Strawbs 40th Anniversay Concert
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Strawbs celebrated their 40th anniversary with an amazing 2 day extravaganza show. It featured numerous line-ups and off shoot bands.
The whole thing was fantastic, but the finale with the Royal Artillery Orchestra was something else. We were sat front row both days - the bandsmen were 2 ft in front of us, Robert Kirby was conducting from a stool besided me on the right - the Electric Strawbs were rocking like you wouldn't believe, and when they played the last number "Where Silent Shadows Fall" I was in floods of tears for the last 10 minutes of the show !!
One of the bandsmen asked me later if they were that awful as he was watching me with a huge smile on my face, crying my eyes out !!
There were loads of video cameras, so how they decide what to put on a dvd I don't know - the whole thing should be on there - you couldn't choose a best moment. The Heartbreak Hill lineup was stunning, but every set excelled and there were multiple standing ovations.
In the breaks between sets, all the fans and artists were together in the adjoining bar, and the music carried on long after the official show was over on both days.
Thanks to Dave, Geraldine, all the artists and crew for pulling this off from a very happy Sue ( still smiling )
Click here to see my photos from day 1 and here from day 2
Below is a full review by Dick Greener
Where to begin ... what a comprehensively wonderful occasion: two whole days of Strawbs' music and contributions from the Strawbs' extended family rushed by in a whirlwind of delight. Fantastic performances and splendid good company reported by all, both onstage, offstage and back in the various hotels.
Various locals and visitors started the social side of this splendid festival on Friday night, ahead of the main event, with a general gathering at Feltham pub, the General Roy, a good walk from the Travelodge where many of us were staying. A great night of chat and conviviality, followed by a late-night session on guitars and keyboard - Lord knows the Travelodge should be renamed the Tolerance for letting us stay up so late and be so noisy.
Getting to the venue, those of us on ticket duty, eventually finding the right door to go in through, set to the task of verifying the identity of voucher holders, checking them off, and then banding them up with the appropriate coloured band. A nice job because it gave us the opportunity to say hello to and chat to everyone attending, which, for me, set the whole one of the event: it felt like sitting round with a bunch of friends, with my favourite artists (also mostly counted as friends) booked to play exclusively for us all. A privilege and a joy.
Despite difficulties getting in on time, and a certain level of apparent tension, the show started off bang on time. This would be the case throughout, save for the big finale, where the complexities of getting the Royal Artillery musicians in place result in a half hour delay. People have commented that the show was one of the best organised events they had ever been to: it certainly ran like clockwork, all credit to those involved.
Veteran folkie, Fred Wedlock, a great mate of Dave Cousins' from his radio days, was an excellent choice of compere. Suitably irreverent, and extraordinarily funny, he could take the mickey without offending, and exercise crowd control with good humour.
Cousins and Cutler
First up, Dave and Ian, reprising some of the material from their US touring, which went down extremely well. Starting with a sprightly version of "On A Night Like This", they followed with a rather stately and lilting "Grace Darling". "Song Of A Sad Little Girl" was just lovely and mellow, and then to finish, two of my favourites from this duo's repertoire: "Ways And Means" (up there in my top 40 of Strawbs numbers I reckon) with choppy (DC tuning) guitar and fiddle and lots of dynamics and shifts.
Lastly, "We'll Meet Again Sometime", announced by DC as odd for this point in the programme, but somehow strangely appropriate (we would after all be meeting both of them again). This was a splendid version with Ian's folky fiddle to the fore. A marvellous start to proceedings.
New kids on the block, Zeus, were the second act. A new project involving Dave Lambert with Feast of Fiddles' Tom Leary and guitarist Graeme Taylor and bass player Jon Davie, both with impeccable folk pedigrees, had been generating a good deal of speculation. Opening with a version of "Morning Dew", which married a brooding Strawbs feel with Lambert's gruff vocals and a great instrumental coda "Solway Dawn", Zeus quickly won over the Strawbs audience. An arrangement of Davey Graham's "Anji" by Dave Lambert, combining a jazzy feel with driving Lambert guitar, was followed by a Lambert original, "True Love".
