The Apex, Bury St Edmunds
“What goes around comes around” said someone far wiser than I and, it seems, tonight will see the completing of another chapter, so that cliché may well have some merit. For back in 1981 I went to my first ever gig, at The Applegate Folk Club in Castle Hedingham, and top of the bill were Dave Cousins and Brian Willoughby, Cousins being The Strawbs main man. So here I am at The Apex some thirty six years and nearly a thousand gigs later ready to blame him for just about everything I can think of.
In that time I have encountered The Acoustic Strawbs but never The Electric Strawbs but, as a starting point, let’s make clear that the different names have nothing whatsoever to do with a power source or lack of, it is a numbers game, the electric version contains two extra people bringing the total to five, and adding drums and keyboards to the mix plus bringing an entirely different repertoire to the proceedings.
As may be deduced from the above I am much more au fait with the folk tinged side of the band than I am with the prog rock with which they, arguably, achieved their highest level of prominence and, disappointingly for me, this was a prog rock heavy performance. That said the opening song “The Nails from the Hands of Christ” was an absolute cracker, brilliant imagery, stunning tune and from their new album “The Ferryman’s Curse”. Almost bought it on the strength of that one song – glad I kept my hands in my pockets as the other offerings from said album failed to reach those giddy heights, or much above sea level in my ill informed opinion.
However there were other highlights, for instance the title track of “Grave New World” was given a good seeing to, although it is upsetting to feel that a song written in the aftermath of the bloody Sunday massacre is still relevant in a completely different century. Closing the first half was “Down by the Sea” which took the long, melodic and winding road, without disappearing up its own cleverness as so much of the genre seems to do.
The second half was, almost entirely, devoted to the album “Hero and Heroine” which Rolling Stone magazine voted into its’ top fifty prog rock albums of all time, thereby placing them in the company of Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd. I have to confess that it is not a body of work that I familiar with, and have no wish to become so, therefore all the subtleties and nuances probably passed me by. That said the performance couldn’t be faulted, excellently played by a band on top of their game and special mention must go to keyboard wiz Dave Bainbridge and to the demonstrative drumming of Tony Fernandes.
For the encore came a song I had previously heard by Cousins and Willoughby and The Acoustic Strawbs, and a top forty hit to boot – a barnstorming version of “Lay Down” which definitely benefited from the power of a plugged in five piece band. It should have ended there as, without oxygen masks, there couldn’t be any higher ups, so the inevitable anti-climax came with a final song from the new album “We Have the Power” which, given the band’s moniker, was probably not ironic.
Hard to sum up, I guess the standing ovation proves what the fee paying public thought and that is, undoubtedly, what matters most. But, for me, it just wasn’t a gig that filled me with excitement or anything other than coffee really. So whilst I am disappointed that should in no way detract from the quality of The Strawbs themselves, and long may they run.