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STRAWBS et al: THIRTY YEARS IN ROCK - REVIEWS AND COMMENTS

Contents
  • Review by Dick Greener
  • Review by Steve Pritchards
  • Comments from Witchwood
  • Back to main 30 Years In Rock page


    Reviews

    Dick Greener

    A compilation of tracks to which the band controls the rights (i.e. excluding the A&M years, which have already been well retroed both by "Choice Selection" and Halcyon Days"), this is an excellent companion CD to either of those releases, showcasing in particular the late 70s through mid 90s period of the band. Many of the albums from which these tracks are drawn are still available from John Tobler's Road Goes On Forever label, until A&M's brief awakening in the 90s, the man largely responsible for getting the Strawbs work available on CD for their loyal fans. An excellent taster for those not as familiar with the later period stuff or indeed the various solo/duo albums available.

    Of course the highlights are bound to be the unreleased and hard to find tracks. Top of the list for me is the live version here (from a DevonAir Music Festival in 1988 where Dave as DevonAir's MD booked Rick's band, and insisted that Rick do an opening slot with him) of "The Shepherd's Song" is absolutely delightful. Wakeman's characteristic tinkling pastoral piano blends perfectly with Cousins chordal accompaniment - nice flamenco bit! - and emotive vocals. I love the Witchwood version with Moogs and Mellotrons, but this simple version is just as effective. The live Cousins & Willoughby version of "Beat The Retreat" recorded in Stockton in 1980 is nice, but doesn't quite measure up to that. Wakeman has also contributed his piano instrumental version of "Glimpse Of Heaven".

    No-one will quibble with the inclusion of "Simple Visions", "Tell Me What You See In Me" and "Grace Darling" as representative cuts from their respective albums, the latter particularly giving Brian an opportunity to show off the blistering solos characteristic of their 90s shows. Equally enjoyable are "Hero and Heroine" (featuring Ric Sanders' fiddle) from the Chiswick CD and the attractive cut from Brian's solo album, featuring Cathryn Craig's impressive vocal talents.

    From reading the Witchwood discussion group, I know there'll be differing views about the selections from Burning For You and Don't Say Goodbye. For my own part, I enjoy the joke in "Alexander The Great", though I can see other candidates - "Burning For Me" which was such a popular encore number on the tour last year, or "Keep On Trying" or even "Cut Like A Diamond" (after all, the latter was a mainstay of the 90s live act). (Lambert fans, note that his tracks aren't under their control, so "Heartbreaker" wasn't an option.) Whilst "Tina Dei Fada" is probably the obvious Hud-written song for inclusion, sad that that left no room for the sublime "Evergreen" or the catchy "That's When The Crying Starts". And nothing sadly from Old School Songs - I'd have gone for the acoustic twiddly version of "Ways And Means".

    Bottom line is that this is a pretty good compilation, a limited edition run which will undoubtedly increase in value in years to come (a copy has already sold on Ebay for $26.01), available for the price of a CD single, along with a good read. The mag contains extensive sleeve notes from Tobler and a 3 page interview with the man Cousins to boot, in which he recounts various anecdotes in the long journey from then to now (which I won't spoil by telling you here!). Buy it ? You'd be mad not to.....


    Steve Pritchards

    "Something for Nothing" - I've always enjoyed this "original" version over the one on Don't Say Goodbye. It's got a much harder edge to it. I particularly like the 'church organ' keyboards that fill the middle section; a great opener. It's a pity, that for me at least....sorry leave that for the Heartbreak Hill review

    "Where Is This Dream Of Your Youth" - This is the third version I've heard of this song. This sounds a bit odd at the first few listenings. The chorus seems to speed up compared the verses. It's like a hybrid mix of the Strawbs/Antiques..versions. An early example of how Dave's songs can be musically altered but each can still stand on there own.

    "The Shepherd's Song" - Ahhhh my all time favourite song ever (let alone Strawbs song). Dave could play this on two upturned buckets and a triangle and I'd still love it....nuff said BUT I'd love to hear the rest of that session recorded with Rick as hinted in the CRS interview.

