Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

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toomanyhatz
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Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby toomanyhatz » 19 Jul 2021, 07:26

Ladies and gentlemen, the thread sure to please a very small handful of people! The Strawbs overview!

This came along because I somehow managed to find a reasonably-priced copy of Cousins' memoir, Exorcising Ghosts. It usually sells for upwards of $400, I found it for...well, let's just say there were only two figures in the dollar amount. More about that later, but in the great tradition established by Matt Wilson, a rundown on the discography (and yes, I am planning on writing at least a little something about EVERY SINGLE RELEASE).

Their first record was actually as Steve Benbow and the Strawberry Hill Boys. They served as the backing vocalists (with Cousins on banjo) for the Irish traditional singing of Benbow. I've heard a few things from it, it's OK. But, no hint of what they were to become. I suspect they just learned the songs well enough to record them; Cousins says they were still doing bluegrass at the time and there were no Irish songs at all in their repertoire. It's an interesting curio; Benbow is a decent singer, in a sub-Clancys kind of way. I could swear I saw a sealed copy in Tower's bins in the 80s sometime. I should've bought it just out of curiosity - it was probably $5 or something - but I didn't. Copies turn up from time to time for not much more than that, unlike Cousins' books.

But anyway, it really properly begins once Cousins hears an angelic voice in a pub and asks her to join the Strawbs:

Image

This came out a few times, but not till 1973 for the first time. But it was recorded first.

And it's absolutely brilliant. Cousins, inspired by Donovan's traditionally-influenced original songs, is just starting to try it out for himself, and has pretty immediate success, though several are just spirited imitations of popular bands of the day. This dead-ringer for the Mamas and Papas coulda shoulda woulda been a hit:



But the crowning glory of this one is what I still insist is the best version of this much-covered masterpiece (particularly considering it was written by a 17-year-old):



Listening now, these sessions were pretty much nothing like what Strawbs or Denny did next, but I think they were a band with real promise - as evidenced by the fact that they both did have eventual commercial success beyond their initial modest aims. And several of the songs Cousins wrote when just trying it out for size would be in their repertoire for the next several years. And the acoustic band, which had only recently been advertising themselves as 'Britain's only bluegrass band' (which they likely weren't), also took very quickly to three-part harmonies, and expertly blended acoustic guitars. It would serve them quite well - though in more fleeting doses as time went on - for the next four decades. Denny would herself go on to greener pastures, of course. I'd hate to have been denied Denny with Fairport, but it wouldn't be the first time Cousins would lose a band member to a more successful band. It's almost the underlying theme of their entire career.
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The Who / Jimi Hendrix Experience Saville Theatre, London Jan '67
. Got Jimi's autograph after the show and went on to see him several times that year


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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby C » 19 Jul 2021, 08:10

Excellent stuff Dave - I'm in!

An enjoyable start

The Sandy/Strawbs clip you post is an absolute delight

Her voice was yet to mature and flourish fully but there is an element of naiveté not accomplished elsewhere





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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby Rorschach » 19 Jul 2021, 08:12

What an amazing coincidence!

I was just having a dump and noticed we seemed to be running out of bog paper. I started singing to myself, 'Who knows where the bog roll goes?'
Then I decamped to my computer and you'd posted this.

Remarkable.
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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby Walk In My Shadow » 19 Jul 2021, 13:04

I will read this thread with interest, Hatz.

Sandy Denny is one of my favourite singers but I never heard her work with the Strawbs.
As a matter of fact, I never was much interested in their music. Part of the Union is probably to blame.

I only have two of their albums: Grave New World and Hero and Heroine.

Maybe I missed something.
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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby C » 19 Jul 2021, 13:50

Walk In My Shadow wrote: I never was much interested in their music. Part of the Union is probably to blame.


Indubitably

Dave Cousins hated it (it's a Hudson/Ford composition)

Ford and Hudson were keen to have more of their songs on the Strawbs albums but Dave desisted.

