A few additional stray thoughts about the Strawbs
Just as essential is Dave Cousins' 1972 solo album, Two Weeks Last Summer, and All Our Own Work, the recordings made in Denmark with Sandy Denny, belatedly released, is charm itself. Contrary to what the sleeve says, it wasn't recorded in August 1968 but July, 1967. In August 1968 Sandy was a full-time member of Fairport Convention.
From the Witchwood is another guilty pleasure. This pursued the medieval interest that surfaced with 'The Battle' on the Strawbs' eponymous LP, but medievalism and the Victoriana of Antiques and Curios were all part of the same continuum, linked by the figure of William Morris. It was very sixties and very romantic.
John Ford and Richard Hudson contributed a couple of minor songs to Grave New World but soon looked set to threaten Cousins' hegemony when their 'Part of the Union' became the Strawbs' biggest hit. For me, this is the Strawbs most problematic song. It might have been excusable or even justifiable to knock the unions in 1973, but with hindsight, knowing that Margaret Thatcher's anti-union legislation was just around the corner, it seems grotesque and a betrayal (fancy nicking a pro-union Woody Guthrie song to do it!) Hudson and Ford were prone to jokes that backfired. They left in '73 to form Hudson Ford. If their big hit 'Burn Baby Burn' could sit comfortably in the Strawbs' repertoire, albeit not a distinguished part of the Strawbs repertoire, but their other greatest hit (as The Monks), 'Nice Legs Shame About the Face', would have instantly invalidated everything in the Strawbs' back catalogue.
Actually, the B-side of 'Lay Me Down', 'Backside', credited to Ciggy Barlust & The Whales from Venus, made me feel uneasy too. Then, I thought it was a snide dig at David Bowie, and unworthy of Dave Cousins' other-worldly muse. Now I hear it as an ode of lust. Actually, the timeline on the Strawbs' website – http://www.strawbsweb.co.uk/tline/tline.asp – makes interesting reading and is a mine of information. I imagined Rick Wakeman might be the link with Bowie, but in fact the association goes as far back as 1969 when the Strawbs played Bowie's Free Festival in Beckenham.
And the timeline was invaluable in my Bill Leader researches (I'm writing a book about Bill Leader, if you remember), giving the exact date that Bill's folk club, the Black Horse Broadside, closed (Saturday, 15 August, 1964). It's generous of Dave Cousins (I'm assuming he's the documentarist) to go into the fine detail on his timeline, because Bill never booked Strawbs to play the club once!
But there are other connections. It seems that cellist Clare Deniz played with the Strawbs at that date in Beckenham. She later provided cello on 'Fine Horseman' and 'Never the Same' on Lal and Mike Waterson's classic Bright Phoebus. And the first mention of the Strawbs in print was something by Karl Dallas in Melody Maker; the gig listings in the self-same edition still refer to the Strawberry Hill Boys.
And this, from Wikipedia, has nothing to do with Bill, although is springs from the same milieu: "The Settlers' biggest hit was 'The Lightning Tree', theme song of the TV series Follyfoot, and lead singer Cindy Kent became a priest. Their bassist shared a flat in Hampstead with Tony Hooper of the Strawbs..."