This versatile unit was formed in 1967 by Dave Cousins (guitar/piano/vocals) and Tony Hooper (guitar/vocals). They initially worked as a bluegrass group, the Strawberry Hill Boys, with mandolinist Arthur Phillips, but later pursued a folk-based direction. Truncating their name to the Strawbs, the founding duo added Ron Chesterman on bass prior to the arrival of singer Sandy Denny whose short spell in the line-up is documented in All Our Own Work. This endearing collection, released in the wake of Denny's success with Fairport Convention, features an early version of her exemplary composition, 'Who Knows Where The Time Goes"'.
Cousins, Hooper and Chesterman signed to A&M Records and released their official debut, Strawbs, in 1969. This excellent selection featured several of the band's finest compositions, including 'Oh How She Changed' and 'The Battle', and was acclaimed by both folk and rock audiences. Dragonfly (1970) was recorded with cellist Claire Deniz and featured a contribution from session keyboard player Rick Wakeman (keyboards) on the lengthy Arthurian epic 'The Vision Of The Lady Of The Lake'. The album was less well-received, prompting a realignment in the band. The original duo was joined by Wakeman, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, and former Velvet Opera members John Ford (bass/vocals) and Richard Hudson (percussion/sitar/vocals). The Strawbs embraced electric rock with Just A Collection Of Antiques And Curios, recorded live at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall in July 1970, although critical analysis concentrated on Wakeman's contribution.
The critical plaudits continued on the new line-up's first studio recording, From The Witchwood, but Wakeman grew frustrated within the band's framework and left to join Yes. He was replaced by Derek 'Blue Weaver' (guitar/autoharp/piano) from Amen Corner. Despite the commercial success generated by the outstanding Grave New World, tension within the Strawbs mounted, and in 1972, Hooper was replaced by Dave Lambert (guitar). Relations between Cousins and Hudson and Ford were also deteriorating and although 'Lay Down' gave the band its first UK Top 20 single, the jocular 'Part Of The Union', written by the bass player and drummer, became the Strawbs' most successful release.
The Strawbs split following an acrimonious US tour. The departing rhythm section formed their own unit, Hudson-Ford while Cousins and Lambert brought in pianist John Hawken (ex-Nashville Teens/Renaissance), Chas Cronk (bass/vocals) and former Stealers Wheel drummer Rod Coombes. However, a series of poorly-received albums suggested the Strawbs had lost both direction and inspiration, although their increasingly progressive sound found favour on the North American market. Their final album for A&M, Nomadness, was recorded without the recently departed Hawken. The unit embraced a more commercial direction on a series of albums for the Oyster and Arista Records labels, with keyboard players Robert Kirby and John Mealing prominent in the mix. Tony Fernandez replaced Coombes on the Strawbs' final album of the 70s, Deadlines, following which the band recruited full-time keyboard player Andy Richards. Sessions for a new album provisionally titled Heartbreak Hill were rocked by the departure of Lambert after the completion of one track, leaving the remaining members to complete recording with session players Jo Partridge and Miller Anderson. Ongoing management problems precipitated the departure of Cousins and the band subsequently fell apart.
Cousins led various line-ups of the band after he revived the Strawbs in 1983 for an appearance at the Cambridge Folk Festival. He reunited with founding member Hooper and Richard Hudson for 1987s' Don't Say Goodbye … album, with the trio joined by Brian Willoughby (guitar), Chris Parren (keyboards) and Rod Demick (bass). The album featured a number of tracks originally intended for Heartbreak Hill. A second recording by this line-up, Ringing Down The Years, was initially released only in Canada. In 1998, the band's 30 year history was celebrated by various members with a spectacular anniversary concert at Chiswick House in west London. Cousins, Willoughby and Lambert continued to play together on a regular basis over the next few years, while a number of former and current members of the Strawbs got together in the studio to record 2003's Blue Angel. The 1974 era line-up of Cousins, Lambert, Cronk, Coombes and Hawken reunited in 2004 to record Déjà Fou.
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