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Dave Cousins: Exorcising Ghosts

Strawbs frontman lays a little light on his career.

Awed by Dylan and spurred on by Donovan, Cousins traces a circuitous pathway that includes the Strawberry Hill Boys’ bluegrass fingerpicking, a pre-Fairport alliance with Sandy Denny, to the Strawbs’ emergence from folky meandering with a distinctive and declamatory rock sound, one etched with baroque filigrees and rich Mellotron frosting.

A skilled raconteur, Cousins delivers a carousel of anecdotes with dry and often acidic asides featuring faces and places of the 60s and 70s. His observations on the pernicious nature of the music industry’s business dealings are especially instructive.

This memoir sometimes serves as an opportunity to blow the band’s trumpet. After all, they’re often marginalised in most accounts of progressive rock’s development as merely the band that Rick Wakeman quit to join Yes. Cousins reminds readers how well the band did in the USA with 1974’s Hero And Heroine and Ghosts the following year. He’s admirably self-critical about his own performances and speaks frankly of Strawbs albums he dislikes. However he’s frustratingly sketchy on some key details in the Strawbs’ timeline. Sacking Tony Hooper, who’d been there from the start, is dealt with in four sentences. Similarly, splitting with Richard Hudson and John Ford, who’d penned the reputation-tarnishing yet commercially successful Part Of The Union, is presented without much depth nor reflection upon the stresses which caused the line-up to fracture after the release of the aptly titled Bursting At The Seams in 1973. Though vital in providing Strawbs with the guitar firepower they needed, Dave Lambert’s abrupt departure after Heartbreak Hill is dispatched in

a somewhat dispassionate sentence. Substantial space is given over instead to Cousins’ post-Strawbs career as a radio station manager. That kind of partial, somewhat guarded accounting undermines the book’s definitive potential. Cousins is undoubtedly a great songwriter, but there’s a sense that he has left several verses of the Strawbs saga unsung.