The Strawbs have a long and varied history. Since starting out as a bluegrass band in 1964, their personnel has changed a multitude of times and their style has gone from traditional folk to a mix of folk and progressive rock.
The two recently released collections, Strawbs at the BBC, Volumes 1 and 2, offer up a compact history of the band. Volume 1 consists of 19 tracks covering BBC sessions from 1968-1974. These sessions were culled from U.K. television programs such as Top Gear and Sounds of the Seventies; Volume 2 covers the years 1971, 1973 and 1974, and consists of three hour long BBC radio concerts (the 1971 show being Rick Wakeman’s final performance with the group).
Dave Cousins, the founder and longest standing member of The Strawbs, grew to be a remarkable songwriter. His strengths were at their height through the early to mid seventies and these recordings are a testament to his talents.
The chronology is such that it is easy to hear how Cousins and the various incarnations of the band progressed over a period of a few short years. 1968 folk ballads like “Poor Jimmy Wilson”, “That Which Was Once Mine” and “Another Day” are lovely if slightly fey, while others like “The Battle” foreshadow the more haunting material to come. Compared to later tracks such as “The Hangman and the Papist”, “Benedictus, and one of the band’s earliest signature tunes, “Part of the Union”, these early songs were mere stepping stones toward what became the Strawbs’ unique blend of prog and folk stylings.
The band’s personnel changes may have had something to do with their evolving musical style. In addition to Cousins, Tony Hooper (guitar, vocals) and Ron Chesterman (bass), played on the earliest of the sessions. In years to come, band members included Richard Hudson (drums), John Ford (guitar) and Rick Wakeman (keyboards), who along with Cousins and Hooper played on the 1971 BBC radio concert. The material featured in this show is a far cry from the early folkie sessions. The ‘old’ Strawbs might never have played songs like “R.M.W.”, which begins with Wakeman’s classical piano stylings and explodes into a prog-jazz soiree, and “Amongst the Roses”, a tune which relies heavily on the mellotron and is reminiscent of The Moody Blues.