Strawbs – From The Witchwood (1971)

FrontCover1Strawbs (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, progressive rock, and (briefly) glam 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.

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The Strawbs formed in 1964 as the Strawberry Hill Boys while the founder members were at St Mary’s Teacher Training College, Strawberry Hill, London. The name was shortened to ‘The Strawbs’ for a June 1967 concert in which they wanted to display the band name on stage. Their long-time leader and most active songwriter is guitarist and singer Dave Cousins (guitar, dulcimer, banjo, vocals) (born David Joseph Hindson, 7 January 1945, Hounslow, Middlesex). In the early days Strawbs played with Sandy Denny (later lead singer of Fairport Convention and Fotheringay).

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Although they started out in the 1960s as a bluegrass band the band’s repertoire shifted to favour their own (mainly Cousins’) material. While in Denmark in 1967, the Strawbs (Cousins, Tony Hooper and Ron Chesterman) with Sandy Denny recorded 13 songs for a proposed first album, All Our Own Work. It was apparently not issued in Denmark and the fledgling band could not get a UK record deal. (Meanwhile, Denny left to join Fairport Convention and the album was forgotten until it was issued on Pickwick Hallmark in the UK in the mid-1970s.)

They were the first UK group signing to Herb Alpert’s A&M Records and recorded their first single, “Oh How She Changed” in 1968, which was produced and arranged by Gus Dudgeon and Tony Visconti, who also worked on their critically acclaimed first album, Strawbs (1969). Between the first and second A&M albums, in 1969, a sampler, Strawberry Music Sampler No. 1 was recorded. According to the 2001 CD reissue, only 99 copies of the original vinyl LP were pressed up.

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After the folk-tinged Dragonfly, Cousins and Hooper added Rick Wakeman on keyboards, Richard Hudson on drums, and John Ford on bass. The new line-up had their London debut at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, where they recorded their third album, Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios; the Melody Maker reported on the concert with the headline “Tomorrow’s superstar” in reference to Wakeman. Wakeman stayed with them for one further album, From the Witchwood, then departed to join Yes, remarking to the press that “I’m sure we’ll all benefit from the split because we were beginning to compromise a lot on ideas – like we’d use half of my ideas and half of theirs – and I don’t think it was helping what was eventually coming out. We ended up lacking challenge. Complacency set in, and for the last couple of months we just weren’t working.” (wikipedia)

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From the Witchwood is the third album by the English band Strawbs. It was recorded at Air Studios in London during February and March 1971 and reached number 39 in the UK Albums Chart on 17 July 1971.

The album is the third and final album to include Rick Wakeman, including his appearance as a session musician on the 1970 album Dragonfly. The sleeve illustration was “The Vision of St. Jerome”, a tapestry from the Spanish Royal Collection. (wikipedia)

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This album was originally the weak link in the transition of the Strawbs from an acoustic folk-rock outfit to a progressive folk band, being neither fish nor fowl and suffering from an anemic mix. The 1998 British reissue (A&M 540-939-2), however, solves some inherent problems that plagued both the original vinyl edition and the first CD reissues. The new remastering toughens up the bass sound, and brings out more of the sheer power of Rick Wakeman’s organ and synthesizer playing, accenting the harder side of the group’s sound that was obviously there in the studio but lacking in the analog mix. “A Glimpse of Heaven” and “The Hangman and the Papist,” in particular, benefit from the remastering, and “Sheep” finally has the musical fury to match its lyrics.

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Dave Cousins’ voice also comes off as really close, and the effect is to make this a much more potent album than it previously seemed. Overall, it’s now far easier to visualize this recording as the step leading to full-blown progressive rock releases such as Grave New World, which followed. The disc includes one bonus track, John Ford’s “Keep the Devil Outside,” which has an acoustic opening and a hard rock break and finale, which was cut at these same sessions, and which turned up months later as the B-side of “Benedictus,” a single drawn from the next album. (by Bruce Eder)

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Personnel:
Dave Cousins (guitar, vocals, dulcimer, banjo, recorder)
John Ford (bass, vocals)
Tony Hooper (guitar, autoharp, percussion,vocals)
Richard Hudson (drums, sitar, vocals)
Rick Wakeman (keyboards, synthesizer)
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The Choir and Congregation of Air Strawb (choir on 01.)

