Dave Cousins interview
|by Chris Groom|
|photo credit: www.strawbpage.ndirect.co.uk|
After more than 30 years in
the music business I can imagine that, except for his most recent projects, Dave Cousins
must have heard (and answered) the same questions over and over again. As with
all the other interviews Chris and I always tried to come up with
While checking through some dates for the late sixties / early seventies Soho folk scene, I noticed both Alan Hull and yourself playing the same venues a few days apart. How aware were you of Alan on the folk circuit, prior to his working with Lindisfarne?
I was not aware of Alan at all.
The Strawbs were/are often put into the same folk rock category as LF, which always seems a little unfair on both bands. Do you find this 'pigeon-holing' annoying? Or even damaging?
I never regarded ourselves as folk. We started in the folk clubs because we played acoustic guitars and there was nowhere else. In the UK the folk-rock tag is/was damaging. In the US it certainly wasn’t – the whole music business revolved around the genre for a couple of years. I refer you to the recent books by Richie Unterberger ‘Turn, turn, turn’ and ‘Eight Miles High’ that discuss the whole phenomenon.
Perhaps the most damaging thing for us was ‘Part of the Union’ which sadly has become a novelty song. However, everyone knows us for it.
The strength of songwriting in the two groups has always been a common factor, although very individual styles. For the most part, I would describe Alan's style as factual, social comment - is it fair to say that your songs are mainly fictional story-telling - 'Rio Grande' and 'Hangman & the Papist' being prime examples?
I entirely agree that Alan’s style was social comment and very good too.
I disagree that our songs are seen as fictional story-telling, although a few certainly are. Most of our songs I would describe as confessional, written about what happens in our lives.
I tried to find other connections between the two bands, without too much success. One tenous link was that former Strawbs drummer Rod Coombes and LF associate Rab Noakes were both in Stealers Wheel for a while! A better link was that the late Gus Dudgeon, who produced Lindisfarne's Back & Forth album, was the man behind the desk on the Strawbs first LP. What are your memories of working with Gus?
There are not too many links. Rab Noakes once wrote to me enclosing a tape of his songs with the view to being published by Strawberry Music. I wasn’t up to speed on publishing at the time and didn’t pursue it. What a silly thing to do!
Gus Dudgeon produced our first album. However I fell out with him because he didn’t like my voice and under mixed it. “You can read the bloody words on the sleeve” he said. We went on to be produced by Tony Visconti. I’m glad to say that I met Gus several times in the last few years and we got on really well. I’m so pleased that we did, bearing in mind the terrible, tragic accident. Incidentally I chatted to Ray Jackson at the funeral – I must follow up on that. In retrospect I rather think that Gus was right!
"Oh How She Changed" was the Strawbs first single release. Polydor wanted a single with which to promote the album. The Strawbs went into the studio and cut "Oh How She Changed" and "Or Am I Dreaming" with Gus Dudgeon as the recording engineer. Cousins recalled:
"And living downstairs from Tony Hooper was Gus Dudgeon, and he was still an engineer at that time for Decca, and he'd just done his first production which was Ralph McTell's first album, and he's used Tony Visconti doing the arrangements, and we were very impressed with this and Tony said I think this is the ideal bloke for us. So we went to see him and played him the songs and he said I need another verse for 'Oh How She Changed', 'Or Am I Dreaming' was decided on as the other side. We recorded it and everybody went wild about it. They thought it sounded beautiful - it was totally original and sounded different. Listening to it the other day it was a very different sort of sound for its time."
[source: Dick Greener/Strawbs website]
As a Fairport fan, I'm interested in the fact that Sandy Denny was an early vocalist with the Strawbs. Was she an asset that got away, or did Sandy not quite fit into the band?
Sandy Denny was a great asset and fitted in really well with us. Unfortunately she was worried about my commercial pop instincts, discussed it all with Joe Boyd who then introduced her to Fairport. It can’t have that been bad because Joe licensed the Sandy and the Strawbs album for which I wrote the notes.
I have a date for an early double bill at the Maria Grey College, Twickenham in December 1970 did the Strawbs and LF often cross paths while touring?
The first time we played together was in Hartlepool at a club run by the Amers. Lindisfarne were known as Brethren then and I expressed great interest in producing them. Next time we met was at Maria Grey College. We didn’t cross paths other than that. Incidentally I met up with the band in my local in Isleworth a couple of weeks ago and we talked about that gig.
The most recent collaboration was the 'Legends' tour in November 1993 and for my money, to have LF & the Strawbs on the same bill made for a terrific evening. Was this purely the brainwave of the promotors, Flying Music - or did the bands have a say in getting together?