Next up, Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well Part 2" followed by "Oh Well Part 1", which was well received. The last two numbers, "The Road To Maribor", fiddle/bass-led, followed by the Freddie King number "Going Down".
A fantastically talented bunch of musicians, playing with obvious enjoyment of each other's skills. Leary is an urbane and amusing host as well as a stunning fiddle player. Lambert and Taylor have different styles, but chop and change between them, Taylor taking very acoustic style solos over Lambert's rhythm or picking style; at other times Lambert gets to shine in his inimitable way. And Jon Davie lays down a solid bass throughout.
Their first live show (the first of a number of firsts and acknowledged by a huge response), but certainly not their last. An album partly recorded, we look to see more of Zeus in the future.
Strawbs (Heartbreak Hill)
For some the raison d'etre of their attendance, many were looking forward to the first ever live appearance of this line-up, which recorded this "lost" album in 1978 after Dave Lambert left the band to pursue a solo career. Jo Partridge (the guitarist who created in "heat ray" sound in Jeff Wayne's extravagant spectacular War of the Worlds) was brought in to play guitar and mandolin, and the resulting album, when finally released, was generally felt to be a return to form for Strawbs after the accident prone and slightly less stellar Deadlines.
Opening with "We Can Make It Together", the power of this line-up was immediately apparent - Partridge in fine form. Andy Richards playedthe set shoeless (apparently not being able to feel the pedals with his shoes on, rather than being overtaken by some Sandie Shaw obsession. He is truly a splendid player, and though I saw him once before at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1978, I wasn't prepared for just how good he is. Slightly hesitant (maybe nervous) on the first song, he came into his own on the title track, "Heartbreak Hill" which was just astonishing - can't really find words to describe it otherwise. "The Desert Song" (announced by DC as the result of waking up and finding that your wife was dreaming they were with someone else !) is one of my favourite, almost throwaway pop songs in the Strawbs' canon: on album with those wonderful little almost doo-wop vocal flourishes, it still bounces along live without them, to the ensemble's obvious enjoyment. Nice piano from Andy.
After "Let It Rain", the band finished another tour de force - "Starting Over", with some fantastic light and shade, stunning accapella vocal interlude. Just amazing, and one of my absolute highlights.
And Tony Fernandez just puts every ounce of his strength and passion for the music into every hit, whilst clearly enjoying every single second he was on stage.
Cry No More
For many it seems, CNM was one of the surprise hits of the weekend. Those who were unfamiliar with their sometimes flummoxing blend of bizarre humour, deeply intense songs and a sort of call and response approach as appropriate to the football terraces as their normal haunts in Twickenham, at first showed signs of bewilderment then grins of appreciation as Roy's inexplicably hilarious (but weird) monologues had the crowd in stitches, only to be taken firmly back to earth by some of the more intense material in the CNM repertoire.
Classic Roy Hill monologues emerged - "Sheep" and "Barber Jim", the wonderful "Tinkerbell" and "Joan" in turn baffled and delighted those in the audience who had never seen them before, and were old much loved friends to those who had. "Landslide" and "Sleep" were performed by the duo at Chiswick in 1998, and went down well again, as did the catchy "Jenny Takes A First Look At Life". Those in the know joined in and led the audience
participation on "I Love Roxy", which of course also featured Roy's effortless "guitar hero" playing.
On the bleak and uncomfortable end of the spectrum, the dour tale of the murderous "Marion Jones" and Hill's tour de force on madness and
isolation "Don't Leave Me Here", impressed and captivated.
They favoured us with some of the lighter numbers in their post gig Stage 2 appearance later that night. As a result, I'd guess, from the comments I heard, that a few more Strawbs fans just became Cry No More aficionados, and will be attending the annual farewell concert (date to be announced).
