The Strawbs - John Wesley Harding @ Jammin Java, Washington DC - Sep 5, 2012.
John Wesley Harding
This prolific singer songwriter was just headlining here recently with a two-hour set of his own. I enjoyed that show quite a bit, evidenced here, and was happy to see he is such a Strawbs fan as well. For as he said, "this may be the only time I stay around to see the band... well, there were a couple nights opening for Springsteen...". He's doing most of the tour with them so he can hang out with them, catch shows, and have a good time. But we also get the benefit of his marvelous songs, guitar dexterity, and hilarious wit, albeit only 38 minutes tonight. I love his new single, but why not imbed it than describe it.
He did many other favorites and had wry commentary between songs and within including the warning that he was not playing "Quinn the Eskimo" when the initial chords were pretty much the same. He displayed great flat picking technique that both rocked out and pulled back into intricate folk moves. His songs were clever, stage patter even more so. I got to thinking that it would be hilarious to have him play a show with Neil Innes, Eric Idle, and Robyn Hitchcock on stage with him. It would be hilarious but you would probably only get about 5% music and 95% comedy with those guys. Tonight's bonus was less hilarious, but more musical with David Lewis who he has written songs with on some guest backing vocals. To no surprise, everything clicked tonight with the Jammin Java crowd.
After an enjoyable 40-minute chat with Dave Cousins, I was looking forward to this evening's set even more than the previous couple of shows. It was the expected line-up of Chas Cronk on acoustic bass, 12-string guitar, pedals, and vocals; Dave Lambert on acoustic guitar and vocals; and Dave Cousins on vocals, acoustic guitar, with the surprise additions of dulcimer and banjo which have been in hiding too long.
They did two sets tonight for a whopping 110 minutes as they pulled out songs I have not heard in a long time (if at all) and had many stories in between as they took us through a Strawbs history seminar. The stories were great, both funny and with a little bite. Of particular interest was his stories about a Irish musician we've never heard of, Dominic Behan (sorry, I've got three of his albums). The story was on Dylan's lifting a Behan melody/arrangement for a song of his own. He's preaching to the choir here, as I've spent enough time of my own complaining about Paul Simon and Jimmy Page on these issues. Oh, and "Josephine for better or for Worse" was dedicated to Dominic Behan's wife.
The dulcimer made it out for "Benedictus" and was about the only miss from the soundman all night, as it was just a little too quiet. Otherwise, the guitars were ringing away and the banjo added a nice diversity for a couple of songs. Lambert blazed away on some rock solos on his acoustic (especially on "Ghosts") while adding slide touches and some effects. The three really locked in on some intricate arrangements and filled the room. Vocally, they were also in great form and have such wonderful contrasting voices. "New World" was as good as I've ever seen it played.
It was nice to see a good turnout for this powerful show and the audience enjoyed every minute of it. It does not appear that there is anything slowing these guys down yet and I am sure I will be back for another round next year. It is never too late to become a Strawbs fan, as they have been the tortoise racing the hare in one of the longest musical marathons I have seen. We know how that story ends.
INTERVIEW with DAVE COUSINS of the STRAWBS
Dave Hintz: Let me get one question out of the way from Wikipedia. I would like to know if that is accurate that you have degrees in Statistics and Mathematics?
Dave Cousins: That's right. I've studied from a few months to three years in mathematics, I did mathematical statistics for two years, I also did psychology for a year and a couple more.
(laughter) How do the songs come to you? Is it the mathematical part of your brain with patterns or is it from some other place?
Some of the guitar figures come from patterns I have developed. And I have been reanalyzing them recently and find that there are definite rhythmic patterns. But mostly the ideas usually come from the lyrics first and the music comes afterwards.
Your own Strawbs catalog is so diverse.
People think we are a folk group, but we're not really a folk group. We started down in folk rock and my songs were to an extent influenced by the sound of folk music, but you know maybe for long time you can argue I was trying to write a folk song that could be sung by everybody. But the novelty of rock'n'roll itself, it (authorship) was not thought of until the royalties started to come in and I suddenly realized it was necessary to know who wrote it. (laughter). But modern day folk songs are Beatles songs. I mean "Yellow Submarine" is sung in (various) countries by the seaside.
That's true. Folk music is the music of the era, and continues to be passed along ... Now for many of the people who don't realize this, you have had many musicians pass through the band from Sandy Denny to Rick Wakeman, Sonja Kristina ...
We have had some astonishing players. As you said, Rick Wakeman played. When Rick left to join Yes, then Blue Weaver joined. Blue Weaver left us to go off with the Bee Gees Band and played on 'Saturday Night Fever' and several Bee Gees albums. When he left, we brought John Hawken in who was with the Nashville Teens and Renaissance. He blended very well with the band, but when he left we brought in the keyboard player from If... John Mealing and then we had Robert Kirbey the arranger playing keyboards with us as well at the same time with two keyboard players ... And then we had Don Airey in the band who is now in Deep Purple and on top of that, most recently we played with Oliver Wakeman, Rick's son, before he left us to join Yes, keeping it in the family. And to keep it in the family even more, on our tour in November in the UK with our electric band, we had Adam Wakeman, Rick's other son who has been touring with Ozzy Osbourne's band and Black Sabbath the last eight years. So it's been an astonishing array of people playing in the band.
Did you play with the Sandy Denny Fairport Convention at all?
No, but of course with Sandy Denny, we recorded our first album with her. In 1967, it was called "All Our Own Work". The trouble was that she left us to join Fairport, and we had been rehearsing for about six months. We made the album and then my job was to get it released in the UK. We had made it in Denmark and by the time I had found someone to put it out, she had gone off to Fairport. So the album did not come out until later, in 1973, which was a terrible shame since nobody knew what it was. But Sandy and I and remained the best of friends until the day she died.
I think it is fair to say that the Acoustic Strawbs still provide a great variety of rock sounds when you play.
It essentially is a rock band with acoustic guitars. We make a huge noise for three guys with acoustic guitars. People actually are astounded by it. The person that was most impressed with it was Steve Hackett, the guitarist formerly of Genesis. He saw a show of outs at Hampton Court that Rick Wakeman did and he said ' how the hell do you make that sound? It's enormous, as big as Wakeman with an orchestra.' It's not that we turn the volume up, but it's the fact that for our guitars, we use a combination of a 12-string guitar, my guitar in an open tuning, and Dave Lambert in a normal tuning, but we are all playing different registers, so we get the sound of about 12 guitars instead of three. It sounds huge. We are able to weave melodic lines into the guitar playing--it's astonishing what comes out in the mix.
First published and full interview @ dcrocklive.blogspot.com.
Photo Credits: (1) John Wesley Harding, (2) Dave Cousins (unknown).