❉ We review special editions from the world of ’70s British folk and prog, by Dave Cousins, The Strawbs and Renaissance’s Annie Haslam.
Dave Cousins – ‘Two Weeks Last Summer’
“By expanding his musical vision, Dave Cousins’ musical view exploded. Suddenly he wasn’t a folk singer writing songs for a rock band, he was a fully-fledged progressive composer.”
After releasing the wonderful Strawbs album, The Ferryman’s Curse last year, Esoteric have taken over the Witchwood records archive, and are working their way through The Strawbs’ post-A&M albums (coincidentally, last year they reissued Hudson Ford’s only non-A&M album as well) and in their usual meticulous fashion, they have reissued Dave Cousins’ debut solo album, one which casts a long shadow over the next 30 years of the Strawbs.
Formed in the late ‘60s as a Bluegrass band, The Strawberry Hill Boys, The Strawbs recorded a seminal album with pre-Fairport Sandy Denny (including the first recording of Who Knows Where the Time Goes?) before Denny joined Fairport, and the band, then a folk trio, became the first UK act signed to A&M and their debut album was produced and arranged by Gus Dudgeon and Tony Visconti.
They were joined by Rick Wakeman, John Ford and Richard Hudson, and their musical vocabulary was widened (From The Witchwood was an early career highpoint) and when Wakeman left to join Yes, he was replaced by Blue Weaver (who later joined the Bee Gees during their Saturday Night Fever era). With Dave Lambert added to the mix, The Strawbs were moving inexorably away from their folk roots, and the Hudson Ford-penned Part of the Union hit number 2 in the charts, with its parent album Bursting at the Seams also hitting number 2 in the album charts.
By the end of ‘72 the Bursting at the Seams band had imploded, leaving Cousins and Lambert looking to find a new band to carry on.
What seemed to have slipped through the cracks, however, was Dave Cousins’ first solo album. As his honest sleeve notes point out, whilst Hudson and Ford were writing songs that fitted his vision of the Strawbs they weren’t interested in his epics, like Blue Angel, so for these songs, and decided to record them with someone other than the Strawbs!
The Strawbs had a massive pull in the early ‘70s, and drawing on his connections, Cousins pulled together one hell of a band: Deep Purple’s Roger Glover on bass, Coliseum’s Jon Hiseman on drums, wonderful guitarist Miller Anderson on lead guitar, Rick Wakeman on piano and keyboards, Dave Lambert on guitar (a fruitful musical partnership that still endures to this day), Tom Allom on organ. Produced at Richard Branson’s Manor studio, recorded during two weeks in July 1972, the song-writing on this album is far closer in tone and style to 1974’s Hero and Heroine than Bursting at the Seams which was recorded and released after this album. This new remaster, replacing the 2006 Witchwood Records edition, gains some wonderful insights from Dave Cousins but loses the lyric booklet, not to mention gaining four bonus tracks.
The obvious centrepiece to this album is the epic Blue Angel (which is one of the finest songs Dave has ever written, and one which he returned to a couple of times – more on one attempt later, and which finally saw service as a Strawbs track proper on the album of the same name back in 2003), there were always elements of the epic to The Strawbs’ music (the 10-minute-plus Vision of the Lady In The Lake from 1970’s Dragonfly) however up until this point they were a folk rock band dabbling in progressive and rock.
By expanding his musical vision and bringing in rockers like Miller Anderson and Roger Glover, jazz drummer Jon Hiseman and getting Rick Wakeman to guest on Blue Angel and Ways And Means, Dave’s musical view exploded. Suddenly he wasn’t a folk singer writing songs for a rock band, he was a fully-fledged progressive composer.
Tracks like the title track, sublimely covered by Sandy Denny’s Fotheringay, or When You Were A Child still retain that folk rooting that has stayed with Dave, but it’s on The Actor, We’ll Meet Again Sometime and of course Blue Angel, that shows how far Dave has come from the band’s 1969 debut, and it’s this template that will drive the course of the Strawbs’ future career.
Stepping to one side for those two weeks that summer long ago, really helped Dave find his voice as one of the most distinctive progressive composers of the ‘70s & beyond.
❉ Dave Cousins – ‘Two Weeks Last Summer’ (ECLEC2701) is out now from Esoteric Recordings/Cherry Red Records, RRP £10.965.
The Strawbs – ‘Deep Cuts’
“The production values and the songs on here are prime Strawbs, and for a four piece band it has a big rock sound, as well as a really strong collection of songs, so it’s nice to be able to appreciate it finally as this reissue gives it the justice it deserves.”
Esoteric’s definitive editions reissues of the Strawbs’ post-A&M catalogue continues with 1976’s Deep Cuts. Featuring the same core line up of 1975’s Nomadness (David Cousins – vocals/acoustic guitar, Dave Lambert -vocals/electric & acoustic guitars, Chas Cronk – vocals bass & acoustic guitar & Rod Coombes – vocals, drums & percussion) the band had made the decision to leave A&M and sign with Oyster Records (owned by members of Deep Purple & distributed by Polygram) and despite several sessions (including the first Strawbs attempt of Blue Angel – included here in its finery as a bonus track, marking its first official release – and a mighty fine job they do of it as well) however as the sessions weren’t working Dave Cousins made the decision to invite Chas Cronk down to his cottage, for both of them to work on new material together.
