Dave Cousins interview
|August 21st, 2002|
|by Dan Wooding (see below)|
A GLIMPSE OF HEAVENAND HELL FROM DAVE
LONDON, ENGLAND (ANS) -- Dave Cousins, the founder of the British folk-rock band, The Strawbs, has reunited after 25 years with keyboard legend, Rick Wakeman, to produce a new album called Hummingbird. (Pictured: Dave Cousins, left, with Rick Wakeman).
And Cousins, who once had Wakeman, now back with Yes, as his keyboardist, has agreed to talk about his new album and also his many songs with religious themes that have given his many fans a "Glimpse of Heaven" and also of hell over the years.
"The album we did is called 'Hummingbird' and it is the first time that Rick and I have been together in a studio in 25 years," said Cousins in a rare interview. "The idea of making a record came about after we met at a English Rock Ensemble (ERE) concert in Rotherham, England, put on by the Classic Rock Society. Rick is President and I am a director. (ERE is Rick Wakeman's band.)
"Shortly after the concert, Rick came to live for three months in Teddington where I live. It is close to Strawberry Hill, which is where the name Strawbs came from - we used to rehearse there.
"Rick played piano on the record (of course) and to my ears it's the instrument he shines on. He also played several synthesizers linked together, which gives him his unique sound, and solos were played on Moog. My personal favorite is 'Stone cold is the woman's heart' which is beautifully played by Rick."
It was 33 years ago when Cousins and Wakeman, then a Baptist Sunday School teacher in South Harrow, Middlesex, first met.
"Rick was introduced to me by American record producer, Tony Visconti, who was living and working in London. He wrote the string arrangement for our first single. It would have been in 1969 in London. It was obvious that he was prodigiously talented and I was extremely excited when he agreed to join the band. Mind you I think he was equally excited. Rick was remarkable at the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert that truly launched his career. The press went crazy after is extraordinary performance that was later featured on a live album called 'Antiques and Curios.' It became obvious that we would not be able to hold on to him for long.
"He was great fun on stage and not at all difficult to control. He was more difficult in the studio when he didn't like particular songs. It was also difficult to incorporate his own material into our own as it had so many chords - especially for me!"
JOINS YES FOR THE FIRST TIME
Cousins admitted that he was frustrated with the way Rick joined Yes. "I was disappointed at the time, but not because Rick left for Yes as I realized that they were more capable of stretching him musically. It was that he didn't phone me personally to say he was going. It came to me from our management. Anyway, I went down to Devon, in the West Country where I had a caravan, to rethink."
It was there during that time of confusion that Dave said he wrote one of his most beautiful songs called "Benedictus".
The words started:
"The wanderer has far to go
Humble must he constant be
Where the paths of wisdom lead
Distant is the shadow of the setting sun".
Cousins went on, "I still sing the song and I have never told Rick that the song is about him. It's my most spiritual song and one of my best, so he did me a favor in a curious way. I am delighted that he is back with Yes as again he fits so well with them and large audiences are once again able to marvel at his ability. I look forward to going to see them."
THE MAN WHO CALLED HIMSELF JESUS
I first met Dave Cousins when I was working as a reporter on the Middlesex County Times in Ealing, West London. He had just released a highly controversial song called "The Man Who Called Himself Jesus." So I asked him for this interview what inspired him to write the song.
"The song was written about an incident that happened in a shop in Copenhagen," Cousins explained. "A friend told me that a man had walked into the shop where he worked an announced himself as Jesus. Now Jesus said that he would return and my thought process was that if he did, how would he persuade people that he was Christ. Would anyone take such a person seriously? It was very controversial in its day and has a rather amusing story with it. Spike Milligan (the late lamented Goon) heard it on the radio and phoned our office to ask for a copy. We said he could have one if we could meet him. We were invited to a party at his house, which was an eye opening experience."
Many of Cousins' songs have religious overtones and so I asked him why he had put these religious themes into his songs?
"I grew up in a mixed-religion household," he said. "I was baptized a Catholic but my brother and sister were baptized in the Church of England. This came about as my Dad died when I was eight months old and my mother remarried. For some reason, which was never explained, my second Dad refused to have a priest in the house.