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Tracklist:
01. A Glimpse Of Heaven (Cousins) 3.50
02. Witchwood (Cousins) 3.24
03. Thirty Days (Ford) 2.53
04. Flight (Hudson) 4.24
05. The Hangman And The Papist (Cousins) 4.12
06. Sheep (Cousins) 4.16
07. Canon Dale (Hudson) 3.46
08. The Shepherd’s Song (Cousins) 4.33
09. In Amongst The Roses (Cousins) 3.48
10. I’ll Carry On Beside You (Cousins) 3.10
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11. Keep The Devil Outside (Ford) 3.02

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Strawbs – Same (1969)

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Strawbs is the debut studio album by English band Strawbs. (The Sandy Denny & The Strawbs LP All Our Own Work released in Denmark is generally not counted.)

Not initially issued in the US, US A&M did issue two singles (“Oh How She’s Changed” b/w “Or Am I Dreaming”, and “The Man Who Called Himself Jesus” b/w “Poor Jimmy Wilson”). (by wikipedia)

The Strawbs had done an album with Sandy Denny handling many of the vocals, and had also done quite a bit of unreleased recordings (now on the double CD Preserves Uncanned) prior to 1969’s Strawbs. This is still their first proper album, but their wealth of prior live and studio experience most likely helped make it sound more confident and fully formed than many a debut effort. The group distinguished itself among the burgeoning school of British folk-rockers by delivering bittersweet folk-rock with a storytelling flavor. Dave Cousins’ songwriting was on the sober and occasionally over-earnest side, but nonetheless the record was strong and alluring enough to immediately establish the Strawbs as one of the better first-generation U.K. folk-rock outfits. Some of Strawbs1969.jpgthese songs had been around for a while, as the presence of some of them on Preserves Uncanned and Sandy Denny & the Strawbs attests. However, the group took big strides from bare-bones folk-rock in the studio by dressing these in arrangements — sometimes with light recorder, choral backup vocals, and orchestration — that gave the Elizabethan melodies a pastoral, quasi-classical feel at times, without losing sight of an acoustic base. “The Man Who Called Himself Jesus” and “Where Is This Dream of Your Youth” are among their best and most ambitious songs, and even if the compositions can sometimes take themselves too seriously, the music’s never less than respectable. (by by Richie Unterberger)

Strawbs are best known as the literate prog band in the early seventies that achieved some US success, but before that, they started as a cute little London-based bluegrass three-piece, The Strawberry Hill Boys, before falling into the psych scene, like everyone else, and putting out a pre-prog series of stunning psych-folk albums, of which this debut is a fine example. David Cousins was quite proudly poetic, wordy and a bit pompous in his exploration of Romantic, mystical and gothic themes. But he pulls it off with aplomb! The music is usually acoustic, slow, ponderous, and augmented by cello and other strings, giving a pastoral, pleasantly dated feel.

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There’s really not a duff track here, but it’s when sounding Brontë-esque and dark that the album’s at its best on songs like “That Which Once Was Mine.” Second guitarist Tony Hooper’s choirboy voice is featured beautifully on the symphonic “Oh How She Changed“. Cousins is at his worst in an overly long ballad based on a chess match (“The Battle”) but at his best when tripping out on the poppy “Where Is This Dream of Your Youth” and the Middle Eastern-music-influenced “Tell Me What You See in Me”. A longtime favourite of mine, this record doesn’t just transport me to 1969 with its mystical, misty vibe — it goes back way further! (by makeyourowntaste.com)

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Personnel:
Ron Chesterman (bass)
Dave Cousins (guitar, vocals)
Tony Hooper (guitar, vocals)
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Nicky Hopkins (piano)
John Paul Jones (bass)
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Richard Wilson (spoken words)
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Norati and his Arab Friends – Arab string section on 05.)

