Outlining the David Hall’s dramatic arch is golden script that proclaims ‘Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you’. Underneath, the band mount the stage, embrace their musical instruments and promise the packed venue, “we’re going to take you on a journey…”
The Acoustic Strawbs are storytellers, socio-political commentators and entertainers. Their work is well documented digitally and readily available online. What their live performance at The David Hall affords is a compelling personal curation, route through and telling of their long and textured narrative in a way that is as accessible to those unfamiliar with their magical history as for their die-hard fans.
A good place to start to familiarise oneself with the backstory of The Strawbs is YouTube, where a wealth of content lives, including a short documentary about their early days. Starting off as the Strawberry Hill Boys the band were regulars of the London folk and bluegrass club scene. In 1966 they opened their own club in Hounslow named the White Bear:
One night a guy called Lonnie Donegan came and played at the White Bear, another night David Bowie came and played. It was the week Space Oddity was released, no-one knew who he was – they did soon.
Early on in the first set Dave Cousins, lead singer, told the story of meeting Sandy Denny at the Troubadour Club in Earl’s Court in the mid-60s. The band invited Sandy to join them, which led to a week in Denmark – recording an album in a cinema by day and decamping to Tivoli Gardens afterwards. The Strawbs then played their song ‘Copenhagen’ that reflects upon that week with Sandy.
Several years ago, a day in early spring
In a Copenhagen bar, I heard a skylark sing.
In a slow speed silent movie there’s a snow kissed winter scene
Your pretty face is glistening with tears in that half remembered moment
Silent and serene, the town hall bells are chiming down the years.
Lyrics by Cousins and Cronk
After the audience’s roar of approval for the band’s anguished performance of ‘New World’, Dave went on to describe how Gerry Moss, co-founder of A&M Records contacted the band and asked them to spearhead the label’s launch in the UK. They were told to find their own producer, which led them to work with Tony Visconti and Gus Dudgeon at Chappell Music in New Bond Street (Visconti went on to work with Bowie, The Moody Blues, Marc Bolan and T-Rex…). According to Dave, their record ‘Oh How She Changed’, ‘is a sleeper, as they call it in the business!’
There’s hate in your eyes and I’ve seen it before
Planning destruction behind the locked door
Were you the coward who fired the last shot ?
May you rot, may you rot, may you rot, may you rot
May you rot, may you rot in your grave – New World.
Lyrics from New World ’72.
We were gradually evolving into more of a rock band. We did a gig with a band called ‘Yes’ in Hull. They watched us from the wings. The vultures were circling.
One of the most famous musicians who was a one time Strawb is Rick Wakeman – prior to joining 70’s prog rock legends ‘Yes’. Indeed, Dave recounted a tale of playing with Wakeman at ‘The Rock and Roll Circus’ beside the Eiffel Tower in Paris. As they played alongside the high-wire act and child jugglers, Salvador Dali suddenly appeared on stage waving his stick in the air!
Over time the band evolved into more of a rock band and left much of their folk and bluegrass roots behind them.
The BBC asked us to do the first album slot for Top of the Pops. At that time it was bigger than Bake Off… They didn’t know what they were doing – we played a song about Northern Ireland called ‘The Hangman and The Papist’.
You’ve now arrived at a point of departure, but some suggested routes for you to take are:
The David Hall itself has a tremendous history and its future programme of events is well worth exploring – look here to find out more.
Join us for a cultural adventure in the heart of the South West!
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