❉ A new remastered & expanded edition of the 2007 solo album by Strawbs founder Dave Cousins.
“As powerful a cross-over as anything Cousins has done in his career, this wonderfully strong album well deserves to be reissued, as the songwriting on here is as strong as anything Cousins has ever been involved in.” – James R Turner.
Esoteric’s remastering of the Strawbs and associated recordings from their acquisition of Witchwood Records carries on with this remaster of Strawbs leader Dave Cousins’ second solo album from 2007, only a mere 24 years after the debut Two Weeks Last Summer (previously reviewed by We Are Cult HERE)
With a set of songs that were more personal than the recent Strawbs material, Dave got together Miller Anderson (who played on Two Weeks Last Summer) on guitar, Chas Cronk on bass, Ian Cutler on fiddle and drummer Chris Hunt, with local guests including Deal Landlord Chris Ball on piano, and sisters Frances and Elizabeth Tophill on backing vocals, creating the Blue Angel Orchestra. Recorded by the late great producer Chris Tsangarides, whose studio was four miles from Dave’s home in Kent, made this album a very local affair.
There’s a lot of personal reflection on the songs throughout this album, such as the track The Smile You Left Behind – a gentle, emotional intimate ballad, reflecting on the loss of his father who he never knew (for whom the album The Boy in the Sailor Suit is titled) and the raw emotion, even now, brings a lump to the throat as he laments his loss and the love for a father who he only knew in photographs.
There are lots of references to World War II throughout this album, with the rollicking Hellfire Blues referring to the area of Kent known as Hellfire Corner, immortalised by the Battle of Britain memorial looking out over Dover. An incendiary version, recorded by the Blue Angel Orchestra at the Strawbs 40th Anniversary bash in September 2009, is included here for the first time as a bonus track.
A lot of the songs are also referencing the area where Dave has lived for a long time, with the beautiful Mellow Moon reflecting the solar eclipse from Southsea beach, whilst Bringing in the Harvest refers to Kent as the garden of England, and , as I remember from my Maidstone days, with the row upon row of verdant fields full of all sorts of fruit and veg destined to feed the hungry mouths across the country.
Meanwhile the family connection continues with the blues rock Mother Luck (with a fantastically deep groove from Miller Anderson), named after his grandmother, and referencing the history of the old restaurant Rules in London, name-dropping customers over the years like Disraeli, Lily Langtree and Charlie Chaplin.
Cousins has always been a fantastic lyricist and there’s plenty of deeper meanings going throughout his songwriting over the years, and the same can be said for Wish You Were Here with its mellow, almost music hall tune, and lyrics that are considerably darker than the tune.
Whilst the rocking opener Never Take Sweets From A Stranger tells the story of someone who picks up a female hitchhiker and gets far more than he bargained with, carried by an absolute monster of a riff (again, a live version from the Strawbs’ 2009 tour is included here to show how powerful live it was). The twist at the end of the song is worthy of the best thriller writers!
Meanwhile you get a radical re-write of the traditional Skip to My Lou (here recorded with Conny Conrad) reinterpreted here with a crunching riff, some dark lyrics and a powerful fiddle into marks this out as darker folk rock as that performed by Fairport on Matty Groves or Steeleye on Long Lankin, and pulls out the folk roots of Cousins, mixed with the heavier sound of latter-era Strawbs.
The bonus live version of this track shows Ian Cutler on fire on fiddle, his instrument taking the lead from the guitar, whilst the bluesy riffs from Anderson add an undercurrent to the song, propelled by Cronk’s bass and Hunt’s drums.
This album is powerful a cross-over as anything Cousins has done in his career.
This wonderfully strong album well deserves to be reissued, as the songwriting on here is as strong as anything Cousins has ever been involved in, and showed that despite having been involved in the music world for nearly forty years when this was released, he’d lost none of his wit, bite and musical power, testament to that of course is the fact that the Strawbs are still performing (or will be when gigs get going again!) well into their half-century year.
❉ Dave Cousins & The Blue Angel Orchestra – ‘The Boy in the Sailor Suit’ (Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2723) is out now, RRP £10.95. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, James R. Turner is a music and media journalist. Over the last 25 years he has contributed to the Classic Rock Society magazine, BBC online, Albion Online, The Digital Fix, DPRP, Progarchy, ProgRadar and more. James’ debut book is out in September and he is head of PR for Bad Elephant Music. He lives in North Somerset with his fiancee Charlotte, their Westie Dilys & Ridgeback Freja, three cats and too many CDs, records & Blu-Rays.