One of the better British progressive bands of the early 1970s, The Strawbs differed from their more successful compatriots (The Moody Blues, King Crimson, Pink Floyd etc) principally in that their sound originated in English folk music, rather than rock.
Founded in 1967 as a bluegrass-based trio called The Strawberry Hill Boys by singer/guitarist Dave Cousins, the group at that time consisted of Cousins, guitarist/singer Tony Hooper and mandolin-player Arthur Philips, who was replaced in 1968 by Ron Chesterman on bass.
That same year, the group – now rechristened The Strawbs – briefly became a quartet with the temporary addition of Sandy Denny, who stayed long enough to record a relative handful of tracks with the group on the Hallmark label before joining Fairport Convention.
In 1969 The Strawbs were signed to A&M Records and recorded their first album, the acoustic-textured Strawbs. The LP was lavishly produced and dominated by Cousin’s mournful, droning voice.
For their second album, Dragonfly (1970) the group broadened their sound with a group of session musicians, including pianist/organist Rick Wakeman.
Soon after the release of their second album, the group became a full-fledged band with the addition not only of Wakeman but also Richard Hudson and John Ford, on drums and bass, respectively.
These changes, coupled with Cousins’ increasing dexterity on electric guitar, gave The Strawbs a much more powerful sound that was showcased on their next album. the live Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios (1970). The LP sold well and was followed up the next year with From The Witchwood.
Grave New World (1972) showed the band entering its strongest period, with Cousins’ songwriting augmented by the new prowess of the composing team of Hudson and Ford. The record became their best-selling album to date.
Unfortunately, its release also heralded the exit of Tony Hooper, who was replaced by Dave Lambert – a more aggressive, rock-oriented guitarist. Lambert’s addition brought the group into its peak period.
The Strawbs’ 1973 album, Bursting At The Seams, featured two Top Ten UK hits, Lay Down and Part Of The Union, and one album track, Down By The Sea, which racked up substantial airplay on American FM radio. It was all too good to last – and it didn’t. Weaver departed after one more tour, while Hudson and Ford left to form Hudson-Ford, also signed to A&M.
The Strawbs regrouped in 1974 with Hero and Heroine, recorded with a new line-up consisting of Cousins, Lambert, keyboardist John Hawken, bassist Chas Cronk, and drummer Rod Coombes. The new album was a critical and commercial failure in England but proved popular in America.
Their next two albums, Ghosts (1975) and Nomadness (1976), both did better in the US than they did in the UK, but none of this was enough to sustain the group, who continued to lose members. Two more albums on the Oyster label were poorly distributed and received, and one album for Arista, Deadlines (1978), was a failure, while a second record for the label was never released.
The group ceased to exist at the end of the 1970s, and Cousins embarked on some solo projects in association with guitarist Brian Willoughby.
That might have been the end of the group’s history if it hadn’t been for an invitation to play the 1983 Cambridge Folk Festival. The Strawbs responded, in the guise of Cousins, Hooper, Hudson, Ford, Weaver and Willoughby, and the response was so favourable that a tour was scheduled, which, in turn, led to their return to America in the mid-80s.
2004’s Déjà Fou saw a return to form which has thankfully continued. The Broken Hearted Bride (2008) merged their past ups and downs to pleasurable effect.