In Part one I looked at the album Antiques and Curios, it was a very fine album, but it was obvious that the band were still trying to find their feet. From The Witchwood fixed that problem, but created many others.

I was lucky to have had the opportunity to have interviewed both Dave Cousins and Rick Wakeman. Neither seemed particularly keen on discussing From The Witchwood and as the subject of our interviews concerned very different projects, I did not pry.

The Strawbs official web site offers this rather curious comment:

Following the success of Antiques And Curios, the same line-up recorded its first studio album. However, musical differences emerged, which caused the making of Witchwood to be very uncomfortable, with Hudson, Ford and Cousins arguing about tracks for the album, and Wakeman being so busy with sessions work that he frequently had to overdub his parts later. It is nevertheless many a fan’s favorite, with some wonderful, haunting songs, many of which have stood the test of time and are still part of the live set today.

There is little doubt that this is a true statement. Witchwood was a clash of titans. Not so much in fighting for being king of the castle, more that each one had their own dreams and aspirations. It might even be viewed as a marriage of convenience.

The music however was truly rich and captivating.

The album started with Glimpse Of Heaven

This song very much set the tone for the rest of the album, haunting and often dark vocals from Dave Cousins and rich and complex keyboards from Rick Wakeman.

Every track on the album firmly bears the DNA of Dave Cousins and Rick Wakeman.

One of my personal favorite tracks is The Hangman And The Papist. A brutal story of times gone by in England. The following video comes from a 1971 rendition on the BBC weekly music program Top Of The Pops.

TOTP had a bit of a checkered history, the acts appeared to be live performances, yet there was a good deal of rumbling that in fact it was all lip synced. The controversy hit the fan when fellow Electric Folk band Fairport Convention played on it with a member of the group wearing a t-shirt saying I’m Miming.

I have serious doubts that this was a live version of Hangman for one very simple reason. Rick Wakeman plays a single keyboard. As I recall the album liner notes tell a different story. The organ on the video appears to be a Hammond, and I am not sure that even in the versatile hands of Rick Wakeman could it be made to cover the complexity of the tune.

One of the most curious tracks on the album is Canon Dale. When you realize that this was recorded over 40 years ago the special effects are nothing short of outstanding.

Another track in the same musical style was Thirty Days. This track however is a little off the beaten Strawbs path. Rather than look at injustice from history they took on what they saw as injustice in the here and now. The conflict in Northern Ireland was raging. Billed as a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics it was in fact much more complex. Some might argue that it was Englands Vietnam. Thirty Days was very much a protest song.

As I mentioned earlier, for many Strawbs fans From The Witchwood remains a favorite album. It should, it was the last time that the wonderful magic of Dave Cousins and Rick Wakeman would gel for over three decades.

Rumor has it that Ricks departure from The Strawbs was a somewhat acrimonious and bitter affair. As an outsider looking in, I do not believe that the problem was in the music, but rather the goals. Dave wanted a band that toured and was cohesive, Rick preferred the idea of a band that recorded and played less regularly allowing the musicians to pursue solo projects. I have to admit that when I heard the news of Rick Wakeman joining Yes I was very disappointed. In retrospect I do understand. Yes was a far different beast from The Strawbs. Rick found the space he needed for his solo projects.

Next time we will look at Grave New World, The Strawbs in the post Wakeman era.

Simon Barrett

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