The Stables, Wavendon - 20th February 2007
On previous occasions, I have seen The Strawbs play inside a 14th century guildhall and a cathedral. Both were memorable evenings in which the music and the atmosphere created by the unusual surroundings seemed to complement each other perfectly.
So how would their performance translate to the cosy confines of The Stables, a venue which by comparison could be described as mundane? Maybe the stables of a medieval castle would have been more in keeping with past Strawbs watching experiences.
There was a significant difference this time as well in that founder Dave Cousins, guitarist Dave Lambert and bass player Chas Cronk, who regularly appear as an acoustic trio, were joined by professorial keyboards player John Hawken and drummer Rod Coombes.
|The Strawbs - then|
This was the line-up which completed the band’s move from folk to pop to prog rock in 1974 with the album Hero and Heroine, which featured a dove taking off on the front cover and a band photo on the back in which the unease in their eyes was probably due to the combination of dodgy white tuxedos and heavily lacquered hair.
It gained them a measure of commercial success, but nothing to match the singles Lay Down and Part of the Union which had reached twelve and two in the charts in 1972-73.
Unsurprisingly, they immediately launched into Lay Down, a song prefaced by the well-honed acapella harmonies of Cousins, Lambert and Cronk, which were a feature of a number of songs in a two-part set, and followed by the dark and brooding New World and Burning For Me.
In their five-piece incarnation, two very different styles emerge. Cousins supplies the folk element, while Lambert provides the rock - the long hair, power chords, facial gurning and at one point during Round and Round, the Pete Townshend-style leap into the air.
On the face it, the combination shouldn’t work - there is no obvious musical connection, for example, between Witchwood, Cousins’s tale of a bosky ramble in winter time, and the lovelorn, up tempo Heartbreaker, written by Lambert - but somehow it does.
Their voices are very different, but they share a common passion for the music which is clear in complex pieces like Autumn, Ghosts and The River/Down By The Sea when lead vocals are alternated.
Those songs work superbly in an acoustic context, but equally so in full band form as Lambert’s tasteful lead guitar work enhances rather than overwhelms.
Disappointingly, The Stables was only about two thirds full but an appreciative audience urged the band back for an encore which featured I Only Want My Love To Grow in You, a warm pop confection wrapped around a double entendre, and the aptly titled Here Today Gone Tomorrow.