Review: Acoustic Strawbs @ Live Lounge at Baby Blue
Sunday 6th September 2009
The gig was part of the ‘Live Lounge’ series of concerts at Baby Blue, “an intimate night of live music in stylish surroundings, featuring an eclectic mix of live bands and acts of both national and international status”.
The venue is a basement club beneath the Blue Bar and Grill in the heart of the Albert Dock which is both stylish and cosy and has great acoustics with its exposed brick walls and arches.
Acoustic Strawbs took to the stage with no introduction and went straight into their first track ‘Bless the Daytime’. I was immediately struck by their tight harmonies and energy. The intro of their opener was sung acapella and the combination of their three powerful vocals made for an impressive and engaging start. The three-piece perched on top of stools and had a laid back style, exuding a confidence and ease that comes with years of performing. Each of them wore a flowered print shirt, a nod towards the hippy-style of their formative days.
The Strawbs formed in 1964 and were the first UK signing to A&M; records. They recorded their first single ‘Oh How She Changed’ in 1968 and released their debut album Strawbs in 1969. Since 2007 The Strawbs have been recording and touring in two formats. There is the acoustic format which performed tonight featuring Dave Cousins on guitar and lead vocals, Dave Lambert on guitar and vocals and Chas Cronk on bass and vocals. There is also the electric format of the band which in addition to Cousins, Lambert and Cronk features Rod Coombes on drums and Oliver Wakeman on keyboards.
Tonight’s gig was peppered with interesting anecdotes from the band’s four decade spanning career. Half way through the set Cousins quipped that he has to pinch himself when he thinks that it is forty years since the band released their first album. The band performed their debut single ‘Oh How She Changed’, a song which instantly takes you to a swirly, misty morning in the sixties. Cousins told of a festival the band appeared at in Norway last year in a town with a population of 127 where they played a 2am gig to a crowd of “Norwegian hippies”. This gig inspired the next track of the set, ‘Midnight Sun’.
Cousins introduced the song ‘Copenhagen’ as a tribute to their friend the late Sandy Denny. The Strawbs recorded an album with Sandy Denny in 1967 entitled Sandy Denny and the Strawbs. The recording took place in an old cinema in Copenhagen and was completed in a day. Cousins spoke of how Sandy Denny – who he referred to as a “skylark” and as having “the voice of an angel” – was a big part of the band’s history. The tribute to her was tender with soothing guitars and gentle vocals. The band clearly have a huge amount of affection for her and this was evident in their emotional performance of the track.
Lead singer Cousins was demonstrative and theatrical throughout the set and belted out song after song with flourishes of his hands. The sound the band created with just three guitars and three voices was impressive and filled the cavern-like room. They are certainly masters of their instruments and the guitars and vocal harmonies complemented each other perfectly. Whilst watching the gig it occurred to me that they would be perfect for the Cambridge Folk Festival. I have since discovered that they in fact headlined the festival in 1983 having been invited to reform for it after disbanding in the early eighties (they also played the first Cambridge Folk Festival in one of their earliest incarnations in 1965). I hope to see them perform at the festival at some point in the future.
The band seemed to really enjoy playing the venue with Cousins commenting on the “nice room” with its “brickwork and echoes”. Their final track ‘Lay Down’ reflected the opening track of the set with its acapella intro and strong harmonies. The band ended the gig with as much energy as they opened it with and left the stage with the parting words “See you again in another thirty years!” The appreciative crowd called for more and the band obliged by returning to the stage for an encore. A woman I spoke to at the end of the gig enthused that The Strawbs sounded the same tonight as they did forty years ago when the band provided the soundtrack to her and her husband’s courting days. You get the impression that this is a band that will play until they drop and judging from the reaction of the crowd their fans hope to see a good few years out of them yet (even if thirty may be slightly on the ambitious side!).
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