The Legends tour was the bright idea of Flying Music.
People have hinted that the tour didn't run as smoothly as it might have done. Was there any friction between the two bands? Or do you have only good memories of these dates?
There were some problems on the tour. Our keyboard player Blue Weaver went into hospital with a kidney stone problem and we had to do the first few shows as a four piece, which meant some rethinking. After the first night Lindisfarne’s merchandise guy said “We expected a folk group, not the fooking Clash”. The PA seemed to go down in level for the rest of the tour! Alan was especially nice to talk to, but our best memory was the end of tour drink in their local pub when Marty Craggs was carried out. “That’ll teach him to try to keep up with us” we said smiling our way back to the hotel.
On that tour, both bands featured an excellent keyboard player on stage with them; LF boasted the late Kenny Craddock, who had just produced the 'Elvis Lives on the Moon' album, while Derek 'Blue' Weaver had just returned to the Strawbs fold. Does Blue still perform with you these days?
We haven’t played as a full band for nearly three years. Blue did some of the shows on the last tour but it was very difficult all round as his wife had just died. Adam Wakeman (Rick’s son stepped in to cover and it was great fun).
In August 1994, I saw you and Brian Willoughby on the same Guildford festival stage as Alan and Kenny. Both duos performed excellent versions of 'band' songs, but do you have material that is separate from the Strawbs and only ever performed on solo dates?
There are some songs that suit the duo performance better than band treatment. These are the songs that depend more on the lyrics than the melody such as ‘Ringing down the years’.
The Acoustic Strawbs Canadian/US tour in Apr/May this year was extremely successful. Excellent reviews, 3 days in a row at Hugh's Room in Toronto, two sold out ones at the Tin Angel in Philadelphia and another 4 weeks with even more double shows in Nov/Dec this year. Do you see any specific reason for this success?
We always had a better following in the US and Canada than in the UK. We spent over 52 weeks in the Billboard charts in the seventies with ‘Hero and Heroine spending 17 weeks on the album chart and the follow up ‘Ghosts reaching No. 42. ‘Ghosts’ did not even chart in the UK. ‘Hero and Heroine’ went gold in Canada and is still selling in large quantities there in particular – it has sold 26,000 since being released on CD in Canada alone.
PRESENT AND FUTURE
You do have your own label Witchwood Records where most of the Strawbs albums are released, but why do we find some (re-)releases instead on John Tobler's RGF (Road Goes Forever) label?
John Tobler issued our old back catalogue and some new recordings in the 1990s. I wanted to have control over our catalogue so we formed Witchwood Records in 2001 to issue new Strawbs albums and DVDs. We have made a deal with John for him to become a shareholder in Witchwood and we now have all the back catalogue under one roof.
[ www.witchwoodrecords.co.uk - www.rgfrecords.demon.co.uk ]
Both bands, Lindisfarne and the Strawbs, have recently adopted a cut-down 'acoustic' format; this must offer more flexibility for a band - although a bit unfortunate for the drummers! Do you think this is the way forward for groups to keep working, to go out in twos or threes, when it's not viable to take a larger band out on the road?
It has become increasingly difficult to keep a band on the road without record company support. Acoustic Strawbs happened by accident, literally. I was due to do a folk club show with Brian Willoughby but a week before I tripped and sprained my left wrist. Rather than let people down we got Dave Lambert to play with us and the reaction was remarkable. We did a couple of local pubs to astonishing reaction, got booked for the Edinburgh Festival, at which point I thought we should make a record – ‘Baroque & Roll’. Since then we haven’t stopped touring as a trio and the record hasn’t stopped selling. People really enjoy the stripped down feel and the fact they can hear the words for a change. Also we have revisited songs we new arrangements and begun to introduce new songs in preparation for a new album.
Having said that, any idea when we can next see the complete Strawbs in action?
A full band will be headlining a prog rock festival in the US in July and a full band will doing a big folk festival in the summer. [info at www.rgmbooking.com ]
Finally, with both bands still touring regularly, do you ever envisage working with LF again?
I’d love to work with Lindisfarne again. However, as ever, the problem is financial. Will we draw twice as many people or is there too much of an overlap.
Dave Cousins interview, August 21st, 2002 by Dan Wooding
For everyone who is not too familiar with -but interested in- their music, I recommend starting with the double CD Halcyon Days.
After listening to all those famous tracks it should only be a small step before you are keen to listen to Baroque & Roll from the Acoustic Strawbs.