    "Grace Darling" - Can't better DC's description of it sounding like dark melted chocolate. Everything just combines so well. A pleasure to listen to. Just a thought, but I've always felt that this song would make a great modern Christian hymn (yes a hymn). There's a lot of references in the Bible to Jesus being a rock, Grace is in there to, and the 'church organ' sound. Also storms, anchors you could go on, all you'd need to do is tweak one line in the chorus and you would have it. Now is that a topic for further discussion???

    "Beat The Retreat" - Love to see this done live but haven't yet. Anyone notice that DC sings the first two lines to the last verse but then repeats the rest of the previous verse. Intentional or forgetful .. perhaps the all-knowing Dick knows. {Forgetful I fear - DG the all-knowing]

    "Simple Visions" - Confession time (1) I never heard this till the mid '90s. I lost faith with the band after Nomadness and stopped buying. Apart from "I Only Want My Love..." that's all I heard of them. By pleasant coincidence I managed to get hold of the album just before the band reintroduced it back into the set. Now, along with "Heartbreaker", it's one song that still rattles round my head long after the gig has ended. It's got a simple catchy rhythm based around guitar and tambourine, coupled with great lyrics. Even if you can't remember the rest the opening verse sticks to you like glue.

    "Tina Dei Fada" - Came as a surprise to find that this was written by Hud rather than Brian Willoughby as I'd suspected. My Don't Say Goodbye CD only has line-up and track list. There's no sleeve notes or song credits, so thanks to the CRS interview for putting me straight. I can only think of 2 other instrumental tracks, the 1st part of "Autumn" and "Wild Strawberries". The production on this is a treat. Brian's guitarwork stands out without diminishing the rest of the band. For me its a classic Strawbs sound without lyrics.

    "Tell Me What You See In Me"- Another third version and again another example of a DC song that's changed but still works. The drums and guitar alter this song so well so that it stands on its own, so different to the version sung by Sandy Denny. Yet I can listen to both versions without prejudice against either. A concert favourite through the early-mid 90's.

    "Alexander the Great"- Confession (2), never heard this before I bought the CRS mag. So different to anything I've heard them do before I'm still not sure but I'm warming to it. I wasn't even sure DC was on vocals till the second time of hearing ... and that faded in intro. Saw the title before reading the mag and expected a Cousins classic about that Greek bloke....boy was I mistaken.

    "Ringing Down The Years" - Once read a biog of Rick Wakeman where he described Dave Cousins as one of the finest lyricists in the country and you can clearly see why on this track. How many of us would wish to be able to describe our feelings about a friendship the way that Dave does here. It's made all the more poignant when you read of the circumstance behind the gig itself. That and Sandy's death being so tragic anyway. A fine lady and a fine epitaph.

    "Alice's Song" - This is a beautifully crafted song about an autistic child, having had some minor dealings with children with autism, it's a keen observation of the realities of dealing with such a child .. very moving and a song you have to shut up and listen to (big hint for all those tour talkers we've spoken of before). I've always been working when Brian and Cathryn have toured near my home, on the strength of this alone I'll have to make more of an effort to get to a gig.

    "Strange Day Over The Hill" - I like this, the guitar work, keyboards and that harmonica, the lyrics get you thinking. I've always wondered what the day was like before you went over the hill. Or is it a reference to old age??

    "A Glimpse of Heaven" - No doubt about it when Rick plays like this I'm happy just to sit back and listen. Superb rendition of this classic Strawbs song and a great complement to Dave's song writing abilities that it sounds equally good without the lyrics, though if you were like me you sang them anyway. I've said it before but I'd really love to see Rick play with the band again. No disrespect to Blue, I'm not trying to start a "Replace Blue with Rick" campaign it's just that it was Dave's lyrics and Rick's keyboard playing that first drew me to the band. I'd just love to be able to see live what first made me decide that the Strawbs were for me,it's as simple as that. That's my "Where is this dream of (my) youth"

    "Hero and Heroine" - Missed the Chiswick gig due to summer hols in Crete (where I wore the t-shirt on the night anyway to show willing) so I missed this version with lead violin: different, think I prefer the usual version .. but had I been at the gig I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more, methinks I'm a bit prejudiced cos I couldn't be there.

