On the 30th anniversary of Dave Lambert's first official gig with the band, we look back over that period when Dave first joined the band, in the heady days of Autumn 1972.
For gig photos from the Watford Town Hall gig on 28 Sep 1972, click here
For a photoshoot with Lambert and the Strawbs (probably the same day as Watford as they're wearing he same clothes!) click here
Strawbs had been flirting anyway with loud electric music since the beginning of 1972 - reviewing the Fairfield Halls, Croydon gig (30 Jan 1972) on the Grave New World tour, Dick Meadows commented:
"Beware Led Zeppelin, the Strawbs are coming to get you. They'll blast you with their electric music on their present British tour, and you can either enjoy it or be as horrified as their own celebrated 'Hangman.' ... For those who haven't seen ... Strawbs for a while, Sunday night .. must have been something of a rude awakening. They've changed you see: from being folk/rockers and now on to rock/folk. .... Whether the change is for the better is doubtful. Of course, musicians have got to progress, but ... watching them get it on like T Rex, it seems all rather silly. This electric love affair blossomed in the last two numbers of their concert "Tomorrow" and "I'm Going Home". To do the latter number they were encored back. I went home."
As would be seen later (in the wake of the release of "Lay Down" and the band's glam appearance on Top Of The Pops) some longtime Strawbs folk fans would have difficulties adjusting to the band's pop side or the new harder edge; on the other hand, many fans saw it as a progression and welcomed the change. In any event, the band's UK chart success attracted many new fans (including me!) to buy the records and attending their increasingly popular live shows.
Lambert meanwhile had broken up Fire, and was working mainly as a solo acoustic artist in the clubs, teaming up from time to time with Dave C for duo gigs. Later in the summer of 1972, Lambert joined what was left of Mungo Jerry after Ray Dorset left, a line-up which renamed itself the King-Earl Boogie Band album. Cousins was recruited as producer for the band's album, recorded at the Manor in Summer/Autumn 1972.
At round about the same time (no-one can remember which one was first!) Dave Cousins was also recording his long awaited solo album with heavy friends Rick Wakeman, Miller Anderson, Roger Glover (Deep Purple) and Jon Hiseman (Colosseum). It was an obvious decision to invite Lambert to participate (masquerading in the cover credits of "Two Weeks" as "Lampoon"). Included on the album was "I'm Going Home", the out and out rocker song which had originally been recorded as a possible vehicle for Dave Lambert, but which now had Cousins' vocals and which rapidly became a popular encore number for the band. (Though the album credits mention Cousins and "Lampoon" only, it's believed to have also featured Hud, John and Blue and is therefore the first Strawbs' track by the Bursting At The Seams line-up!!!)
Cousins explained in 1975:
"Originally we recorded that as a single for Dave Lambert before he joined the group and we had the backing track left over it had cost a few bob, and I didn't have a single on the album, so we thought, well that'll do for a single. So we took Dave Lambert's voice off it, put my own on, and put it on the album."
The U.S. tour that summer had significantly unsettled the Strawbs. Cousins recalled:
"'Grave New World' came out and it was very well received and the band was very together ... Then it started to break apart somehow ... I was getting more interested in electric music, although .. I've got very definite limitations as far as electric music is concerned. And when we got to the States that was the crux of it. .... I began to realise how limited we were musically. We needed an extra melodic instrument. People would come up to me and say 'Hey, why the hell don't you play lead guitar?' and although I had an electric guitar, I couldn't. I realised we needed a lead guitar player, and so when Tony, who was getting very unhappy with the more electric stuff we were playing decided to leave, the move was obvious."
Lambert had joined the Strawbs on stage at a few gigs over the summer - notably the Chelmsford Folk Festival in August, which drew a miserable 3,000 people instead of the expected 20,000. It may have been that Cousins was trying him out with the band. A review questioned whether they were an ideal band to top a folk festival - they certainly didn't look the part owing to the amount of equipment, all labelled Strawbs, which filled the stage and the glitter and sequins that had begun to appear as part of the more theatrical presentation they were developing.
The first time he ever came on stage with the Strawbs was at Dunstable. Cousins recalls:
"I said 'Do you want to come on and play the encore - we'll do 'Going Home'" .... on he came like the Wild Man, hair down to his knees and pranced around like a lunatic and the crowd went bananas. We thought right: we've now got to have a rock guitarist. And it came to the last show that we did [with Tony Hooper], which was at Chelmsford Folk Festival, which was the last time we ever played a folk show, he came on stage and did the same thing again, the crowd went bananas again and we thought well that really definitely is it - we really do need an electric guitar in the group. That really was the end of our folk days. We then became an electric group."