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Tracklist:
01. The Man Who Called Himself Jesus (Cousins) 3.56
02. That Which Once Was Mine (Cousins) 2.50
03. All The Little Ladies (Cousins/Hooper) 2.19
04. Pieces Of 79 And 15 (Cousins/Hooper) 3.00
05. Tell Me What You See In Me (Cousins) 5.01
06. Oh How She Changed (Cousins/Hooper) 2.55
07. Or Am I Dreaming? (Cousins) 2.27
08. Where Is This Dream Of Your Youth (Cousins) 3.08
09. Poor Jimmy Wilson (Cousins) 2.38
10. Where Am I? / I’ll Show You Where to Sleep (Cousins) 3.27
11. The Battle (Cousins) 6.34

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Much more great albums by A & M Records

Strawbs – Just A Collection Of Antiques And Curios – Live At The Queen Elizabeth Hall (1970)

LPFrontCover1Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios is the third album by the Strawbs mostly recorded live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on 11 July 1970. The album reached number 27 in the UK Albums Chart.

The band line-up had changed from the previous album, Dragonfly. Only founder-members Dave Cousins and Tony Hooper remained; with double bass player Ron Chesterman and cellist Claire Deniz having departed the band, and bassist John Ford, drummer Richard Hudson, and keyboardist Rick Wakeman having joined.

The concert was instrumental in bringing Rick Wakeman’s virtuosity to the attention of the music media, when Melody Maker prophesied super-stardom for the keyboard player. (by wikipedia)

This album, cut live at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in July of 1970, was the first Strawbs album to be released in the United States. It didn’t do much in the U.S., but it did chart in England, and the original concert also got Rick Wakeman his first front-page coverage in the British music press, owing to his bravura performance on the solo piano spot, “Temperament for a Mind.” The group is trying really hard here to make the jump from folk to folk-rock. They still play a lot of acoustic music, and some of it is surprisingly diverse, but this is a fairly successful album bridging the gap between the acoustic Strawbs combo of their first incarnation and the harder, more strident folk-rock stylings that followed on From the Witchwood, with hints of progressive leanings.

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The original finale, the rocking, searing nine-minute epic “Where Is the Dream of Your Youth,” which clearly showed where the band was heading, was supplemented on a remastered CD reissue (A&M 540-938-2) with a haunting, moody “Vision of the Lady of the Lake,” featuring Dave Cousins and Rick Wakeman, and Tony Hooper’s showcase number, the surprisingly rousing “We’ll Meet Again,” from the same concert, and the contemporary studio creation “Forever.” The latter is the only track that doesn’t fit, its heavy string overdubs and studio ambience clashing with the live sound on the rest of the CD, although it does have Cousins’ best vocals of the album. The sound throughout is excellent, as one might expect since the producers returned to the original concert recordings, with rich detail and an especially robust presence to John Ford’s bass playing. (by Bruce Eder)

And “Where Is This Dream Of Your Youth” is one of the finest tracks, Strawbs ever recorded (including a short version of “America” by Leonard  Bernstein played in The Nice style).

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Personnel:
Dave Cousins (vocals, guitar, dulcimer)
John Ford (vocals, bass)
Tony Hooper (vocals, guitar, tambourine)
Richard Hudson (vocals, drums, percussion, sitar)
Rick Wakeman (keyboards, harpsichord, celeste)

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Tracklist:
01. Martin Luther King’s Dream (Cousins) 2.56
02. The Antique Suite (Cousins) 12.15
02.1. The Reaper
02.2. We Must Cross The River
02.3 Antiques And Curios
02.4. Hey It’s Been A Long Time
03. Temperament Of Mind (Wakeman) 4.53
04. Fingertips (Cousins) 6.17
05. Song Of A Sad Little Girl (Cousins) 5.29
06. Where Is This Dream Of Your Youth (Cousins) 9.09
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07. The Vision Of The Lady Of The Lake (Cousins) 10.06
08. We’ll Meet Again Sometime (Cousins) 4.19
09. Forever (Cousins/Hooper) 3.34

(“Forever” is a studio track and was released as a single in 1970)

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Strawbs – Ghosts (1975)

FrontCover1Ghosts is the 7th studio album by English band Strawbs.

