Classic Strawbs re-form and hit the ground running!
Release Date: 26th November 2021
Saturday, 1th August, 2007. It’s Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, and Strawbs have been invited to play. Maybe re-formed specially for the event or, on the other hand, maybe not, but, in any case, Strawbs were back together with the classic line-up that had made the huge selling Hero and Heroine and Ghosts albums, way back in the early 70s. I was there, that day, and I can testify to the comment that Dave Pegg made as the band left the stage: “Strawbs were on Fire!!” Indeed they were.
For the curious, the “classic” Strawbs line-up that appeared that day were: Dave Cousins on guitar and vocals, Dave Lambert on lead guitar and vocals, Chas Cronk on bass and vocals, John Hawken on keyboards and Rod Coombes on drums – an unprecedented reunion of five unique musicians. That Cropredy show was so well-received that Strawbs were motivated to enter the studio to record The Broken Hearted Bride, an album on which Strawbs rediscovered the full-on rock sound of their vintage years – the years that produced albums like From the Witchwood and Grave New World – and which, in turn, spurred them onto even greater heights. As Dave Cousins said, in his excellent autobiography, Exorcising Ghosts, “The album received great reviews to the effect that Strawbs had rediscovered the fire, decades after making their biggest impact on the music scene.” Indeed they had. The Broken Hearted Bride is a magnificent Strawbs album – right up there alongside their greatest achievements.
Unbelievably, The Broken Hearted Bride has been unavailable for quite some years – at least until now. Esoteric have done their usual thorough job in remastering and repackaging this excellent album. The booklet that accompanies the CD is packed with interesting information, a full set of lyrics and a fascinating essay by Dave Cousins, in which he tells the story of how the classic line-up reconvened and provides background notes to each of the songs.
As well as the original album – remastered to a glorious standard – the disc also includes three bonus tracks; demos of the Cousins/Cronk songs Too Many Angels and Everybody Knows and Dave Lambert’s You Know As Well I, plus the exquisite We’ll Meet Again Sometime, included as a tribute to John Hawken, who fell ill during the recording of the album and had to leave Strawbs on health grounds after the subsequent tour. Happily, John did recover and was able to rejoin the band in time for their 50th Anniversary concert in New Jersey in 2019. We’ll Meet Again Sometime is a beautiful song with a magnificent Dave Cousins vocal, fantastic slide guitar, sympathetic rolling drums and a refrain that surely strikes a chord in anyone who hears it: “We’ll meet again sometime, though the road is steep and very hard to climb.”
It would be churlish, at this stage, not to mention the marvelous production that Chris Tsangarides achieved right through the album, but specifically on the epic ballad, Through Aphrodite’s Eyes. Tsangarides does, of course, have an impeccable heavy metal pedigree – his list of clients includes Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest and Tygers of Pan Tang – and, on a track that manages to seamlessly combine soft folk, heavy rock and prog, Tsangarides is there to make sure it all fits perfectly.
Strawbs’ “return to rock” ethic is demonstrated right from the outset on opening track, The Call To Action. Swirling guitars, clattering drums and some demonic fiddling from guest Ian Cutler combine to give the track an Arabian and slightly sinister feel, and you know that Strawbs are back. Climate change was, of course, a growing concern – even back in 2008 – and Cousins is right on the nail with the apocalyptic Christmas Cheer (Everything’s Going to be Alright). A driving rocker, with extra clout added by The Big Choir, it’s a song that paints an uncannily accurate picture of the world that we now recognize, with the exception that, in the song’s reconciliatory final verse, the religions of the world come together to everyone’s mutual benefit. I don’t think that’s happened yet…
The pace and tone are relaxed for Dave C’s autobiographical Too Many Angels, a pleasant song that gives hope of better days to come, before the pulsing title track, The Broken Hearted Bride ups the odds once more. Inspired by the London Tube bombings of 2007, it’s an “allegorical story of a young woman who unwittingly falls in love with a terrorist masquerading as a student.” Destined to become a Strawbs’ live favourite, it’s a brilliant song with biting, merciless and, ultimately, heartbreaking lyrics – “He said he taught mathematics, at a college in Dubai. Told her of the genie’s lamp and a carpet that could fly. She loved his fairy stories, from the land of make-believe, and clung to him for comfort, when he said he had to leave. He caught the train that morning, it was overcast and grey, e waved and blew her kisses, there was nothing left to say. He pulled the chord inside his coat, and blew himself away.”
The Broken Hearted Bride isn’t merely a collection of Cousins/Cronk songs. Like many the best Strawbs albums, lead guitarist Dave Lambert also gets a welcome look-in on the compositional front. Shadowland, the first of his two songs to be included is an anthemic number with a great vocal and some beautiful, soaring guitar soloing from Lambert. In contrast, his second contribution, You Know As Well As I, is a refreshing samba, in which the band even manages to accommodate a steel band passage.
Perhaps the starkest and most intense song on the album is Dave Cousins’ Deep In The Darkest Night, written in memory of Dave’s younger brother, Gerry, who had recently passed away. It’s a thoroughly moving song with a tasteful, respectful piano accompaniment and the penultimate verse, “You spoke your word, and your word was trust. But a will of iron can turn to rust. Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust. Deep in the darkest night” is typical of the strength of feeling expressed in the lyric. Deep in the Darkest Night is a song guaranteed to make any listener want to hold tight onto anyone they are close to.
The Broken Hearted Bride is an album with a long, rewarding climax. Everybody Knows starts life as a soft, reflective song and develops into a grand, arm-waving anthem, before the original album is brought to a close with the awesome Action Replay, an instrumental re-run of the album’s opening track, in which the Arabian feel is, if anything, even more apparent.
I make no secret of the fact that I’m a Strawbs fan, but I’m not averse to picking out any moments in their repertoire that fall below my expectations. There are no such moments on The Broken Hearted Bride; it’s a tremendous album that represents some of the best work that Strawbs have ever done. And, believe me, that’s saying something!
Listen to The Broken Hearted Bride – the album’s title track – here: