Strawbs (or The Strawbs) are an English rock band founded in 1964 as the Strawberry Hill Boys. The band started out as a bluegrass group, but eventually moved on to other styles such as folk rock and progressive rock.
They are best known for their hit “Part of the Union”, which reached number two in the UK Singles Chart in February 1973, as well as for “Lay Down”, a popular progressive rock hit from the same LP. Strawbs toured with Supertramp in their “Crime of the Century” tour, doing their own “Hero and Heroine” tour, which drew musical similarities and themes.
The November 2012 tour featured a line-up of Cousins, Lambert, Cronk, Adam Wakeman and Adam Falkner. In February 2014 the band gigged with a line-up of Cousins, Lambert, Cronk, Wakeman and Fernandez. Their album Prognostic was issued in October 2014.
In 2017, the band released The Ferryman’s Curse with a line-up of Cousins, Lambert, Cronk, Fernandez and Dave Bainbridge.
The band toured the US in 2019 as part of their 50th Anniversary Celebration. The tour included a special three day event in Lakewood, New Jersey, featuring former members along with special guests/friends appearing (Annie Haslam, Larry Fast, Tony Visconti, Wesley Stace among others).
The Strawbs were among hundreds of artists whose material was destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.
The band released Settlement on 26 February 2021. (wikipedia)
The new album The Ferryman’s Curse is the first new Strawbs album since 2009’s Dancing To the Devil’s Beat, and it features a solid version of the electric five-piece band. In addition to the stalwart three, this includes long-time on-and-off-again-but-mostly-on-member Tony Fernandez (occasional drums from 1977 onward) and Dave Bainbridge (keyboards since 2015). This is a reasonably consistent band and I would have no problems with this being the line-up of the band for the rest of their careers (unless Wakeman should very unexpectedly offer up his services again).
This version of the band draw on all of their previous musical incarnations, mixing them together to create that unique Strawbs sound. They have one foot firmly in their past, never forgetting where they come from. While they aren’t necessarily trying to sound like it is 1972 any longer, they certainly remember what they used to sound like and draw from that while updating it to a present day version.
The music on The Ferryman’s Curse is ranging from progressive rockers to slow building epics. Some delve into emotional/spiritual ballads, and others are very guitar driven. Often a song will change character mid-stream to support the narrative. A Strawbs song is never pedestrian. It always does what it needs to do for the sake of the narrative.
Legendary producer Chris Tsangarides (previous productions include Judas Priest, Gary Moore, Thin Lizzy, Helloween, Angra, Depeche Mode, Yngwie Malmsteen, Tom Jones, and… well, Anvil) is as experienced as they come. His production is fantastic, making sure the music stays imaginative with very satisfying arrangements throughout. His biggest contribution may still be the lovely sound. There is a warm glow throughout this album, with each track having an immediate and warm sonic appeal.
The band is allowed to evolve and play naturally. This album sounds very Strawbs-y from the get-go, and they seriously mean business. I think this is the best album they have produced in decades.
The title track deserves a special mention. The Ferryman’s Curse is the much-heralded sequel to the 28-verse epic Vision of the Lady of the Lake on the 1970 album Dragonfly. This is a chilling and sinister tale with many lyrical and musical twists over the course of its nine minutes. It builds tension as it works it way into an electric break, more atmospheric wailing, and a lot of musical and lyrical tension.
Dave Cousins is my favourite lyric writer in the world, with Stuart Adamson from Big Country being the closest to being on par with him. Adamson was ultimately slightly less consistent than Cousins over the course of his full career. Cousins never stopped being consistently brilliant from the first album all the way up to now. Even if I should dislike a song musically, or find the performances pedestrian (it happens), the lyrics can be enjoyed on their own and hardly ever lets me down. Cousins’ writing is insightful, inspiring, poetic, deep, often emotional, and contains a lot of life wisdom.
Cousins has always written like that – this is after all the guy who when he was 21 wrote a song called Of Growing Old, making it feel like a credible poem written by a 90-year old. Some years earlier, he wrote Where Is the Dream of Our Youth.
