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Dick Greener
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Dick Greener

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It’s not easy to nail down the origin of Strawbs but to me it was in 1963 when I applied to the BBC for an audition as David Cousins and Tony Hooper. A letter summoned us to the BBC studio centre in Maida Vale to be considered by producer Bernie Andrews. We recorded three songs, one of which was a fast and furious banjo instrumental.

A couple of weeks later I received a letter informing us that we had passed the audition, but with no mention of what happened next. With some trepidation I phoned the BBC and asked to be put through to Jimmy Grant - producer of ‘Saturday Club’, the happening show on radio in the UK at the time. When he answered I told him that Tony and I had passed the audition, and would he listen to our tape? To my astonishment he phoned back a couple of hours later and booked us for the show.

‘Saturday Club’ on 29 Jun 1963 featured The Beatles, Eden Kane, Laura Lee, Chris Barber’s Jazz Band with Ottilie Patterson, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, and “David Cousins and Tony Hooper”. I went over to Eel Pie Island that night and club owner Arthur Chisnall immediately booked Tony and me to play the intervals to the up-and-coming Rolling Stones for the next five Sundays. Incidentally, the Stones had failed their BBC audition.

The influence of ‘Saturday Club’ was extraordinary. On Sunday 29th September, “David and Anthony” appeared on the bill at the Grand Theatre in Blackpool with Gerry and the Pacemakers. We were first booked as “The Strawberry Hill Boys” for ‘Saturday Club’ on 9 Nov 1963 with Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, Craig Douglas, Timi Yuro, and Manfred Mann and his Rhythm and Blues Group. We were then booked to support Gordon Lightfoot at Fairfield Halls on his first UK tour.

Our radio appearances were certainly being noticed. I had a call from Shel Talmy, a young American record producer, living in London. Shel was looking for bands to record, while his partner, Mike Stone, wanted to discuss managing us. After Tony and I had played for them, they decided we needed a gimmick: “It’s all very well playing blistering banjo solos, but it needs something else,” said Shel. “Think of the Shadows,” said Mike, “they’d be nothing without the dance steps.” Tony and I went away to think about it.

We met up with Shel and Mike a couple of weeks later when Tony and I played them the Shadows hit, ‘Dance On’, on banjo and guitar, along with deadpan Shadows dance steps. Shel and Mike almost died laughing, but we mutually agreed that our relationship was not to be. A few months later, Shel Talmy had had two huge hits: ‘You really got me’ by the Kinks, and ‘I can’t explain’ by the Who.

I still remember to this day the first time the Strawberry Hill Boys played ‘Dance On’ live. It was 30 Nov 1963 at folk club at the Black Horse in Rathbone Place and the audience were weeping. The last time was as the Strawbs on 11 Jul 1970 at our first headline concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It was the encore and brought the house down. We left it off “Antiques and Curios” - now you can hear why! With a Rick Wakeman solo!

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