It lead to increased tension which culminated in Cousins walking of mid-set, at Manchester I think, and having a nervous breakdown.

Everything is hunky dory now but that was a difficult time

This is worth a read

http://www.expose.org/index.php/article ... iew-4.html






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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby C » 19 Jul 2021, 13:51

Walk In My Shadow wrote:Maybe I missed something.


They might be a bit folkie for an old rocker like you my dear friend





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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby Walk In My Shadow » 19 Jul 2021, 14:39

Carlsson wrote:
Walk In My Shadow wrote:Maybe I missed something.


They might be a bit folkie for an old rocker like you my dear friend





.



My love for Fairport, Denny, Thompson, Martyn, Drake is well known.

Hell, I even like Lindisfarne!
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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby C » 19 Jul 2021, 15:30

Walk In My Shadow wrote:
Carlsson wrote:
Walk In My Shadow wrote:Maybe I missed something.


They might be a bit folkie for an old rocker like you my dear friend





.



My love for Fairport, Denny, Thompson, Martyn, Drake is well known.

Hell, I even like Lindisfarne!


:D




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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby Neil Jung » 19 Jul 2021, 15:52

I have the vast majority of Strawbs albums, although I think I got rid of All Our Own Work as I’m not really a fan of Sandy Denny and I hated the cheap sleeve.
I look forward to discussing their oeuvre with you.
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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby slightbreeze » 19 Jul 2021, 22:27

Strange paradox .....love Fairport but not a fan of Sandy's "pure" voice (or any of that genre ...Maddy, Annie etc). Love Strawbs, but not fan of Cousins' nasally whine

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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby toomanyhatz » 19 Jul 2021, 22:55

Image

The year was 1968. Before A&M records in Los Angeles, CA, the label owned by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, signed their second British folk/rock band, Fairport Convention (including Sandy Denny- see above), they signed their first. Strawbs.

It's (some might say overly) ambitious, and according to A&M, way too expensive. The first version of it was politely declined by A&M (who didn't release it in the states at all till years later - Fairport easily beat them to first US release), and another Cousins revelation of his book is that they were under a misunderstanding that the $30,000 budget was just for this record, when in reality it was intended for three.

The actual released versions, after all the delays, negotiations, and re-dos, carries a '69 date. Gus Dudgeon (pre-Elton) produced.

It starts with one of those first songs Cousins wrote, "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus." Not a religious song, but rather a narrative about a local oddball declaring himself the savior (I often wonder if it's this guy), it was banned from the BBC. Just their luck, again.

The rest is all over the map musically, from a band hired from a local Arabic restaurant on "Tell Me What You See in Me," to elaborate orchestrations, to a few muted "rock" numbers with hired drums and even, on a few cuts, electric guitar. One thing it's awfully short on is the blended acoustic guitars and three-part harmonies of the Denny recordings.

There are two songs that are noteworthy in terms of their future - their first stab at an ambitious epic, the 6-minute "The Battle," which uses a chessboard as an anti-war metaphor. It's...well, Cousins was never one for doing things halfway:



But my favorite is this one:



He may have gone into Strawbs as a fully-blown folkie, but there was always a riff-rocker screaming to get out. Cousins confirms that the more 'riff-oriented' songs like this were hugely influenced by the Beatles, Who, and Stones. And memorable riffs, of which this is the first, is another underlying theme of their entire career.

That would be fully-developed later, but this proves it's there from the very beginning.
Footy wrote:
The Who / Jimi Hendrix Experience Saville Theatre, London Jan '67
. Got Jimi's autograph after the show and went on to see him several times that year


1959 1963 1965 1966 1974 1977 1978 1981 1988 2017* 2018 2020!! 2021?

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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby toomanyhatz » 19 Jul 2021, 23:10

Meanwhile, Cousins was doing tons of sessions as a banjo player, most notably behind Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen (Joni and he compared guitar tunings, the Leonard sessions were recorded for the BBC, and
were recently released on CD).

