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Troubadour, Earls Court, 7 Nov 97
  • Cousins And Willoughby On Fine, Relaxed Form - Review by Dick Greener
  • Clinton Arms, Retford, 17 Jan 98
  • One Of The Most Vigorous Acoustic Sets I've Seen Them Deliver - Review by Mike Barker
  • Troubadour, Earls Court, 13 Feb 98
  • Not A Bad Gig But ... Review by Dick Greener

  • Setlist

    Cut Like A Diamond (unplugged version)
    Sealed With A Traitor's Kiss
    Joey And Me
    Grace Darling
    Ringing Down The Years
    You Never Needed Water (part only)
    The Plain (part only)
    Song For Alex

    You Never Needed Water
    We Can Make It Together
    Stone Cold Is The Woman's Heart
    Hangman And The Papist
    New World
    Further On Down The Road (with Cathryn Craig)


    NOT A BAD GIG BUT ... - Review by Dick Greener

    Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a bad gig, but it certainly didn't match up to the tour de force I was treated to last time Dave and Brian hit the Troubadour.

    Dave looked whacked when he came in, and at first there wasn't the enjoyment in playing that he showed last time. He confessed that he felt very tired and not at his best all round, particularly since he'd bitten his tongue earlier in the week!! A few false starts and abandoned songs in the first half, the high lights being another outing for the unplugged version of "Cut Like A Diamond", and Dave and Brian's guitar duet on "Grace Darling".

    In the interval, Dave and Brian disappeared for such a very long time that there were those in the audience who might have started to worry that they had done a runner, if their guitars and cases weren't still obviously stashed away behind the scenes. Floor singer Mike Bosencat gave us a couple of songs, and then Terry St.Clair (who played at the Troubadour on 23 Jan) was up for two or three, but which with Dave and Brian's continuing absence became 8 or 9!!! A singer capable of various styles (I thought some of his stuff was very like Jonathan Kelly, whose music I very much enjoyed) Terry kept us well entertained, each song interspersed with increasingly desperate reassurances that Dave and Brian would be back soon.

    For me the highlights were his first song "The Hardest Part", "Next To Me" and his closer, a medley of the Davy Graham standard "Anji", linked with hardy perennial "Hesitation Blues" (which Mike Bosencat had also played, but that was so long ago nobody minded!). I spoke with Terry after the show, and there is a CD on Road Goes On Forever in the offing.

    Second half was much more promising - Dave had been exposed to some "passive drinking" (and probably some fairly active consumption too) and had perked up considerably. A rocking version of "You Never Needed Water" got off to an excellent start, followed by "We Can Make It Together" and, unusually, the acoustic "Stone Cold Is The Woman's Heart". I have a radio interview tape of this song, done acoustically as it was here, and it has a very different, soulful feel from the slightly hepped up, sampled drums version on Ringing Down The Years.

    Dave announced that there will be a big Strawbs event in Chiswick to mark the 30th anniversary later in the year, and also told us that the re-issues would be coming out in May - he has been looking out the bonus tracks from the tapes in his loft, quipping (I truly truly hope!) that they had all gone mouldy. On with two of the standards, "Hangman" and "New World" before pretty much running out of time. A final song, "Further Down The Road" with Cathryn Craig guesting on vocals, and then reluctantly, that was it.


    You Never Needed Water
    Ringing Down The Years
    Hangman And The Papist
    New World
    Further Down The Road
    Grace Darling
    Blue Angel
    Lay Down
    Beat The Retreat
    Part Of The Union



    Dave Cousins and Brian Willoughby (ably assisted at times by Catherine Craig) returned to Retford a couple of months after the Strawbs' disappointing November show. The occasion was the Clinton Arms Jazz and Blues Association 'Blues and Roots' evening. It must have felt like they were stepping back into the past - the Clinton Arms is tucked away on the outskirts of Retford and the music area is shared with the main bar. So the battle was on as to who could make the most noise - the regulars in for a 'pint and a chat' or the 'turns'.

    The first two local acts gave us a blend of delta blues and contemporary blues and very enjoyable they were too. The rapturous response to a rousing Eddie Cochran finale gave some indications of what the battle strategies perhaps ought to be. Dave and Brian were due on at 9.45 but the previous act were only a third of the way through their set by then so we knew we were in for a long night.

