You can find Part 1 here.
I look at the Strawbs and without doubt the period of Antiques And Curios, Witchwood, Grave New World, and Bursting At The Seams is pinnacle of the bands career. Those four albums covered a lot of musical ground. And I am sure a lot of heartache for those involved. Rick Wakemanâ€™s departure after Witchwood fueled a great deal of speculation in the music press about their being a lot of bad blood between him and Dave Cousins. This was further perpetuated with the release of Grave New World. The track Tomorrow seemed aimed directly at Wakeman.
What has never made any sense to me is that if the pair parted company under such dire circumstances why did Rick Wakeman play on Dave Cousins solo album Two Weeks Last Summer?
Several years ago I interviewed both Rick Wakeman and Dave Cousins, but discretion got the better of me and I did not broach the subject with either of them.
Simon Barrett: Of the four â€˜classicâ€™ Strawbs albums do you have a favorite?
John Ford: I suppose I was happy with all four albums, I was part of the band which Dave led, and I went along with it.Â I donâ€™t really have a favorite.Â Each one brings back meaning, not just a connection with the band — but, personal things i.e. ex-wives, girlfriends, etc.Â I always thought I did not get enough recognition for myÂ bass playing for those albums.Â Tony Visconti and Tom Allom, respectively always put my bass right up front on the recordings, which must have meant something.
SB: From a fans viewpoint the Strawbs lineup for Antiques and Witchwood was perfect. The music was deep and rich. Cousins took most of the writing credits and at the time, I barely even thought about that. Pondering this 40 years later I am wondering what the mood was like within the band itself. Was there much of a power play going on, particularly between Dave and Rick? Both (to me at least) had very strong agendas. Dave wanted a team, but most certainly wanted to be the team captain. Rick on the other hand seemed to prefer the grand isolation of a team of one.
JF: I donâ€™t recall Dave and Rick having any power play in the band.Â I always thought they worked together, as they did not want to play on my track, â€œThirty Days,â€ on the Witchwood album.
I have to admit that I was not expecting that answer. But it is a very interesting answer. As I recall Thirty Days was the first track on a Strawbs album written by anyone other than Dave Cousins. Maybe that was the reason that Dave was reluctant. As for Rick Wakeman I am somewhat perplexed. The song itself is of a political nature involving the situation in Northern Ireland, so possibly that was the root of the issue.
John continued with:
The band, YES was a career step for Rick which he had to take.Â Blue Weaver stepped into his shoes, and did a better job in the long run.Â The power play backÂ then, was from Dave towards me.Â I always thought he was threatened by my songs.Â If he had taken me aside, and said, â€œYour stuff is not for the Strawbs,â€ IÂ would have listened.Â But, he never did.Â So, I figured it out for myself.Â Writing material like â€œHeavy Disguise,â€ later on, and Dave to his credit, came up with the idea of the silver band (quartet of small trumpets) accompaniment.Â This bad feeling about song writing, continued all the way through my time within the band.Â On one American tour, Dave and I never said a word to each other for six weeks.
SB: Looking back at Grave New World in the cold light of 4 decades later, I see this album as a very angry piece of work. It spits venom. Was anger the mood within the band?
JF: I personally, was not angry recording the album, Grave New World.Â I remember enjoying the recording of it. I always remember seeing Alice Cooper at the studio, every morning with a can of Budweiser in his hand which I thought rather odd, because we didnâ€™t start drinking until at least lunchtime!!!
SB: So we arrive at Bursting At The seams. It is a curious album for a number of reasons. It represented the biggest commercial success for the band with Part Of The Union and Lay Down, but it also set the stage for the band to implode. What happened?
JF: Bursting At The Seams, was a bittersweet time for me.Â Here we were at the top of the charts, and still fighting over whatever.Â I remember on our last tour, Dave used to send down set lists on pieces of paper, because heâ€™d stay in his own dressing room, until we went on.Â There was no communication — where we should have sat down and sorted out all these problems.
SB: Part Of The Union does not seem to be one of Daveâ€™s favorite songs. When I asked him about it in an interview a few years ago he called it â€˜an Albatross, a millstone around his neck, any thoughts.
Note:there are many versions of this song, but I like this one because Jimmy Saville does the intro! Top Of The Pops ruled back then!
JF: Well, Dave Cousins can call â€œPart of the Union,â€ a â€œmillstone around his neck,â€ but, that song took the Strawbs to the top.Â Maybe he should have sang it, himself?Â Then maybe he would have looked a little happier in all those old videos.Â I heard him sing it once, years ago at a folk club and thought he did a great job. He has only himself to blame, as he suggested including it on, â€œBursting At The Seams,â€ with probably a little push from our management. Hudson and I initially were going to release it outside of the band, as The Brothers.Â I always play â€œPart of the Union,â€ in my shows in the USA, where itâ€™s very popular.Â But, the Strawbs, never play their own hit song.
I think Dave should have released, â€œStormy Down,â€ whilst he was rehearsing up the new band lineup, after Hud, Blue Weaver and myself left, and the originalÂ band split â€“ because the momentum was there from, â€œPart of the Union, and I think the song would have been a hit.Â But, was lost on, â€œShine On Silver Sunâ€Â Â which I thought was a big bore.
In part three John and I will be talking about life after the Strawbs, stay tuned as it takes some interesting twists, including a brush with Punk!