Monday 4 January 2016

Strawbs for Sale

Occasionally, I’ll pen a listing for eBay which is a bit self-revealing for comfort, and defeating in the way it stirs up affections which impel me to keep the damn thing. The following, which entailed an entire afternoon of bitter/sweet listening pleasure, is a case in point. 

STRAWBS x 5 JOB LOT inc. Strawbs, Antiques & Curios, Grave New World, Ghosts, Hero & Heroine 

On offer is a JOB LOT of 5 STRAWBS albums including (record graded first, then sleeve)…  

AMLS 936 STRAWBS (A&M, 1969) Say what you like about the Strawbs, they successfully rode the waves of psychedelia, prog and glam. Not bad for a folk group with a thing for bluegrass. This, their first offering, is the psychedelic one, and that’s the lovely Richard Wilson doing the spoken intro for ‘The Man Who Called Himself Jesus’. Condition is VERY GOOD only, although it plays through OK. The sleeve is marred by a name-tag in that embedded plastic stuff (the brand name eludes me), which is impossible to remove. Not content with this, ’Kevin Brear’ also had to write his name on the back in ink. Filler only. VG/VG. 

AMLS 994 JUST A COLLECTION OF ANTIQUES AND CURIOS (A&M, 1970) Enter Rick Wakeman. His musicianship took the Strawbs to a whole other level and suddenly the group were frontrunners in a category of one, wilfully serving a very eccentric fusion of folk and progressive rock. Extended compositions of overweening ambition? Check. The tardy retention of Victorian sentiment and poesy? Check. Gregorian chants subsumed in extended instrumental freak-outs? Check. The patrons of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on July 11, 1970 (for this is a live album), certainly got plenty of bang for their buck. Condition is a textbook VERY GOOD + i.e. “Better than Very Good: Obviously been played but no significant deterioration in sound quality despite light surface marks.” This translates as a few light clicks and pops and some scuffing which gets more pronounced as ‘Where Is This Dream of Your Youth?’ (the afore-mentioned organ work-out) progresses. The gatefold cover is VG+ too: “Very little wear and tear on cover and contents, without any major defects.” An original issue. The group shot on the back was substituted in a later edition by a portrait of the musicians in a pub. VG+/VG+. 

AMLH 68078 GRAVE NEW WORLD (A&M, 1972) The Strawbs’ apotheosis? The company got behind it in a big way, certainly, funding the ruinously expensive triple gatefold sleeve, and an accompanying 16-page booklet. The songs are equally extravagant, or pointedly low-key by way of contrast. It features ‘Benediction’, ‘Queen of the Forest’ and ‘New World’. Record is in excellent condition; cover is in excellent condition; the booklet is in excellent condition. The A&M logo on the label design declares that this as a later pressing. EX/EX. 

AMLH 68277 GHOSTS (A&M, 1974) The pattern is clear by now: extended, significant set-pieces counterbalanced by shameless filler. Dave Cousins’ vocals are very mannered indeed, and he dramatises emotion like a ham actor to compensate for the absence of more conventionally pleasing tones. This one has ‘Ghosts’ (the title track) and ‘Grace Darling’. Record is in excellent condition; cover has mild wear. Includes inner sleeve/lyric sheet. EX/EX-.

AMLH 63607 HERO AND HEROINE (A&M, 1974) More of the same. Contains the hit ‘Shine On Silver Sun’. Within a few years the Strawbs were utterly beached by Punk, and posterity has not been over-kind. Proper appreciation of their qualities requires a higher tolerance of mixed twee and bombast than modern audiences can muster. But hey, for me (a 57-year-old), it’s a nostalgic blast. Record is in excellent minus condition; the cover is in excellent minus condition. Includes inner sleeve/lyric sheet. EX-/EX-. 
What do you say? Starting price £4.99?

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 – – 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..."


No comments:

Post a Comment

The Complete Chris Ackroyd vs Vladimir Putin 1-61

Chris Ackroyd, who manages to lead a fulfilled life without a computer, asked if I could send a message to the world. Well, I sometimes have...