While I really enjoy this album, lyrically is where it shines the brightest. This album is bursting at the seams with very interesting subject matter, as is evident from song titles like The Nails From the Hands of Christ, The Familiarity of Two Lovers and The Song of Infinite Sadness. If there is one person you will never see write songs called I Love You Baby or Yeah Yeah Yeah it is our Dave.
This is a deep album which yields incredible returns if you invest in it. For me, it has been impossible not to dig deep. This is one of my favourite bands, and they have delivered an incredibly strong statement with The Ferryman’s Curse.
If you are new to Strawbs the new album is well worth checking out, but you should definitely investigate the classics too. I would start with From the Witchwood (1970), Grave New World (1972), Ghosts (1974) and Burning For You (1978).(norselandsrock.com)
Dave Bainbridge (keyboards, guitar, bouzouki)
Dave Cousins (guitar, vocals, autoharp, dulcimer)
Chas Cronk (bass, guitar, vocals)
Tony Fernandez (drums, percussion)
Dave Lambert (leadguitar, vocals)
01. In the Beginning (Bainbridge/Cousins/Cronk) 2.01
02. The Nails From The Hands Of Christ (Bainbridge/Cousins/Cronk) 6.08
03. The Song Of Infinite Sadness (Cousins) 5.02
04. The Familiarity Of Old Lovers (Cousins/Cronk) 6.09
05. When The Spirit Moves (Bainbridge/Cousins/Cronk) 6.50
06. The Ten Commandments (Lambert) 5.34
07. The Reckoning (Bainbridge/Cousins) 1.54
08. The Ferryman’s Curse (Bainbridge/Cousins) 8.59
09. Bats And Swallows (Cousins) .03
10. We Have The Power (Cousins/Cronk) 3.59
THE FERRYMAN CURSE:
The boatman lived in a stone-built house
Three score years and ten on earth
His wife was younger by several years
They lost their only child at birth
Father raised the house with his bare hands
Mother toiled the fields by day
He never spoke of the lady of the lake
The brush with death which caused him sway
The boatman made an honest living
Along the river’s south-side bank
Family gatherings, household trips
From time to time the river grew dank
One such day when the river was foul
The boatman took his wife to town
Breathing heavy on the journey home
Fever struck as the sun went down
The sickness raged for several days
The doctor rambled in despair
The old priest read the sacraments
Decay and death hung in the air
A coin for the mouth of his dying wife
Was duly placed beside the bed
A knock on the door on that moonless night
The boatman feared the word had spread
A stranger stood on the front porch step
Stovepipe hat and long black coat
“I come from the other side” he whispered
“I carry souls in the ferryman’s boat”
The ferryman growled, “I’ve come for your wife”
The boatman said, “She ain’t dead yet”
The ferryman raged, “I need her now
It’s time that you repaid your debt”
The boatman tried to make the peace
The ferryman spat and cursed and swore
As evil speaks as evil must
He called the boatman’s wife a whore
“You lusted for my daughter fair
Betrayed her in a mire of sin
You married, knowing of her fate
Time has come for the reckoning”
The boatman said “No debt is due”
The ferryman’s rage could get no worse
“It was me who caused you suffering
The still-born child of the ferryman’s curse”
“I ain’t yet put the coin in her mouth”
The boatman said with rising fear
“That job is mine” the ferryman said
And slashed the boatman on the ear
The ferryman held a wicked knife
Razor sharp, serrated blade
Stabbed at the boatman’s arms and face
Terrifying were the screams he made
The boatman reached for his Bible
To shield him in the violent fight
He reached for a log from the open fire
And set the ferryman’s hair alight
The ferryman fell to the floor in agony
Dropped the knife on the boatman’s bed
The boatman stabbed him in the gut
The screams died as the floor turned red
The boatman sat beside the bed
Holding his young wife’s tiny hand
Her eyes opened wide as the fever left
He gently stroked the wedding band
She sat up slow, looked all around
Bared her pointed teeth and smiled
Flung herself in the boatman’s arms
“I am with child, I am with child”
They dragged the ferryman to his boat
Placed the coin in the deadman’s mouth
They silently rowed to the other side
The ferryman’s curse was the boatman’s prize
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