Strawbs (or The Strawbs) are an English rock band founded in 1964. Although the band started out as a bluegrass group they eventually moved on to other styles such as folk rock, glam rock and progressive rock. They are best known for their hit Part of the Union, which reached number two in the UK charts in February 1973.
They were originally known as the Strawberry Hill Boys. Their long-time leader and most active songwriter is guitarist and singer Dave Cousins (guitar, dulcimer, banjo, vocals) (born David Joseph Hindson, 7 January, 1945, in Hounslow, Middlesex). In the early days Strawbs played with Sandy Denny (later lead singer of Fairport Convention and Fotheringay).
Although they started out in the sixties as a bluegrass band, the Strawberry Hill Boys' repertoire soon shifted to favour their own (mainly Cousins') material. They were the first UK signing to Herb Alpert's A&M Records and recorded their first single "Oh How She Changed" b/w "Or Am I Dreaming" in 1968, which was produced and arranged by two highly influential seventies’ producers, Gus Dudgeon and Tony Visconti, who also worked on their critically acclaimed first album, Strawbs, which was released in 1969. (Note: Although that first single was issued in the U.S. on A&M, neither of their first two A&M LP's were issued in the US until around 1975.)
After the folk-tinged Dragonfly, Cousins and Hooper added Rick Wakeman on keyboards and Richard Hudson and John Ford on drums and bass respectively. The new lineup had their London debut at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, where Wakeman was trumpeted as “Tomorrow’s Superstar” by Melody Maker. Their third album, Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios, the first to have a US release, was taken from that concert. Wakeman stayed with them for one further album, From the Witchwood, then departed to join Yes, being replaced by Blue Weaver who had previously been with Amen Corner and Fairweather. This lineup produced what many feel to be the archetypal Strawbs album Grave New World, before yet another change, the departure of founding member Hooper, who was replaced by rocker Dave Lambert, formerly of Fire and the King Earl Boogie Band.
Lambert’s arrival in 1972 coincided with a move towards a harder rock style, also evidenced by Cousins’ solo album recorded that summer, with guests such as Roger Glover from Deep Purple and Jon Hiseman from Colosseum. The first single with Lambert on board, "Lay Down", hit the UK charts at number 12, followed by a single from the album penned by Ford and Hudson, "Part of the Union", which went up to number 2. The album Bursting at the Seams also reached number 2 in the album charts and the band undertook a 52-date UK tour to packed houses.
However, during the course of a US tour, tensions came to a head and the Bursting At The Seams band did just that, with Hudson and Ford splitting off to record their own material, firstly as Hudson Ford, later as The Monks and High Society. Weaver also left the band, eventually finding a comfortable (and highly lucrative) gig with the Bee Gees; he also played with Mott the Hoople.
Cousins and Lambert rebuilt the band, adding John Hawken (formerly of The Nashville Teens) on keyboards, Rod Coombes formerly with Stealers Wheel and Chas Cronk on bass. This line-up recorded Hero and Heroine and Ghosts, and tended to concentrate on the North American market with relatively little touring in the UK. Strawbs still retain a great fan-base today in the US and Canada. Hero And Heroine went platinum in Canada, and both albums sold extremely well in the US too. A further album, Nomadness, recorded without Hawken, was less successful, and was their last for A&M Records.
Signed to the Deep Purple-owned Oyster label, they recorded two more albums with two keyboardists replacing Hawken – Robert Kirby, also known for his string arrangements (notably Nick Drake) and John Mealing of jazz-rock group If. Coombes was replaced by Tony Fernandez for a further album Deadlines, this time on the Arista label.
Though recording was complete on a further album Heartbreak Hill, featuring Andy Richards on keyboards, Cousins’ decision in 1980 to leave the band to work in radio effectively signalled the band’s demise, and the album remained in the vaults for many years.
A reunion on Rick Wakeman’s TV show Gas Tank in 1983 resulted in an invitation to reform to headline 1983’s Cambridge Folk Festival. The Grave New World line-up plus Brian Willoughby (who had replaced Lambert when he left in 1978 during the making of Heartbreak Hill, and had also begun a partnership with Dave Cousins as an acoustic duo from 1979 onwards) went on from there to perform occasionally in the UK, US and Europe over the next few years, replacing Weaver with Chris Parren from the Hudson Ford band and Ford himself (when he relocated to the US) with bass player Rod Demick.
1993 saw the band touring in the UK for their 25th anniversary, but the next few years proved rather quiet. Until 1998, that is, when Cousins staged a 30th anniversary bash in the grounds of Chiswick Park in London, which saw several different line-ups of the band perform on a bright summer’s day in the open air. The final line-up of the night – the Bursting at the Seams line-up plus Willoughby – became the ongoing version of the band, with annual tours in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
Hero and Heroine is a studio album by English band Strawbs. After the tour supporting the previous album, Bursting at the Seams, there was an acrimonious split leaving only Dave Cousins and Dave Lambert to rebuild the band. The new line-up gelled very quickly and studio sessions were very productive. The album was released first in the US to a warm reception, and then in the UK where reviews were more negative. The album only reached number 35 on the UK Album Charts and the band increasingly began to look to North America for a successful future.
The album, although still recognisably Strawbs, contains tracks with harsh "straight talking" lyrics, in contrast to the more lyrical approach shown on Bursting at the Seams. The music is more Gothic and doom-laden with washes of mellotron and guitar power chords, especially on the longer tracks.
All band members made writing contributions, notably Chas Cronk with whom Dave Cousins would write many songs on future albums.