Since joining The Strawbs as an electric band in 1972 and rejoining the lineup in 1998, Dave Lambert has shown that his lovely voice, inspired guitar playing, and song writing skills are a unique, yet intrinsic part of the band's appeal.
During a recent "email interview," I was able to ask Dave about his introduction to music, his work with The Strawbs, and some other aspects of his life. His narrative response is presented verbatim.
AB: How did you get started in music and do you play other instruments besides the guitar and the bodhran?
DL: Although I didn't appreciate the benefit I would draw from it at the time, I was taught to play drums when I was four or five years old. Three of my Mother's brothers were military drummers, two of them in Scottish regiments and one in the English army. When I stayed with my Grandmother in North London, my three uncles and I would always lunch together. They spent all of lunchtime tapping out the military beatings with knives and forks, so it wasn't long before I was able to join in.
Many years later I myself joined a Scottish pipe-band, the Pride of Murray, as a drummer. I spent a lot of my early to mid-teens with that band, we traveled all over Britain and Europe. From the age of eleven I was in the Boys' Brigade, I played drums with the bugle band and later we formed a pipe-band. I'd say that the experience with those bands paid out in full later on, I think it gave me an insight into rhythm which I wouldn't have had otherwise.
All through school I was a member of the various school choirs, and that gave me a taste for performing. I started to play ukulele when I was about seven, and progressed to guitar shortly after. My parents bought me one for Christmas, but insisted that I take formal lessons so as not to waste their investment, £4-15-11d. It was the best thing they could have done. I became compulsive about rehearsing and playing immediately, and that hasn't changed to this day.
My first public performance was a school assembly. I was ten I think. I sang "Worried Man Blues", and "Bring A Little Water Sylvie". At lunchtime I was offered extra helpings by the dinner-lady, she'd heard me sing at assembly and enjoyed it. That was when I made the decision that I wanted a career in music. I played with school groups from then on, and made a couple of demos that I still have. I formed my first pro band in 1967. We were called Fridays Chyld (sic) at first, later we changed the name to Fire. In Strawbs I play guitar and bodhran. My other instruments are, all the guitars (bass etc.), keyboard, drums and harmonica (on "Part Of The Union"), but I'll have a go at anything really. The only thing I've never tried is blowing a reed.
AB: What are your favorite Strawbs' songs to perform and why?
DL: It's always difficult to say what my favourite Strawbs songs are, in terms of playing them. Autumn will always have a special place in my heart because of its beauty. I like to play "Glimpse Of Heaven" because it suits my rhythmic approach so well.
Then there are the technical challenges. I enjoyed "Blue Angel" on the last couple of tours, because in places it's quite difficult to play. When you're touring constantly, as we are these days, it's easy to become complacent, so a more complex piece is useful to make sure you stay on your toes.
The truthful answer is that I enjoy playing all of it. We hardly ever disagree about material in the band. Sometimes we start to rehearse something, and after a while it becomes obvious that it's not going to work. We don't usually include anything in the act that's not pleasing to all the players, otherwise you end up with half hearted performance.
AB: do you compare your other musical collaborations, such as Fire, to your work with the Strawbs?
DL: I try not to compare the things I do in music. My recordings with Strawbs, Fire, King Earl Boogie Band, my solo albums and any other project, stand separate from each other. There has to be a connection of course, I'm involved in all of them therefore part of me is part of them. That's the exciting thing about working with different people, it makes you look at material from a perspective that you might never have seen before. When I joined Strawbs, it was the first band I'd ever played with where I wasn't the single front man. That changed my attitude to stage work quite a lot. For once I had the opportunity to explore guitar playing without the pressure of singing every song. I learned a lot in those first few months.
AB: When you were recording Hero And Heroine and Ghosts did you ever think you would be touring with the same band 30 years later? What was the experience like for you?
DL: I don't think any of us involved in Hero and Ghosts, had the slightest clue at the time we recorded them, that they would still be relevant 30 years later.
It only became clear to me during the last two years, quite how important these recordings are to a lot of people. I find it deeply moving and humbling, and I would guess that would be the reaction from all of us. At the time we recorded them, we were young and wild rock and rollers, to us everything had a life span of about three years. The thrill of playing this material to a live audience, is as strong, if not stronger, as it was 30 years ago. I don't think I thought that I'd be doing this now.