    All in all an excellent showcase for the bands long history, superb musicianship and quality lyrics I'm an old dinosaur as my daughter thinks but you won't see HearSay bringing out something like this.


    Comments from Witchwood - the Strawbs Discussion Group

    Steve Green

    Hi all, this must be the best value CD in history! This is the third time I've tried to post this, boring, but then interesting how one's perception changes over a few listens.

    1) Something for Nothing - Typical Lambert 'Rocker' , I remember this being played at Salisbury Arts Centre in 1980, more cultured on record but still gets 7/10.

    2) Where is the Dream . . . - Always liked the late 60s feel on this one. Rick was sublime on A&Q but it gets 8/10 for D.C. songwriting +++ Tony Hooper, nice vocals me lad.

    3) The Shepherd's Song - Rick's keyboard's made this a cascading dream on the original, more so here. If there's any left in the vault please release. I just miss the 'Spanish Guitar Bit' at the end. Gets 8/10.

    4) Grace Darling - my favorite Strawbs song. Dave C gave his own review, I'll just say the 2001 tour band did it better (more guitar + Blue's keyboards) so 9/10.

    5) Beat The Retreat - classic Cousins song little regarded. Heard this live at Bracknell Arts Centre - Cavern, just Dave & Brian. My wife gave in and said they were "cool". This version almost perfect. Rock, Pop or Folk person, this will push your buttons. Gets 9//10.

    6) Simple Visions - 'ere, me words have blown away. A Noel Edmunds LP of the week. A triumph on tour. Lamberts guitar is liquid, everything else frantic. Vocal soars. Reborn 9/10.

    7) Tina Del Fada - hated this at first, warmed after some plays but still just a workout. So 6/10.

    8) Tell me what you see in me - Another song which survives and thrives on the re-work. Can't say which version is my fave but this comes close for it's 'Hard' approach, nice drums. 7/10.

    9) Alexander The Great - just can't make my mind up about this. Sometimes sounds twee and shallow, other times - is he talking about us/them/him? So 6/10.

    10) Ringing Down the Years - I bought the original single (The King) and cried. Respect 10/10.

    11) Alice's Song - Before I knew it was about an autistic person I made connections with altered reality (I'm a psychiatric nurse!). Brian is Brian, vocal sensitive. Gets 8/10.

    12) Strange Day Over The Hill - I never liked this from the first time I bought The Bridge. No just played it again, much too twee. Gets 5/10.

    13) A Glimpse of Heaven - Ohhh you beauty, go go Rick. This is the only thing apart from chocolate bribes that gets my twin girls (2ish) to sleep. Thanks, 9/10.

    14) Hero and Heroine - Hmm a violin, must be Rick from FC. Warmed to this version after a few plays. Actually after another few it's up there with the best. 9/10.

    Look anyone on the list who doesn't buy this CD is a blithering idiot. Considering they couldn't include A&M stuff not a bad retrospective.

    PS apologies for falling over the legs of people in row c/29&28 at Bloomsbury.

    Michael Coleman

    The CD is great as a whole but it is the inclusion of the rarities which really makes it shine. I have always wanted an acoustic version of "Beat The Retreat" ever since I saw Cousins/Willoughby perform it way back when, and what a great version it is! The Cousins/Wakeman version of "The Shepherd's Song" is also a refreshing joy. For those people not fortunate enough to own the original 45 version of Cousins/Willoughby's "Ringing Down The Years" its inclusion here is a big bonus, 'sad and wonderful'. And of course there is also a nice interview in the mag with Dave Cousins which is a good read. Great stuff!

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