Strawbs (Blue Angel lineup)
This line-up surprised many as it punched well above its expected weight, partially due to the incorporation of not only Brian Willoughby on his trademark "effortless" guitar, but also Cathryn Craig on vocals, not just on "Further Down The Road", which was expected, but throughout.
She added a huge lift to "Benedictus" (nice to see the dulcimer come out to play), but the combination of her vocal and Dave's on "New World" was nothing short of a revelation - absolutely magnificent.
Blue Weaver, flanked by not one but two real Mellotrons, produced classic crashing Mellotron sounds, perfectly set off by Willoughby's guitar. And again, Fernandez excelled. A huge ovation for Dave's emotional epic "Blue Angel" with some great keyboards from Blue and super guitar from Brian.
After that, the band left the stage to Blue for a solo written for his daughter "070809". And Blue sings, rather well as it turns out. A very personal and touching piece, very well received.
It's always been my ambition to get one of my trips to the US to coincide with a John Ford gig. Not happened yet, but I have a lot of respect for John's pop sensibilities and the string of solo albums he's produced over the last 12 or so years.
His set combined a few of his own recordings, with a trip down memory lane into Hudson Ford ("Floating In The Wind" and a medley including "Burn Baby Burn", "I Can't Understand" and "Pick Up The Pieces") and Monks territory ("Nice Legs" with some good audience participation).
His solo material started the set and later on, he brought out "Together Apart" (which Hud and he duetted on back in 2001) and his recent recording "Big Hit In India" - on disc heavily produced but which nevertheless works acoustically. To finish, he was joined by Blue Weaver and Cathryn Craig (along with Tony Fernandez playing tambourine with a similar level of enjoyment as previously on drums) for the hit single "Part Of The Union".
Rick Wakeman and Dave Cousins
And now to the headline act of the first day, Rick and Dave playing together for the first time in over 20 years. I say, play, but as much as half of the set was given over to reminiscing and sparring between the two, which gave the evening a mellow laid-back ending, which was just perfect. They covered some familiar ground from the old days, opening with "The Hangman And The Papist" (no paint roller to be seen). "Martin Luther King" had some choppy chord playing from Wakeman and Dave donned the banjo for a super version of "Witchwood". We also had Rick's favourite "A Glimpse Of Heaven" and to close, "The Shepherd's Song" with some soaring arpeggios from Rick.
A couple of numbers from Hummingbird were chosen, two of my favourites: the Russian folk tune-based "October To May", which ended with a fantastic Wakeman solo, and the beautiful "Can You Believe", one of Cousins best love songs in my view.
And, to the delight of many, Rick announced he was going to do the subtly renamed "Temperance Of Mind". Explaining its background, the Sheffield show where the power went off and Dave turned to Rick and suggested an acoustic piano solo: "What should I play ?" says Rick; "Whatever you feel like" says Dave, and history was made. And that is the point of TOM: it's not the same every night, so that after it was committed to tape at the QEH in July 1970 and released on Antiques And Curios, punters complained when they didn't get the same snippets. To prove the point, Rick went out into the audience and asked for some "notes" to incorporate into the piece, explaining for non-musicians that they could range from A to G and be sharp or flat. Wincing as he came back to the stage with a few odd key signatures to be going on with, he naturally then played a stunning selection of musical snippets (including a couple - the Keystone Kops car chase theme included - from the original).
Between all that we had some glorious stories and backchat: tales of hamsters in the oven and Salvador Dali; tallying up the number of wives they'd had between them, Rick came up with 11 (I think he was adding in the six he borrowed from Henry).
The day's formal proceedings were at an end, but more joy to come: Chas and Roy set up on Stage 2 and performed an impromptu Cry No More
second set (aren't they all impromptu ?). I wasn't writing tracks down by this point, but I know "George's Bar", "Piccadilly Lights" and "On Holiday" were included, along with "Taller Of The Two". There was some audience singing, led by Roy, and at Geraldine's request (she missed the first one) a reprise of her favourite Roy song "Don't Leave Me Here". A great way to finish off.