"I first started going to a Church of England (Episcopalian) church in Bedfont, Middlesex. I sang in the choir. However, several years later my Mum wanted me to be confirmed so I took instruction and was confirmed in the Catholic church at the late age of 16. I loved the smell on incense in Catholic churches and the mass in Latin. To me it has never had the same appeal in English.
"I do not regard my self as deeply religious but I have very strong spiritual leanings and love biblical imagery. I always visit churches when I am away from home and feel comforted in the presence that I feel.
"I took my brother to The Chapel Royal at Hampton Court two years ago for the Christmas Day service and it was very impressive. The clergy were all in red cassocks because of the royal remit and it was deeply impressive."
"THE HANGMAN AND THE PAPIST"
Another of Cousins' controversial songs was called "The Hangman And The Papist." He explained how he came to compose it.
"The Hangman and the Papist was written after a visit to Belfast, just before the outbreak of the troubles in Northern Ireland," he said. "We had a wonderful time in the city and the whole place was alive. Shortly after the troubles started with people being shot on the street. I could not understand that the problem was the division between Protestant and Catholic and began to relate it to my own mixed religious upbringing. I have sung it at a peace rally in Trafalgar Square, in Italy, across the US and Canada and it always receives a great reaction. I hope it makes people think about living together in harmony. I thought of the song as a protest song that would be valid for a year or so but I have been singing it now for over 30 years."
It was a glimpse of hell for those who listened to the biting lyrics about religious intolerance.
"THE HANGMAN AND THE PAINT ROLLER"
Cousins was invited to play the song on the top-rated BBC TV show, Top of the Pops, but he said he was horrified when Wakeman brought out a paint roller and began use it on his keyboard. This brought a log of publicity to Wakeman, but Cousins was not happy with the incident.
"I was not best pleased when Rick used a paint roller on Top of the Pops, but it certainly was noticed!" he recalled.
When asked what he thought about the present state of the Roman Catholic Church, Cousins said, "I think that the Catholic Church has not moved with the times. I am a deep admirer of the Pope and treasure a letter I received from Monsignor Rey in response to a letter I wrote to his Holiness with a suggestion about a radio programme. The letter granted me God's abundant blessings and I am sure that I have had them in plenty. However I do not agree with all of his positions. Nonetheless I respect him as much as anyone in the world today. I have seen the Pope in Rome when he spoke to the crowds in St Peter's Square and also in Prague where we locked eyes. I went straight to a church around the corner and cried my eyes out."
Cousins then explained what he has been up to in the last few years. "I have been involved in local radio for the last 20 years, as Managing Director and latterly running my own market research company," he said. "However, my workload is lessening as new radio licenses become smaller and cover smaller and more obscure areas. I have now formed Witchwood Records, which is issuing Strawbs product, and records such as Hummingbird."
US AND CANADIAN TOUR
Cousins announced that he would be taking The Strawbs on a US and Canada tour next year. "This is the first time we have been over in ten years. I am very excited about it," he said.
Rick Wakeman took time out of his US tour with Yes to give his comments on the new album. He said, "Working with Dave again was really memorable. It brought back a lot of really nice memories and it is great to see hat Dave has lost none of his lyrical genius.
"There was not one single problem with producing this album, save perhaps that we could have carried on writing and recording for days and days we were having so much musical fun.
"I think it will bring a lot of happy memories back to many people.
"It's a 21st century retro album. We have taken the best ideas from our pasts and brought them into today's technology and it really works. It just goes to prove that the best friendships in life are those that are long term and built on solid mutual respect."
Dave Cousins and Rick Wakeman have been a formidable force in the world of modern music. Let's hope they don't wait a further quarter-of-a-century to make music together again.
Interview reproduced by kind permission of Dan Wooding.
Dan is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times). Wooding is also a syndicated columnist, and was for ten years a commentator on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. Wooding is the author of some 40 books, one of which is "Blind Faith" which he co-authored with his 93-year-old mother Anne Wooding, who was a pioneer missionary to the blind of Nigeria in the 1930s. Copies of this book are available from the ASSIST USA office at PO Box 2126, Garden Grove, CA 92842-2126. His writings are on the ASSIST Website.
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