    Anyway, 10.20 the lads hit the floor (there was no stage) and kicked off with "You Never Needed Water" followed by "Ringing Down The Years" (the intro to which was lost in the noise from the bar). A few humorous asides to each other during the song indicated they must have been wondering how they'd got themselves into this! However it certainly launched them into one of the most vigorous acoustic sets I've seen them deliver - calling on their experience over the years, Brian delivered powerful chords amongst some of his more delicate playing whilst Dave provided some of the strongest vocal performances I've heard him give in years. My highlights: "Hangman And The Papist", "New World", "Further Down The Road", "Grace Darling", "Blue Angel" and "Beat The Retreat".

    I think you can tell when Dave is out to enjoy himself and Brian certainly seemed amused by the 'yelps' that DC was adding to songs. Catherine Craig's vocal support on "Further Down The Road", "Blue Angel" and "Beat The Retreat" added depth to the songs which wouldn't go amiss in a Strawbs set.

    Introducing "Part of the Union" as the encore, Dave remarked that this was the first date of the Strawbs 30th anniversary year to be marked by A&M with 6 re-releases (apparently Bursting at the Seams had been added to the list ). Chatting afterwards Dave seemed to think that a May release date was now on the cards and that the Herb Alpert-version of "Josephine" was going to see the light of day. He was fairly non-committal about any tour dates but joked that they'd already played as many dates this year as they had in 1997.

    At midnight it was all over, but my previous thoughts that perhaps DC's days were over had been soundly dismissed. Catch these two together if you can, [next opportunity 13 Feb 98 at the Troubadour in London - DG]. Given the size of venue the Strawbs play these days I think you'll get a better performance acoustically from Dave and Brian than you will from the electric band (and some different songs). .Perhaps a 'Strawbs Unplugged' might be a good compromise - having seen Lindisfarne do the same it certainly works.

    Cut Like A Diamond
    You Never Needed Water
    Ringing Down The Years
    Josephine, For Better Or For Worse
    Grace Darling
    Song To Alex

    Beside The Rio Grande
    Joey And Me
    The Hangman And The Papist
    New World
    Further Down The Road
    Beat The Retreat



    It's 2.00 in the morning here in the UK, and I've just sat close enough to Dave Cousins in concert to pick up on most of the chord changes in the songs he performed, and close enough to Brian Willoughby to develop a deep case of guitarist's envy. I want to pick up the guitar and get these things committed to paper before they slip away from memory, but the neighbours are likely to object, so I'm writing this review instead, a bare couple of hours after the concert finished (how's that for service?).

    Mind, you can't get very far away from the stage at the Troubadour: it's a very intimate venue in which the artists have to walk through the crowd to get to the tiny stage, and set up in full view of the audience. Cousins and Willoughby got things straight, tuning-wise, and Cousins warbled a verse or two of "Song For Alex", complaining that in that key he sounds more like Lee Marvin than Alex Campbell.

    "Cut Like A Diamond," acoustic version, ("It's not a loud song really", said Dave) started off the gig proper, with Cousins explaining afterwards that he can't remember the chords towards the end of it, because usually the rest of the Strawbs supply the instrumentation, leaving Cousins to concentrate on the dramatic closing choruses. Next up, "You Never Needed Water", with some intricate guitar work from Brian over bluesy chords from Dave. In the confessional again, at the song's close, Dave owned up to the song's origins with a quick burst of The Who's "Substitute", which in such close proximity does bear a striking resemblance .... Unusually, a great duo version of "Witchwood" followed, reminding Cousins that Rick Wakeman played clarinet on the track.

    Now, the Troubadour is the actual venue at which Dave Cousins first met Sandy Denny, so before giving us "Ringing Down The Years", Dave spent some time recalling the now well-known tale: how Sandy wore a white dress and a hat and sang like an angel (a nice-looking angel with a nice guitar, recalled Dave, with the hint of an unseemly leer); how he asked her to join the Strawbs in an almost absurdly casual fashion, and how she agreed in like manner. Their first rehearsals lasted all night (which didn't go down too well when Cousins returned home). Early demos at Cecil Sharp House (with Trevor Lucas banging out a rhythm on a guitar case) led to a recording contract (all of 3% royalties guaranteed), which in turn led to recording the Sandy and the Strawbs album in a cinema in Denmark. An unusual venue, the Strawbs got used to recording during the day and fitting in with the cinema audiences by vacating the premises for the early evening show (usually for few drinks) and then returning later on to carry on the session. (A less salubrious memory of the Denmark trip was attending the first World Sex Fair, which we won't go into here!)