Those of us at the Travelodge had more partying to do, so off in Bennett Cabs (Nigel did a sterling - and difficult - job in organising the taxis to take us to and from the venue, many thanks Nigel!), to the bar at the Travelodge, where another late-night singalong ensued.
Opening up Day Two, Mr Wedlock, who, having done a cracking job as compere throughout Day One, now had his own slot (vice the Fools). An opening song about testing microphones "Testing" was followed by a tutorial on how to play and sing the blues. There was a song about the British barbecue, a skit on "Send In The Clowns", a song about the British on holiday in the Costa del Packet, and finally his hit, "The Oldest Swinger in Town", which Fred explained, with the passage of time had lost some its ironic bite ! Great set, with Fred's effortless humour getting the audience rolling in the aisles from the off.
Cathryn Craig and Brian Willoughby
Cathryn and Brian next took to the stage, opening with "That Ol' Guitar", the first of several songs which as well as featuring Cathryn's fabulous voice, allows that old show-off on guitar to stun the audience with a fabulous display of fingerboard dexterity, generally drawing the language of despair from those in the audience who fancy themselves as guitarists. The charming "Alice's Song" followed, played on a parlour guitar, then "I Will" with some nice flamenco style runs from Brian, alternating with chordal backbeat swipes.
A personal favourite "Mr Jefferson" was followed by their recent recording about Pocohontas and her fate, the strident and powerful "Accanoe".
The final number started with an accapella snatch of "River Deep/Mountain High" with help from the audience to sing the orchestral parts, segueing into the "Cotton Fields/My Window Faces South" closer, which again features Brian's impossibly stunning playing. Just towards the end of the song there was a huge bang: not quite clear what happened, but it was certainly a big bang ending - albeit unintentional ! Brian and Cathryn's main audience to date has been in the UK, so for many of those from abroad it was a first time, and many left thoroughly impressed with what they'd seen (as those of us who know them well could have predicted!).
Blue Angel Orchestra
After a fairly long lay-off it was great to the see the BAO again, in its Melvin Duffy variant rather than with Miller Anderson. Opening with "Never Take Sweets From A Stranger" with Melvin on electric guitar, before turning to the pedal steel for "Mellow Moon". He really is a stunning player. Then, a nice surprise when Dave announced "The Young Pretender", which I'd wondered about for the Wakeman set, but which fitted just perfectly here.
Ian Cutler's instrumental fiddle tour de force "Orange Blossom Special" was greeted with huge applause, before the band turned to their closing numbers "Hellfire Blues" and the driving "Skip To My Lou". Again, a well kept secret in the UK, and many overseas visitors seeing them for the first time were more than impressed with the BAO.
Acoustic Strawbs with Sonja Kristina
This, for me was one of the highlights - a performance which it would be difficult to imagine happening again (though I'd be delighted if it did!!). The Acoustics took the stage on their usual three stools, to play a cracking "Simple Visions", followed by "Josephine" from the current set. Then - only the second or maybe third time it's been played in public - the lovely "Copenhagen" from the new album, reminiscing back to the days when Sandy was in the band. Gentle, emotional and intricate, perfect Acoustics material. A rousing "Cold Steel" with Dave's banjo very prominent in the mix, finished off the first half of this set.
Then on comes Sonja, in a fabulously glittery sequinned jacket, to take up her place on the fourth stool. Some complicated fingerpicking takes us into "Sail Away To The Sea" (one can only guess how long it is since that song has had an airing). Next "On My Way" with all four adding the complex Mamas And Papas-style harmonies which graced the original. More of this on - to my delight - my favourite from that album, "All I Need Is You": finally, watching them do it on stage, I can understand how those harmonies work. I'm a great fan of the big harmony things that both Acoustic and Electric Strawbs do with the strong vocal line of the two Daves and Chas - but add Sonja into the mix and it's an even more magical sound. Finishing with a great "Tell Me What You See In Me" which owed something to the recent electric arrangement as well, this was an amazing experience, worth the price of admission alone, IMHO. Fabulous !