I'd more or less retired. I was teaching guitar, playing golf four times a week, and spending winters in Austria as a ski-instructor. I kept up my live work, mostly solo, but nothing on a regular basis. When I was asked, in 1998, if I'd like to do the Chiswick 30 year reunion, I was hesitant at first. Once I'd decided I wanted to do it, I realized how much I'd missed being involved with music at that level. Since then we've been busier than we ever were, both in the UK the US and Canada. I enjoy every minute of it. The travelling gets tough sometimes, but there's always the payoff at the end of the day, the show itself.
AB: What do you prefer, playing electrically or acoustically?
DL: I don't have a personal preference between acoustic and electric playing. There's positives and negatives for both. What I do enjoy immensely, is the challenge of the acoustic band in terms of making material work with three instruments, when the accepted format for that material has been virtually an orchestra. It's great to get back to the original song and rediscover the elements of the piece. Then to take those elements and build up acoustically.
Now we have Chas in the acoustic band, we have the benefit of an extra voice, it gives us a lot of scope to look at material that we couldn't have attempted before. It was great in '04 to play with the Hero band once again. When the UK band (with Hudson-Ford) gets together, I enjoy that very much too. I suppose we're in a fairly unique situation, being able to tour the three lineups, and to play in three different styles which in the end adds up to one.
AB: What are the differences between touring in Europe and touring in North America?
DL: These days there's not a lot of difference between touring Europe and touring North America. When we first toured the US, in the early 70's, there was a vast difference between the two continents. I can remember the thrill of a MacDonald's for instance, something we didn't have in Europe in those days. Cocktails were another fascination, even a late night bar was a novelty to us. These days things have changed. Most hotels in the US had a bar and coffee shop. Nowadays, apart from major cities, that's the exception rather than the rule.
It might sound petty to talk of these things, but when you're on the road for months at a time, these small details become mighty important. On the more serious professional side though, the US and Canada were always more geared up for the big show. There was, and is, a more professional attitude from everybody involved in the evening performance. The difference, however, is no longer as noticeable as it used to be. In Europe we've definitely caught up a bit. To be honest I enjoy touring so much, that I'm happy wherever we are. Audiences are different though. The British still carry that famous reserve, but I'm used to that. It only notices when you get to the US and Canada and experience the wilder, less inhibited crowds.
AB: Are there other members of your family that are involved in music?
DL: My daughter Katie, is a very naturally talented musician. She plays trumpet and years ago I taught her the rudiments of drumming. Unfortunately she isn't terribly interested in playing, music is a big part of her life though.
AB: How do you like to spend your free time?
DL: During the years that I wasn't touring, I took up golf. As with a lot of people who take up the game, I became obsessed. At one time I was playing every day of the week. After a year of that, I trimmed it down to three or four times a week, and continued like that for ten years or more. I got down to a 12 handicap, but I wasn't too good at it, it was a struggle for me to play at that level.
I like to build models, I like to play with toys, but mostly I'm interested in history. When I get the opportunity I seek out an old castle or cathedral, anything with a bit of historical interest. When we tour the UK we get plenty of opportunities to visit interesting places, and as most of us are fascinated with history it's a great way to fill up those idle moments.
AB: I heard a rumor that you used to drive a Morris Minor, what do you drive now?
DL: Indeed I did drive a Morris Minor. In fact I had all of the varieties of Morris Minor except for the van. I'm a bit of a car freak, but it's only the older ones that interest me. At one time during the 70's I had seven cars at the same time. These days I drive a Jaguar XJ Sport, but in the garage is a 1964 Sunbeam Alpine convertible and a 1965 BSA Bantam motorcycle. I keep those for fun and drive the Jaguar as an everyday car.
AB: Your music has touched the lives of many. After the show, I have seen many fans share their stories of your musical influence in their lives. Can you share a memorable story?
DL: I have many stories related to me after shows. People who have a special relationship with a certain song or album for instance. It never fails to move me. It would be difficult for me to give an example, because most of these experiences are very personal, and I feel I'd be betraying them to retell their story. But I will say they range from birth and death, and all the stages in between. I suppose the ones that have surprised me the most, are when people, (and there's far more than one person) have told me that our music has got them through a very tough period. Some go as far as to say that we helped save their lives. You can't quantify that can you?
AB: You have a very strong fan base in the United States and your new music is as good as the classics 30 years later. As John Hawken said, "I believe The Strawbs have yet to reach their peak." Can you see yourself on top in the popular music world?
DL: I agree with John Hawken on this one. Strawbs is like a living organism to me. It will increase in strength and size as long as we feed it. My hope is that we'll keep feeding it for many years yet...
Many thanks to Dave for taking the time during the Holidays to share some insights. We look forward to seeing him during the upcoming tour.