As U.K. progressive folk group the Strawbs prepare to enter their fifth decade of music making, the thrill of playing live remains an exciting prospect for vocalist David Cousins.
“People ask me all the time why we still make music. The fact is, if it was something we didn’t enjoy doing, we simply wouldn’t do it anymore,” Cousins says. “Not only are the audiences we play for so very receptive, they come bearing records, posters and other wonderful things for us to sign after the show. Having the chance to interact with our fans every night is just fantastic.”
Despite maintaining a busy slate of shows that keeps them jetting from one corner of the world to another, Strawbs are no strangers to Canada. Their acoustic performance on Thursday evening at Saint John’s Steamers Theatre – the band’s only New Brunswick show on their current tour – follows a run of dates through Ontario, where they played before standing-room-only audiences.
According to Cousins, there is a very good reason the band keeps coming back to Canada:
“On a per capita basis, Canada has always been one of the Strawbs’ biggest markets of anywhere in the world. We’ve sold impressively large quantities of albums here, so it just makes sense that we would include the country on our tour itinerary.
Indeed, the legacy of the Strawbs is something to behold. From the group’s formation as the Strawberry Hill Boys in in 1964, the band adopted the abbreviated Strawbs moniker in 1967. The group’s first studio effort was a collaborative release with Sandy Denny, who would go on to join Fairport Convention.
In 1969, the band released its self-titled debut effort, the first of almost two-dozen releases. The Strawbs’ catalogue, seven titles of which landed within the Billboard Top 200 album charts, is held in such high reverence that Rolling Stone Magazine named the group’s 1974 release Hero and Heroine as one of the Top 50 prog rock albums of all time.
The group’s newest offering is the soon to be released Live In Gettysburg: Rites of Spring Festival 2016. The upcoming CD/DVD package was captured at the band’s performance at ROSfest in Gettysburg, Penn. this past May.
While many groups may have difficulty keeping a consistent line-up of musicians together, or for classic acts like the Strawbs, boast little in the way of original members, Cousins rightfully touts the fact that he, guitarist Dave Lambert and bassist Chas Cronk – the same configuration that will be playing Saint John on Thursday – have anchored the Strawbs frontline since 1973.
“I can’t think of any other band in the world where the frontline of the group has been together as long as we have,” Cousins says. “The other thing that I think is completely extraordinary about the Strawbs is the pedigree of keyboard players we have had pass through the band.”
Before joining fellow prog-rock band Yes in 1971, Rick Wakeman had held the keyboardist position within the Strawbs. Wakeman was replaced by Derek John “Blue” Weaver in time for the band’s 1972 effort Grave New World, marking the start of what many critics believe is one of the Strawbs finest creative periods.
Weaver’s tenure with the band was relatively brief, having departed the group to join the ranks of the Bee Gees as they were about to become superstars thanks to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
Don Airey – Deep Purple’s current keyboardist – also was a part of the Strawbs line-up at one point, as were the sons of former Strawbs member Rick Wakeman, Adam and Oliver Wakeman.
Keyboard players aside, however, it is the musical talent and chemistry between Cousins, Lambert and Cronk that has played a big part in the Strawbs having retained such a dedicated following of fans over the last four-plus decades.
Although the group has reworked some of its material to fit the acoustic format, Cousins enjoys offering attendees a bit of a different take on some of their classic songs.
“Some of the song arrangements have changed and been rendered much simpler, but rest assured the sound coming from the stage is very full as we explore different tunings, sounds and textures that help make every performance unique,” Cousins says.
What: Strawbs (Acoustic)
When: Thursday Oct. 13, 8 p.m.
Where: Steamers Theatre, 110 Water St., Saint John
Tickets are $35. Advance tickets are available at Backstreet Records (124 Germain St., Saint John)