STRAWBS FINALE, CROPREDY FESTIVAL, 11 AUG 2023
Shine On Silver Sun
The Hangman And The Papist
The Magic Of It All
Ringing Down The Years
The River/Down By The Sea
Part Of The Union
Ready (We Are Ready)
STRAWBS FINALE, CROPREDY, 11 AUG 2023
BOWING OUT IN STYLE - Review by Dick Greener
Made my way down to the front of the field and found a railing to lean on towards the left of the stage. The fourth time I have seen this line-up play and they just keep on getting better and better.
On stage we had Dave Cousins in the centre, flanked by John Ford on acoustic guitar and vocals and Cathryn Craig on vocals. Stage left, the two duelling electric guitarists, Brian Willougbhy and Mauritz Lotz (and a keyboard stand, the reas0on for which would become obvious later). Stage right, Blue Weaver on a modest keyboard stack (given the range of different sounds coming out if it) perched on a grand piano and the very tall and exuberant bass player Schalk Joubert. At the back of it all, a rock steady and inventive drummer, Kevin Gibson.
Proceedings opened with the dramatic chords of "New World", JF taking the acoustic guitar role as he did throughout the show, and alternating lead vocals with Dave - a nice touch. And of course, freed from guitar duties, Cousins now had his hands free for more of those expressive hand movements (“Cousins semaphore” as they are fondly known). Powerful performance, Brian adding those choppy guitar upwards chords, Blue some great mellotron and organ sounds, and a majestic chorus sound from the three vocalists, with Cathryn deftly shadowing Cousins' lead vocals to add depth and strength - not, I have to say, that there was any noticeable weakness in Dave's voice - he was spectacularly on form. Standing next to one of the speakers I was very impressed by Kevin Gibson’s musical yet muscular drumming, fitting the beat to the song rather than expecting the other players to fit the song to the beat. A real talent.
A jaunty take on "Stormy Down" followed, introed by Blue on piano, some nice guitar from Mauritz. Again, a strong chorus line. Next a duet version of "Shine On Silver Sun" with Dave and Cathryn sharing the vocal.
"The Hangman And The Papist" began with a piano solo from Blue (nice change from the more usual organ), John Ford taking on the Cousins guitar part seemingly effortlessly, with a few nice delay effects from Paul on the sound desk. Kevin Gibson got the "rat-a-tat-tat" snare drum perfectly right, and Mauritz and Brian offered up some great guitar work, with Blue on organ. If there was one flaw in the earlier shows, it was that the levels of the two electric guitarists could have been higher – this was not the case at Cropredy, and it was a pleasure from my vantage point in front of them to watch and hear them properly, a true collaboration, with each clearly enjoying playing alongside the other.
The first of two new album songs followed, "The Magic of It All", Cousins delicate vocals over a restrained backing, with a tasteful lead contribution from Mauritz. Switching back to the classics, John Ford took the lead vocal on "Witchwood", picking out the intricate guitar part and bouncing along with the between the verses instrumental sections. Cousins took a seat and played the banjo on this, and the three vocal approach was especially effective here.
The rapport between bassist Schalk Joubert and former bassist John Ford has been notable throughout the sequence of gigs, with John and Schalk regularly facing off behind Cousins’ back for some head-banging style guitar rocking (Schalk tells me that he and John are regarded as the “two naughty boys”!)
Still seated, Dave took up the dulcimer and Blue’s organ intro kicked off a great take on "Benedictus" which was very well received by the crowd. Then Dave introduced a heartfelt treatment of "Ringing Down The Years" – a natural for the Fairport-friendly audience, with a few "twiddly bits" from Brian, reminiscent of those long ago Cousins/Willoughby gigs, augmented by Mauritz - hinting at the potential for a welcome guitar duel which was later to follow. Blue’s piano was perfect accompaniment.
Dave then introduced Adam Wakeman who joined them on stage for the last three numbers, starting with "Lay Down", which, with its strong front line vocal was always going to be a barnstormer. Those guitars were sparking off each other, John playing up the acoustic part and Cousins' vocals as strong now as at the start, bolstered by striking chorus vocal support from either side.
Next up, "The River/Down By The Sea" was the tour de force we hoped and expected it would be. Some tasteful cymbal work from Kevin. The middle section, with the lead vocal normally taken by Lambert, was impressively handled by DC, with Cathryn in support and John Ford nailing the thrashing acoustic strumming. The bass notes, effortlessly dealt with Schalk (in front of the man who originally played them - no pressure!) heralded the "if you were me" section, Cousins quite restrained at first, but cranking up the emotion on the second time round. The instrumental outro surpassed itself, with organ, mellotron and duelling leads over a strong base of drums, acoustic and bass guitars.
A bouncy "Part Of- The Union" with John's lead vocal, great chorus vocals from Dave, Cathryn A crowd pleaser, for sure – my wife at the back of the field reported that everyone joined in.
The final song was the opening track of the new album, "Ready (We Are Ready)", which throughout the four gigs has always blown my socks off! If anything shows that Cousins is still writing strong powerful material deserving of the Strawbs name, this song proves that point without question, and the strength and sheer balls of this performance by the guys who played on it in the studio, was breathtaking. Watching the guitarists and bass player rocking along to the powerful riff was exhilarating.
Stage bows from all involved, with (again as reported from the back), the whole of the field giving a standing ovation for Strawbs’ last live performance. The end of an era, no doubt, but a blistering and enjoyable finale.
More photos to come
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