Strawbs (or The Strawbs) are an English rock band founded in 1964. Although the band started out as abluegrass group they eventually moved on to other styles such as folk rock, glam rock and progressive rock. They are best known for their hit, "Part of the Union", which reached number two in the UK charts in February 1973, and for touring with Supertramp in their Crime of the Century tour, doing their own Hero and Heroinetour, which drew musical similarities and themes.
They were the first UK signing to Herb Alpert's A&M Records and recorded their first single "Oh How She Changed" b/w "Or Am I Dreaming" in 1968, which was produced and arranged by two highly influential seventies' producers, Gus Dudgeon and Tony Visconti, who also worked on their critically acclaimed first album, Strawbs, which was released in 1969. (Note: Although that first single was issued in the U.S. on A&M, neither of their first two A&M LP's were issued in the US until around 1975.)
Between the first and second A&M albums, in 1969, a rare publishing sampler was recorded ("Strawberry Music Sampler No. 1"). According to the 2001 CD reissue, only 99 copies of the original vinyl LP were ever pressed up, making it their rarest album.
After the folk-tinged Dragonfly, Cousins and Hooper added Rick Wakeman on keyboards, Richard Hudson on drums, and John Ford on bass. The new lineup had their London debut at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, where Wakeman was trumpeted as "Tomorrow's Superstar" by Melody Maker. Their third album, Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios, the first to have a US release, was taken from that concert. Wakeman stayed with them for one further album, From the Witchwood, then departed to join Yes, remarking to the press that "I'm sure we'll all benefit from the split because we were beginning to compromise a lot on ideas - like we'd use half of my ideas and half of theirs - and I don't think it was helping what was eventually coming out. We ended up lacking challenge. Complacency set in, and for the last couple of months we just weren't working." He was replaced by Blue Weaver, who had previously been with Amen Cornerand Fairweather. This lineup produced what many feel to be the archetypal Strawbs album Grave New World, before yet another change, the departure of founding member Hooper, who was replaced by rocker Dave Lambert, formerly of Fire and the King Earl Boogie Band.
Lambert's arrival in 1972 coincided with a move towards a harder rock style on the next album, Bursting at the Seams. The first single from the album with Lambert on board, "Lay Down", hit the UK charts at number 12, followed by a further single from the album, supposedly penned by Ford and Hudson (but in fact quite obviously a version of the Woodie Guthrie song "Union Maid"), "Part of the Union", which went up to number 2. The album also reached number 2 in the album charts and the band undertook a 52-date UK tour to packed houses. The harder rock style was also evidenced by Cousins' solo album recorded that summer, with guests such as Roger Glover from Deep Purple and Jon Hiseman from Colosseum.
However, during the course of a US tour, tensions came to a head and the Bursting at the Seams band did just that, with Hudson and Ford splitting off to record their own material, firstly as Hudson Ford, later as The Monks and High Society. Weaver also left the band, eventually finding a comfortable (and highly lucrative) gig with the Bee Gees; he also played with Mott the Hoople.
Cousins and Lambert rebuilt the band, adding John Hawken (formerly of The Nashville Teens and Renaissance) on keyboards, Rod Coombes formerly withStealers Wheel and Chas Cronk on bass. This line-up recorded Hero and Heroine and Ghosts, and tended to concentrate on the North American market with relatively little touring in the UK. Strawbs still retain a great fan-base today in the US and Canada. Hero And Heroine went platinum in Canada, and both albums sold extremely well in the US too. A further album, Nomadness, recorded without Hawken, was less successful, and was their last for A&M Records.
Signed to the Deep Purple-owned Oyster label, they recorded two more albums with two keyboardists replacing Hawken – Robert Kirby, also known for his string arrangements (notably Nick Drake) and John Mealing of jazz-rock group If. Coombes was replaced by Tony Fernandez (known for working on Rick Wakeman's solo albums) for a further album Deadlines, this time on the Arista label.
Though recording was complete on a further album Heartbreak Hill, featuring Andy Richards on keyboards, Cousins' decision in 1980 to leave the band to work in radio effectively signalled the band's demise, and the album remained in the vaults for many years.
A reunion on Rick Wakeman's TV show Gas Tank in 1983 resulted in an invitation to reform to headline 1983's Cambridge Folk Festival. The Grave New Worldline-up plus Brian Willoughby (who had replaced Lambert when he left in 1978 during the making of Heartbreak Hill, and had also begun a partnership with Dave Cousins as an acoustic duo from 1979 onwards) went on from there to perform occasionally in the UK, US and Europe over the next few years, replacing Weaver with Chris Parren from the Hudson Ford band and Ford himself (when he relocated to the US) with bass player Rod Demick.
1993 saw the band touring in the UK for their 25th anniversary, but the next few years proved rather quiet. Until 1998, that is, when Cousins staged a 30th anniversary bash in the grounds of Chiswick Park in London, which saw several different line-ups of the band perform on a bright summer's day in the open air. The final line-up of the night – the Bursting at the Seams line-up plus Willoughby – became the ongoing version of the band, with annual tours in 1999, 2000 and 2001.