Dave Lambert came on alone at first, in a natty white outfit, playing a bright red Telecaster for a solo version of "Just Love". Joined bythe rest of the band, Bob Voice on drums and Dick Dufall on bass, we were then treated to a selection of Fire's signature numbers.
Lambert had the opportunity for some prog guitarist virtuosity to lead into "Treacle Toffee World" before switching to the blue acoustic for "Only A Dream". Neil Byford was kept pretty busy as Dave constantly switched guitars, next opting for the black Les Paul for "Flies Like A Bird".
A band that plays so infrequently, Fire nonetheless were as tight as can be and both the harmonies and playing of Bob and Dick are superb. The closing song was of course "Father's Name Is Dad", a great ending to an accomplished performance.
During the interval, the front of the stage was reset as an orchestra pit for the Royal Artillery Band, who would be joining the band for the grand finale.
Strawbs with the Royal Artillery Band
So finally the closing extravaganza: at first, just a "normal" performance from Electric Strawbs - showing just how powerful the current lineup is. A blistering start with "Sheep" (not the Roy Hill monologue of course!), followed by Dave Lambert's charming "The Winter And The Summer". The sound was superb throughout (Paul adding a perfect little echo on the word "suffer" in the driving "Hero And Heroine" which followed) and I don't think I've seen these guys play better than they did. "Autumn" had a huge big sound in the "Winter Long" ending.
Oliver's showcase "Where Is This Dream Of Your Youth" continues to develop - including now a passage in the middle where Oliver and Lambert play call and response over the solid rhythm section of Chas and Rod. The final number of the Strawbs set proper, as it no doubt should be, the classic Strawbs hit "Lay Down", was already beginning to draw some emotional responses from the audience and they could feel this unrepeatable two days drawing to a close.
Now, the stage reset for the Acoustics, the strings of the Royal Artillery Band file in, for a beautiful, poignant "Evergreen", conducted and arranged by Robert Kirby. Those of us who had bemoaned the lack of "Heavy Disguise" in John Ford's set (a curious omission) were placated by a stellar performance of the song with the Kirby brass arrangement which featured on Grave New World, but which of course has never been played live.
Next the full orchestra come on to play the stunning and majestic orchestral version of "The River/Down By The Sea" - some sawing strings, booming tympani and woodwind and brass made a forceful orchestral background for this classic Strawbs number. I know Dave has long wanted to perform Strawbs material like this with an orchestra, and it must have been a great pleasure finally to realise this ambition.
Last of all, a deeply emotional "Where Silent Shadows Fall" from the new album, to my absolute delight (probably my favourite track) Anthemic, poignant, pure Strawbs material, and with the added orchestral instruments the long instrumental coda was perfectly realised (although the audience started clapping - they just couldn't wait ! - before the final cornet theme played out the end of this astonishing bravura performance, and a full three minutes standing ovation saw Dave thanking those involved, so full of emotion he could hardly speak.
To finish things off of course, there was our own performance on Stage 2 (the three Fools present and Heather Malcolm and Joe Bruno) - Foolishly going on after the most impressive show we had ever seen: follow that!. And then to end it all, Vince Martin, who had manfully looked after Stage 2 on both days, stood up and did a set with various of the usual suspects - Chas on bass (getting in another stage appearance, as Fred repeatedly reminded us, so that he could equal and finally surpass the number of times Dave Cousins appeared on stage!), Blue on keys, Melvin on pedal steel and Jo Partridge (back from an Saturday night gig in Birmingham) on guitar. A great set, including some fantastic indigenous flute playing from Vince, before the closing of the venue and back to our hotels.
So many highs, an impossibly brilliant two days of stellar music, spent with many friends old and new - what could be better ?
"You'll scarcely believe all the pleasures inside..."