Dave Cousins talks us through the first Strawbs album in eight years
New album The Ferryman’s Curse is Strawbs‘ first new music in eight years. Dave Cousins talks health hold-ups, geographical inspiration and the importance of looking both backward and forward
When Dave Cousins answers the phone to Prog, he sounds in good spirits. And so he should be, given that the conversation occurs just ahead of Strawbs’ UK tour, and as preparations for another jaunt to the USA in November are completed ahead of the release of The Ferryman’s Curse, the first new studio album by Strawbs in eight years.
His adventures in geography, both recent and long ago, tend to feature in any chat with Cousins, who turns 73 in January 2018. A natural storyteller, when Cousins is asked about a particular song, he’ll invariably refer to the location where an idea for the tune or lyric came to him.
Having penned between 250 and 300 songs over several decades, he’s covered a lot of ground. Alongside various towns and cities around the UK, places as diverse as Egypt, the Czech Republic, Italy, America, and Scandinavia all crop up as he talks.
“A friend of mine who owned a shop in Copenhagen had a man come in who put his hands on the counter and said to him, ‘Hi, I’m Jesus.’ So that gave me the idea that if Jesus came back, what would he do to make himself recognised? I’m not religious but I wondered what would happen in that instance and whether people would accept Him if he did return,” Cousins says of The Man Who Called Himself Jesus, which appeared on Strawbs self-titled 1969 debut.
Subsequent albums such as Dragonfly (1970), From The Witchwood (1971), Grave New World (1972), Bursting At The Seams (1973), Hero And Heroine (1974) and Ghosts (1975) not only saw Cousins emerge as a writer frequently referencing moral, ethical and spiritual dilemmas within his work, but they also reflected an astonishing powerful musical development as line-ups changed. Strawbs’ move from being a largely acoustic, folk-based outfit to an overtly progressive rock act with all Mellotrons blazing felt natural, Cousins says, and was something their fan base was happy to go along with. When Bob Dylan plugged in and turned up the volume, there was a cry of ‘Judas!’ Not so in Strawbs’ case.
“When we first started we were playing in a folk club I was running at The White Bear pub in Kingsley Road, Hounslow. When we added Rick Wakeman to the line-up, our sound changed. Gradually we started touring with Roy Harper, but people grew with us. There were no fans protesting about it. They liked where we were going musically.”