It's unclear (at least to me) just how much Cousins plays on it (he might play some guitar too), and who the other players are (there are places where it's referred to as being other members of Strawbs, but other than Cousins' banjo, there's no telltale signs, and it's unclear where that information comes from). But they're nice arrangements.

He's obviously on this one, at least!:

Footy wrote:
The Who / Jimi Hendrix Experience Saville Theatre, London Jan '67
. Got Jimi's autograph after the show and went on to see him several times that year


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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby C » 20 Jul 2021, 08:23

slightbreeze wrote: Love Strawbs, but not fan of Cousins' nasally whine


That's a large part of what the Strawbs are though Chris - isn't it?




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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby slightbreeze » 20 Jul 2021, 08:50

C wrote:
slightbreeze wrote: Love Strawbs, but not fan of Cousins' nasally whine


That's a large part of what the Strawbs are though Chris - isn't it?




.


I agree, but his voice still grates. Neil Young, Tom Verlaine... not exactly the greatest vocalists of all time, but their voices don't have the same effect on me as Dave's. Musically, lyrically, the Strawbs are generally excellent, so it's a small price to pay

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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby Rorschach » 20 Jul 2021, 09:32

toomanyhatz wrote: their first stab at an ambitious epic, the 6-minute "The Battle," which uses a chessboard as an anti-war metaphor. It's...well, Cousins was never one for doing things halfway:




As a medieval history/fantasy obsessed teenager, I loved this song.
The lyrics could easily have been a lot worse with just a few crap lines like:
"And his headlong flight into the moat
Seemed that of a gull"

But some bits are quite evocative and I still like the way it goes into cod plainsong for the religious bits. I especially like:
"The King's men took communion
As the first rays of the sun
Lit up the castle's gloomy walls"

It manages to make the the situation feel romantic while hinting at the final condemnation of the hypocrisy of (medieval) Christianity in the final lines.

Enjoyable tosh with it's heart in the right place.
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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby C » 20 Jul 2021, 12:35

toomanyhatz wrote:It starts with one of those first songs Cousins wrote, "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus." Not a religious song, but rather a narrative about a local oddball declaring himself the savior (I often wonder if it's this guy), it was banned from the BBC. Just their luck, again.


My late dear friend Johnny Winter had the single bacon the day when we were still at school.

A marvellous record



And the ubiquitous Jesus Jellett

https://www.loudersound.com/news/legend ... dead-at-72

As an older man

Image







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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby toomanyhatz » 20 Jul 2021, 19:02

What sophomore slump?

Image

Despite the disappointing performance of the debut - no hits, no US release, no big tours - they leapt right into the second one. Similar, but different. Less ambitious, more 'folkie.' More reliance on acoustic guitars and voices. Unfortunately, it also didn't get a US release at the time.

There's also a notably (to me, anyway) bigger role for second guitarist/singer Tony Hooper - a bigger songwriting load, more lead vocals, and his first appearance on electric guitar. His smoother voice is a nice counterpart to Cousins' 'nasally whine' (as some here have put it).

The title track is arguably the best of Cousins' early songs - a delicate, medieval-influenced melody and poetic words on what would be a common theme - young ladies he met in his travels. (He admits to - but doesn't really excuse or explain - a whole lot of philandering in the autobio.)



The songwriting in general takes a step forward - "Josephine, for Better or for Worse" (written for Dominic Behan's wife, allegedly) was much-covered on the folk scene, Hooper's "Young Again" is sweet, as is the observational "Another Day."

This time, though it wasn't on the album (it appears on the CD reissue as a bonus track), they had a minor hit. It's also lovely, helped immensely by the cello of Claire Deniz, who was a fully-fledged member of the band for a very short time:



This time the epic is even grander, "The Vision of the Lady of the Lake," which takes up most of side two. More successful all around. The 'ballad-style epic' would continue to play a role on subsequent albums. But the biggest change yet for the band was about to happen. The session keyboardist on the song is the one-and-only Rick Wakeman, who Cousins met through his pal David Bowie.