Ghosts was the last album by the Strawbs to appear while the band was on its upward curve of commercial success; a more lyrical follow-up to Hero and Heroine, it was the group’s last thrust at wide-audience appeal, with a hoped for-hit (“Lemon Pie”) that didn’t materialize. The group’s mix of acoustic guitars, electric lead and bass, and Rod Coombes’ heavy drumming was very compelling on this, their smoothest album. The title track introduction, mixing multiple overdubbed harpsichords, acoustic guitars, and church bells was a gorgeous beginning, and the melodies only got better further into the album. The hauntingly beautiful “Starshine/Angel Wine” was a magnificent successor to “Lay Down” off of Bursting at the Seams, with a moment of Led Zeppelin-like flash from Dave Lambert’s playing in the break, while “The Life Auction” was a bigger, bolder follow-up to “The Hangman and the Papist.” The original finale, “Grace Darling,” is probably the prettiest tune Dave Cousins ever wrote. Alas, Ghosts would be the group’s last record to be released before the changes in music — with the introduction of punk rock in the middle of the ’70s — began hemming them in, and they never again put out an album with as much panache as this. Previously available on CD only from Japan, in 1998 Ghosts was reissued by A&M in England with a sharp, clean digital sound that greatly enhanced the rich textures of the playing, and one bonus track, Coombes’ unexpectedly lyrical “Changes Arrange Us,” which had previously been available only as a single B-side (by Bruce Eder)

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Personnel:
Rod Coombes (drums, percussion background vocals)
Dave Cousins (vocals, guitar, recorder)
Chas Cronk (bass, guitar, background vocals)
John Hawken (keyboards, harpsichord, synthesizer)
Dave Lambert (vocals, guitar)
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Claire Deniz – cello on “Starshine/Angel Wine”
Robert Kirby – choral arrangements

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Tracklist:
01. Ghosts (Cousins) 8.31
01.1. Sweet Dreams
01.2. Night Light
01.3. Guardian Angel
01.4. Night Light
02. Lemon Pie (Cousins) 4.03
03. Starshine/Angel Wine (Cronk) 5.15
04. Where Do You Go (When You Need A Hole To Crawl In) (Cousins) 3.02
05. The Life Auction 6.52
05.1. Impressions Of Southall From The Train (Cousins/Hawken)
05.2. The Auction (Cousins/Lambert)
06. Don’t Try To Change Me (Lambert) 4.28
07. Remembering (Hawken) 0.54
08. You And I (When We Were Young) (Cousins) 4.04
09. Grace Darling (Cousins) 3.55
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10. Changes Arrange Us (Coombes) 3.55

(Unusually, Rod Coombes sings lead vocals on this track and plays guitar)

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The Strawbs – In Concert At The Paris Theatre London (1971)

FrontCover1This concert is known to be the last with Rick Wakeman on keyboard, before he joined Yes, replacing Tony Kaye. Not a bad thing he left I must say, since he’s often totally out of subject with his progressive-epic approach of keyboards, more Keith Emerson than Matthew Fisher. Recorded one year after the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert that gave the Antiques and Curios album, it shows how the band grew confident, often not for the best, some versions being quite weak. Others are great such as “The Shepherd’s Song”. But it’s clear that the band was going away from his folk roots, and it’s no surprise Tony Hooper was living his last months with the band. All in all, an unavoidable addition to any Strawbs collection. (by dkandroughmix-forgottensongs.blogspot)

This is maybe not the best period of The Strawbs … but even in this difficult Phase (you know Rick Wakeman leave the band to join Yes 1), it´s a superb album from a real great band !

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Personnel:
Dave Cousins (vocals, guitar, banjo, dulcimer)
John Ford (bass, vocals)
Tony Hooper (guitar, vocals)
Richard Hudson (drums, Percussion, vocals)
Rock Wakeman (keyboards)
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Tracklist:
01. Hangman And The Papist 4.19
02. Martin Luther King’s Dream 3.00
03, A Glimpse Of Heaven 4.00
04. Witchwood 3.13
05. In Amongst The Roses 4.17
06. R.M.W. 5.06
07. Flower And The Young Man 5.11
08. Fingertips 5.56
09. The Shepherd’s Song 4.52
10. When You Wore A Tulip 2.08
11. Sheep 11.18

All Songs written by Dave Cousins

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