As a result there is a very different sound to the previous Strawbs albums, and this democratic approach means there’s only one Dave Cousins original, the epic Beside the Rio Grande (another of Cousins’ story songs like The Hangman And The Papist) and Dave Lambert contributes the sublime rocking Simple Vision, which fits perfectly into the sound and style that Cousins and Cronk (still an intergral part of the Strawbs today) were working towards.
Recorded at the Manor with guest musicians Robert Kirby contributing his trademark mellotron, strings, woodwind arrangements, John Mealing joining the band on a session basis for the second album in a row on keyboards and produced by Rupert Holmes, the band threw everything behind this, one of their most commercial set of songs (probably the most commercial collection since the Hudson/Ford era that produced Bursting at the Seams).
Lead single, the incredibly catchy I Only Want My Love To Grow In You, hung around outside the charts in the UK at 51, whilst, with the label being a newbie in the states, the album didn’t scale the heights of its predecessor. This is a real shame, as it’s being a mighty collection of songs, including the brilliant Cronk/Cousins rocker Turn Me Round, the startlingly effective My Friend Peter, which does that classic song-writing task of taking a straightforward rocking tune and then add some devastatingly harsh lyrics with a bleak twist at the end as well as Charmer, which has a charm of its own.
The production values and the songs on here are prime Strawbs, the crisp mid-seventies sound, beautifully remastered here, brings out every nuance of the lyrics, every riff, and for a four piece band it has a big rock sound, as well as a really strong collection of songs, so it’s nice to be able to appreciate it finally as this reissue gives it the justice it deserves.
The obligatory bonus tracks include the aforementioned version of Blue Angel, which, whilst being a brilliant version, if it had been included on the album, it would have been out of step with the rest of the songs on here, as long with the rest of the demos of the tracks from the abortive sessions, all of which would have taken the album into a totally different dimension had they followed that song-writing vein. Of interest as well is an alternative spoken word version of Beside the Rio Grande, which is dramatically effective, as Cousins is a superb orator as well as singer.
This is a fine remaster of an overlooked classic, and hopefully now it can take its rightful place as a classic in the canon.
❉ The Strawbs – ‘Deep Cuts’ (ELCLEC2702) is out now from Esoteric Recordings/Cherry Red Records, RRP £10.965.
Annie Haslam – ‘Annie in Wonderland’
“Rattling through different genres and styles, and with songs written to give Annie vocal freedom, an absolute joy from start to finish, with every facet of Annie’s musical scope covered”
Having been part of the what is now considered the definitive line-up of Rennaisance since she joined in 1971, this debut solo release from 1977 (a bloody good year for different releases, including me!) see’s Annie stepping out of the band and into the solo spotlight.
One of the highlights of this album, above and beyond the fact it features that amazing voice (alongside Sonja Kristina, Annie is one of the defining female voices of progressive rock) is that it also features the peerless skills of Roy Wood (who was in a romantic relationship with Annie at the time) all over the record.
Contributing I Never Believed in Love, Hunioco and Rockalise in terms of song-writing, and producing & engineering the record, not to mention the multitude of instruments that Roy plays on the record, he really is the musical lynchpin behind this record, bringing along his old friend Louis Clark (string arranger for ELO) & Wizzo Band drummer Dave Donovan, not to mention painting the striking artwork that depicts Annie as Alice in Wonderland, and including himself as the teddy boy on the cover.
Annie’s Rennaisance colleague Jon Camp also contributes the tracks If I Were Made For Music and Inside My Life, as well as playing bass on those tracks and Nature Boy.
This close friendship group working on this album gives it a real ‘family feel’ and this intimacy and relaxed atmosphere really shines throughout this record.
Hung together on that voice, and with songs written to give Annie vocal freedom, this is an absolute joy from start to finish, with every facet of Annie’s musical scope covered, with covers of the Rodgers and Hammerstein standard If I Loved You, the 19th century Going Home (based on Dvorak’s Symphony Number 9, better known as ‘The Music From That Hovis Advert’!) and Nature Boy (recorded in 1948 by Nat ‘King’ Cole), whilst the classical elements that Renaissance were renowned for get a nod with the two Jon Camp songs.
The trio of Wood’s songs on here give Annie space to sing and, from days in The Move and beyond Roy has always been able to write a song to match the vocalist, the wonderfully daft (totally made up) African language on the beats throughout Hunioco bring the song to life, whilst I Never Believed In Love was written because Roy always wanted to duet with Annie.
The result is an album that rattles through different genres and styles, and in lesser hands this could jar and sound disjointed, but it was produced by Roy Wood who made genre-hopping a speciality before it was cool, and in essence he’s made a Roy Wood album for Annie Haslam (this and his 1975 solo album Mustard are kissing cousins), and stepped back to allow her to shine, and shine she does throughout. The song choices and the vocal performances mark this out as a proper reflection of Annie as an artist.
The reason why this works so well is because instead of trying to make a Renaissance album without Renaissance, Roy & Annie made an Annie Haslam album with added Roy Wood, and it’s as enjoyable today as it was in 1977.
❉ Annie Haslam – ‘Annie in Wonderland’ (QECLEC2688) is out now from Esoteric Recordings/Cherry Red Records, RRP £10.965.
❉ 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.