There'd been hints all along that Cousins was imagining Strawbs, ultimately, as a rock band. Soon it'd be a reality.
Footy wrote:
The Who / Jimi Hendrix Experience Saville Theatre, London Jan '67
. Got Jimi's autograph after the show and went on to see him several times that year


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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby Hightea » 20 Jul 2021, 19:16

C wrote:
toomanyhatz wrote:It starts with one of those first songs Cousins wrote, "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus." Not a religious song, but rather a narrative about a local oddball declaring himself the savior (I often wonder if it's this guy), it was banned from the BBC. Just their luck, again.


My late dear friend Johnny Winter had the single bacon the day when we were still at school.

A marvellous record



And the ubiquitous Jesus Jellett

https://www.loudersound.com/news/legend ... dead-at-72

As an older man

Image







.
:lol: I had no idea this was a real guy. Naked hippie :lol:

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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby C » 20 Jul 2021, 19:24

Hightea wrote:
C wrote:
toomanyhatz wrote:It starts with one of those first songs Cousins wrote, "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus." Not a religious song, but rather a narrative about a local oddball declaring himself the savior (I often wonder if it's this guy), it was banned from the BBC. Just their luck, again.


My late dear friend Johnny Winter had the single bacon the day when we were still at school.

A marvellous record



And the ubiquitous Jesus Jellett

https://www.loudersound.com/news/legend ... dead-at-72

As an older man

Image







.
:lol: I had no idea this was a real guy. Naked hippie :lol:


I must have seen at gigs 30 or 40 times!

[Fortunately with clothes on tapping a tambourine

Image





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Re: Strawbs & the Many Lives of Dave Cousins

Postby Hightea » 20 Jul 2021, 19:24

toomanyhatz wrote:Image

The year was 1968. Before A&M records in Los Angeles, CA, the label owned by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, signed their second British folk/rock band, Fairport Convention (including Sandy Denny- see above), they signed their first. Strawbs.

It's (some might say overly) ambitious, and according to A&M, way too expensive. The first version of it was politely declined by A&M (who didn't release it in the states at all till years later - Fairport easily beat them to first US release), and another Cousins revelation of his book is that they were under a misunderstanding that the $30,000 budget was just for this record, when in reality it was intended for three.

The actual released versions, after all the delays, negotiations, and re-dos, carries a '69 date. Gus Dudgeon (pre-Elton) produced.

It starts with one of those first songs Cousins wrote, "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus." Not a religious song, but rather a narrative about a local oddball declaring himself the savior (I often wonder if it's this guy), it was banned from the BBC. Just their luck, again.

The rest is all over the map musically, from a band hired from a local Arabic restaurant on "Tell Me What You See in Me," to elaborate orchestrations, to a few muted "rock" numbers with hired drums and even, on a few cuts, electric guitar. One thing it's awfully short on is the blended acoustic guitars and three-part harmonies of the Denny recordings.

There are two songs that are noteworthy in terms of their future - their first stab at an ambitious epic, the 6-minute "The Battle," which uses a chessboard as an anti-war metaphor. It's...well, Cousins was never one for doing things halfway:



But my favorite is this one:



He may have gone into Strawbs as a fully-blown folkie, but there was always a riff-rocker screaming to get out. Cousins confirms that the more 'riff-oriented' songs like this were hugely influenced by the Beatles, Who, and Stones. And memorable riffs, of which this is the first, is another underlying theme of their entire career.

That would be fully-developed later, but this proves it's there from the very beginning.

I've got all the Strawbs albums up to Deadlines. Big Strawbs fan although most of their albums have clunkers.

Since I didn't hear their first album until much later I never had much appreciation for the debut. Although I do see the glimmers of the future in Where is this dream and The Battle. Two songs I like on the debut.