    Trevor and Sandy eventually married, but Sandy died in 1978 after a fall. Trevor had taken their daughter Georgia to Australia to see his parents and when he got there he was called to say his wife was in a coma: though he flew straight back, she had died by the time he reached the UK. Cousins was in Cleveland, US, on a promotional tour for Arista, when he got the news. Curtailing the trip, he flew back (pissing off Arista in the process) and attended the funeral, where "Flowers Of The Forest" was played.

    Still firmly located in Memory Lane, this time in the vicinity of Oxford Street, Dave next recalled evenings out on the Guinness with Brendan Behan's brother, Dominic Behan, who with his wife Josephine, was the inspiration for "Josephine, For Better Or For Worse". One night, Behan had gone out with band on a gig and got so completely legless that he was dumped in the back of the Strawbs' van (well Ron Chesterman's van, actually), sprawled over the double bass. Ron drove them all home. Stopped by the police, but nevertheless getting away with it, they propped Dominic against his front door in Heston, rang the bell, then legged it like naughty schoolboys, leaving his wife to find him. The next day they were spotted by Behan, out walking with his wife. The Strawbs fell over themselves to apologise, but Behan just said to think nothing of it - his wife and he had been married for 25 years and they were still very much in love. Cousins recalled singing the song on the Julie Felix TV show, on which Jack Jones was also appearing. He also recorded the song, but Cousins had never forgiven him for marrying Susan George, and didn't think much of Jones' version of the song either.....

    A truly awesome acoustic version of "Grace Darling" followed: Brian's twiddly bits mixing perfectly with Dave's chord work, then the last song of the first half, "Song To Alex", raised up for Cousins' benefit to perhaps the least attractive key from Brian's point of view.


    The Troubadour is also a very thirsty venue - get there early and have a reasonable meal in the coffee bar upstairs and then they'll be able to serve you a beer, otherwise you're stuck with orange juice or coke for the rest of the night as it ain't licensed. Hence, in the interval, a mass exodus down the road in search of alcohol. The pub next door, the Coleherne, is a fairly rough place, and the only other pub in striking distance was an O'Neill's theme establishment, heaving with the young of Earl's Court. Cousins and Willoughby had obviously done a deal with the landlord as they got served straightaway and then disappeared back to the Troub to relative calm and comfort. A few die-hards fought their way to the bar for a hard-earned pint, then legged it back to the venue in time for the second half.

    Second half

    Dave announced that the second half would start with some "Americana", with a glance towards Cathryn Craig, an American singer working with Brian on his album at present: an impassioned rendering of "Beside The Rio Grande" started the set, followed by "Joey And Me" (never I have to say one of my favourites, and perhaps a bit of a strain vocally these days for Dave).

    The BBC's faux pas over "Hangman and the Papist" being Yes' only Top Of The Pops' appearance (wrong on all counts!) obviously rankled - mentioned earlier Dave expanded at length on meeting Jon Anderson, and attending a Yes concert where they played "Tobergraphic Oceans" and Rick Wakeman alleged afterwards that he'd had time to polish off a curry during the piece as he had relatively little to do.

    A tickle in Cousins' throat caused him to quip at the end that he could feel the noose. Brian's response "Could I have your slippers" began a train of banter, wholly out of keeping with the seriousness of the intended next number "New World". Willoughby was on the verge of losing it completely when promised some banana-flavoured condoms in Cousins' will: "Fyffe?" "No there's only three actually!" (drum roll and groans from the audience!), so Dave told a lengthy joke about a ventriloquist going inn for spiritualist seances to play for time. "New World" was followed by Cousins inviting Cathryn Craig to the stage to harmonise on "Further Down The Road" from The Bridge. The concert closed with the excellent "Beat The Retreat", again with Cathryn adding vocals.

    Sadly, that was it - an excellent gig though, with upwards of 80 fans catching Cousins and Willoughby on fine, relaxed form: Cousins remarked that he'd enjoyed this gig more than he'd enjoyed playing live for some time. Another gig at the Troubadour, set for 13 Feb 1998, is definitely a date for your diary if you can be in London around then (or alternatively a date in Newark in January 1998, date not confirmed as yet). You'll hear some fine music and some hilarious, characteristic Cousins chat - see you there!

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