I’ve mentioned Strawbs in these pages on more than one occasion. They were (and still are, in semi-retirement) a British folk- and progressive-rock group that made a deep impact in their native country in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. They broke new ground in many ways, and influenced those who came after them. I’ve been a fan of their music since my youth.
Dave Cousins wrote most of their songs, many of them undoubtedly under the influence of the drugs that were popular at the time, others inspired by esoteric spiritualities such as the I Ching. I was (and remain) uncomfortable with some of them, due to my own Christian faith; but others I found very profound, more poetry set to music than songs in the traditional pop and rock form. I’ve chosen several of the latter to share with you this morning, songs that I think reflect Cousins’ own searching for truth and the poetry inside him. I’ll play them in chronological order.
First, from the band’s eponymous debut album in 1969, here’s a folk rock piece called ‘The Battle’. This performance is from a live concert later that year, published as the album ‘Recollection‘. Keyboards are played by a very young Rick Wakeman. It’s uncomfortable listening for Christians, but it’s also a very real reflection of the damage caused to our society by warring interpretations of faith. This song became something of an anthem for those trying to bring about peace in Northern Ireland, where the Troubles pitted Catholic against Protestant for decades.
Next, one of the group’s greatest hits, ‘Hero and Heroine’, from the 1974 album of the same name. This is pure hard progressive rock, all the way – yet also poetry.
To show the impact of the I Ching on Cousins’ composition, here are a couple of songs that he’s acknowledged were directly influenced by it. First, from the album ‘Grave New World‘ in 1972, here’s the very well-known ‘Benedictus’.
A more meditative and seldom-heard song, from a 2012 remastered re-release of ‘Hero and Heroine’, is ‘Still Small Voice’, which also shows the influence of the I Ching.
From their 1975 album ‘Nomadness‘, here’s ‘So Shall Our Love Die?’ At the time, Cousins was going through a very rocky patch in his second marriage, which was to end in divorce. He implicitly acknowledged in his autobiography, ‘Exorcising Ghosts: Strawbs & Other Lives‘, that most of the fault was his own.
Finally, from their 1977 album ‘Burning For You‘, here’s the almost-eponymous title track, ‘Burning For Me’.
There are so many good songs from the Strawbs that it was hard to limit myself to just six. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed them; and, if you hadn’t paid much attention to Strawbs before, I suggest you give more of their music a try. It repays careful listening.