However, for Tony Hooper, Chelmsford was the end of the road. In an interview with Melody Maker's Mark Plummer (11 November 1972) he confessed that it had been Lambert's jamming with the Strawbs on "Going Home" and "Sheep" that had crystallised his decision to leave the band, a move that had been brewing over the course of the last year, particularly fuelled by the pressures of the U.S. tour.
In due course, the music press announced that Strawbs had signed Lambert to replace Hooper, who left in August 1972. Cousins was quoted as saying: "Lambert was a natural choice after the incredible audience reaction we received when he guested on our last three shows." One change seemed indicated, nonetheless - Cousins: "I told him to shave his beard off and get his hair cut, so then we became a bit more presentation-conscious."
The same press release announced the imminent release of Cousins' single "Going Home", which, despite reasonably good reviews was probably overshadowed by the personnel change.
Lambert made his first "official" appearance with the band at their single remaining UK date for the year at Watford Town Hall on September 28. Ray Hammond in Sounds reviewed the Watford gig:
"Watford Town Hall was a very important gig for the Strawbs last week ... the band were obviously very nervous. As might be expected by those who know Lambert's background, there's a new rock edge to the band now, although front man Dave Cousins is so obviously a folky that it's slightly incongruous. The music wasn't very together and the teeny/Cassidy image saddled on Lambert doesn't fit that well. Time will allow him to contribute more than he did last week, but his solo 'Bovver Blues' proved that he already has sufficient authority to handle his new job. The future of the Strawbs is very interesting."
Melody Maker went further:
"There was a stunned silence when the Strawbs with new man Dave Lambert finished their set at Watford ... It was hard to take in the loud aggressive electric music that had taken place, the sequined velvet and satin clothes, and especially Dave Lambert who has brought his dynamite character into the open with this Townshendesque guitar playing and antics. In fact it was all too much for the last remnants of the acoustic Strawb followers who were leaving within a few minutes of the opening number. The audience response to ... 'Lay Down' and Dave Cousins' tongue in cheek poke at David Bowie - 'Backside' - was short and sharp and it took 'Hangman And The Papist' to establish that Strawbs are still as strong as ever."
NME saw a balance between the old and the new commenting that "Strawbs presented a varied assortment of old songs, new songs, heavy songs, funny songs, instrumental breaks and funny stories. ..." Dave Lambert's work was praised on new songs "The River" and "Flying" - "a new piece of distinction with switches in mood and tempo, mellotron building up atmosphere and Lambert's fingerwork excelling", and "Tomorrow" benefited from an extended instrumental break for Lambert to be given full rein. Old favourites such as "Benedictus", "New World" and "Heavy Disguise" were also featured and the band encored with "Here It Comes".
Hangman And The Papist
Here It Comes
With Lambert in place, the Strawbs were set to leave behind their folk roots. In the first instance, they headed for pop success via the UK singles chart, and then subsequently, after a painful schism, which left Cousins and Lambert to form a new line-up, for significant success in the United States as a progressive rock outfit. Lambert's voice complemented Cousins' distinctive vocals as well as Tony' Hooper's had (though in a different style) and his tasteful lead guitar playing was an essential element of both developments.
Leaving the Strawbs in 1978 to concentrate on his own solo album Framed (which was released round the world but not in the UK, and is not available on CD), Lambert was away from the Strawbs for a long time, dividing his time between guitar teaching and - yes it's true - working as a ski instructor in Austria.
He returned to play two fantastic sets at the Chiswick 30th anniversary concert - the "US" line-up with Chas Cronk, Rod Coombes and Adam Wakeman filling in for John Hawken and, for the first time in 25 years, the "Bursting" line-up (Cousins/Ford/Hudson/Lambert/Weaver plus Brian Willoughby), both of which delivered searing sets that night - immortalised on the Chiswick CD and DVD. The latter line-up supplanted the mid 90s roster and toured annually for the next three years - fans particularly enjoyed the increasingly inventive twin lead duets between Lambert and Willoughby.
When Dave Cousins sprained his wrist and thought he'd be unable to play at a Dave Cousins/Brian Willoughby gig at the Cabbage Patch in Twickenham in late 2001, Lambert was drafted in as emergency replacement on guitar. As it happened, Dave C could play a bit, and the three guitar, two voice line-up of Acoustic Strawbs was born. This line-up has gone from strength to strength, the interplay of the three guitars allowing them to adapt the Strawbs' classic songs for an acoustic performance, which nonetheless has great presence and strength. Lambert has become the band's percussionist, doubling up on shaker and bodhran, as well as introducing the eBow to this arsenal of sounds.
The trio now tours regularly round the UK - 3 separate tours in 2002 plus some summer festivals - and is poised in 2003 to undertake even more - including the band's first trip to North America for many years. Lambert is back home where he belongs and all's well with the Strawbs.