The departure of Rick Wakeman after From The Witchwood came as little surprise to music insiders. It was clear that Rick Wakeman and Dave Cousins had different personal visions. For the pair of them to continue collaborating someone, or both of them needed to change. That was not an option that either seemed to find palatable.

The music world waited with baited breath to see what would happen to The Strawbs, many were of the opinion that they were about to implode. A small black hole in the music world was forming, and everyone involved would be quietly sucked into an eternity of obscurity.

That was not to be!

I like Dave Cousins, and in my interactions with him make it clear that Dave is a fighter. And fight he did! In 1972 Grave New World hit the music scene. It was a very different album from Witchwood and Antiques And Curios. Grave New World was edgy, sometimes bitter, and more rock oriented than previous recordings.

The album started harmless enough with Benedictus. This track was very much a classic Strawbs creation.

But as the album went on, the changes became clear. To fill the shoes of Rick Wakeman Dave pulled in Blue Weaver. I like Weaver, he is very much a musicians musician, a workhorse that is adaptable. What he lacked in Wakeman creativity he more than made up for in good solid work. But it does not matter how you slice it and dice it he was not Rick Wakeman.

Track 4 Heavy Disguise is an interesting listen for a number of reasons.

The lack of heavy keyboards is obviously one observation, but there are others. Very rarely did Dave Cousins feature songs that he had not written, this one is credited to John Ford. I might be wrong, but I have a sneaky hunch that this track was a bit of a dig at Wakeman. While Dave Cousins makes no bones about Tomorrow being about Wakeman, few people have discussed Heavy Disguise in those terms.

More in keeping with The Strawbs style was the title track New World. But it still spits venom. It is a song written out of anger.

The really telling track is on side 2, Tomorrow. This track has all of the charm, wit, and repartee of the Hound Of The Baskervilles. Not only is it biting in the vocals, the song writing credits say it all! Cousins, Tony Hooper, Ford, Blue Weaver, Richard Hudson all assisted! The target was Rick Wakeman.

Grave New World is by no means my favorite Strawbs, and I seriously doubt that the Strawbs themselves look back on it with fond memories.

It did chart at #11 in the UK, but that was likely due to the success of Witchwood rather than on the merits of Grave New World.

Once again the Strawbs found themselves in a hole. Tony Hooper, a founding member of the band, called it a day.

I do admire Dave Cousins, he is a man that just never gives in. Next time, I’ll take a look at the post Grave New World situation that the Strawbs had to deal with. Dave has to wrestle with his folk roots and pop music.

Simon Barrett

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