There have been electric and acoustic iterations of Strawbs doing the rounds on the live circuit of late, but tonight we get the unplugged version, along with plenty of anecdotes and gags.
We knew David Cousins (vocals, guitar, banjo) was a dab hand at everything from bluegrass and folk to folk rock and prog, but who knew he could spin yarns with such aplomb?
Tonight he’s flanked by old Strawbs faithfuls Dave Lambert (vocals, lead guitar) and Chas Cronk (vocals, 12-string guitar, bass, foot pedals).
“Dave Cousins? He’s dead, isn’t he?” ventures the 71-year-old frontman, mocking his veteran status and kicking off proceedings in droll style. The three Strawbs might be sitting on stools, but instead of laid‑back whimsy, there’s wit and vitriol here. Turn Me Round and The Man Who Called Himself Jesus open their account as Cousins promises, “We’re going to take you on a magical history tour.”
The lovely Copenhagen prompts a reminiscence involving inviting David Bowie round for tea, and Sandy Denny’s brief tenure with the band before she joined Fairport Convention, much to Cousins’ humorous chagrin.
Things take a turn for the fierce on New World, written the day after the 1972 shootings of Derry protestors by British paratroopers in Northern Ireland. Cousins taps into all the passion and pain that led him to pen such a powerful lament, screaming, ‘May you rot in your grave!’ with an intensity you don’t normally expect from a quiet Sunday evening in sedate Putney.
As though to portray Strawbs as the nearly men of rock, Cousins tells tales of the band’s various affiliations with Elton John, Tony Visconti and Gus Dudgeon, but Oh How She Changed doesn’t need any apologies. Cousins, Lambert and Cronk achieve a richly resonant sound with their three acoustic guitars, and the folk fans in the audience tonight are clearly in their element. Cousins even manages to inveigle Pan’s People into a story ahead of a break “so that we can recharge our pacemakers”.
The second half of the set starts with Benedictus and more tales of Strawbs’ revolving-door policy: Cousins tells the crowd how Rick Wakeman got poached by Yes, and then replaced by Blue Weaver, who ended up being the richest ex-Strawb of all following a stint with Saturday Night Fever-era Bee Gees. Ghosts, explains Cousins, provided them with an unlikely success in the States, while Shine On Silver Sun, he notes, comes from 1974’s Hero And Heroine, which was recently voted by Rolling Stone as one of the 50 greatest prog albums.
They end with Autumn, the Strawbs song most likely to be used at weddings. “Thanks,” says Cousins, clearly moved by the rapturous response the band receive. “It’s been a real privilege.” Likewise.