (bass). Versions of the band have been touring on and off for years, but what makes this tour particularly exciting is that it is the full-on electric band, rather than the more frequently seen stripped-down acoustic ensemble. Also, keeping it in the family, Rick Wakeman’s son, Adam, is playing keyboards.

Strawbs - Chas Cronk and Dave Cousins

Strawbs started out as an acoustic chamber-folk band (complete with cello and double bass) in the late 1960s. The sound became electric folk-rock when, the then little known, Rick Wakeman joined the band. Elaborate keyboard arrangements came into play on the albums ‘Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios’ (1970) and ‘From the Witchwood’ (1971), after which Wakeman left the Strawbs for the prog-rock pastures of Yes. However, the band’s new prog-folk style, with prominent keyboard presence and often complexly structured songs, remained on subsequent Strawbs albums, including the acclaimed ‘Grave New World’ (1973). Chart success followed with the top-20 singles ‘Lay Down’ (featured as an encore tonight) and ‘Part of the Union’.

Strawbs - Dave Lambert

It is a growing trend for bands with a lengthy heritage to feature the performance of their classic albums. So the successful doom-laden 1974 album, ‘Hero and Heroine’, provides most of the Strawbs repertoire tonight. This album was the first to feature all three core current members Cousins, Cronk and Lambert, so it is probably natural that this line-up should choose to play this work. Also the presence of wiz prog-musician Adam Wakeman helps the band to do full justice to the grandeur of the songs. He plays some epic keyboards, notably the mellotron on the final song before the encore, ‘The River / Down by the Sea’ (from the earlier album ‘Bursting at the Seams’). Lambert provides some equally epic guitar playing on this track. (Interesting fact – the mellotron was originally developed in Birmingham in the early 1960s!).

Strawbs - Adam Wakeman

This band is very strong instrumentally, with solid bass-playing from Chas Cronk and some great energetic drumming from new-boy, Adam Falkner. It is also good to see that main-man Dave Cousins is still in fine voice after all these years. Beside hit single ‘Lay Down’, the encore features ‘Where is the Dream of Your Youth’, the Strawbs’ earliest song featured tonight. This again gives the musicians the opportunity to show how good they are. Once more, Wakeman excels, reinterpreting the keyboard parts of this track, on which his father originally played all those years ago.

Strawbs - Adam Falkner

Overall, a great performance from a great band. Personally, I would have liked to have heard more songs from other Strawbs albums – disappointingly we only get one track, ‘New World’ (yet more spine-tingling mellotron!), from the classic ‘Grave New World’ album and nothing from the wonderful Medieval-flavoured ‘From the Witchwood’. However, that’s just my personal taste. The audience is rather small for tonight’s gig, but they certainly show their appreciation and Cousins promises to arrange another visit to Bilston in 20 years time!

Red Shoes

An interesting and able support spot is provided tonight by folk band, Red Shoes. They have an impressive pedigree, with folk royalty Dave Pegg and Dave Swarbrick (Fairport Convention) contributing to their new album. They feature well-crafted and immaculately played songs on all sorts of topics, including fox hunting and Sunday mornings. Singer Carolyn Evans also has an extremely beautiful voice, reminiscent of the late great (already mentioned) Sandy Denny.

Photographs and review by John Bentley

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