Monday, July 16, 2012

Dave Lambert Interview

Conducted by Anthony Servante

The Servante of Darkness welcomes Dave Lambert from The Strawbs for a chat and a top ten list of his most influential songs. Dave Lambert was born the 8th of March 1949 in Hounslow, Middlesex, England; he is a guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for the Strawbs, the iconic British Folk-Rock band whose music spans more than 40 years. Dave Lambert joined the band in 1972 and continues today touring with the band on their Acoustic Strawbs Concerts series. Last year they toured with The Zombies on their 50th Anniversary Tour. Dave also works on solo material when he isn’t recording or touring with the Strawbs.

Here are some links to follow both Dave Lambert on his solo career and with The Strawbs:

Most Strawbs and Acoustic Strawbs albums are available to order from Witchwood Records at:

Dave Lambert’s solo CD “Work in Progress” is available from major sellers such as Amazon in CD or MP3 format. 

“The Magic Shoemaker – Live” is also available on CD and MP3 download from major sellers and at the Angel Air website:

Anthony: Thank you for joining us this month.

Dave: It’s a pleasure Anthony, thanks for inviting me.

Anthony: Can you tell us about your pre-Strawbs days?

Dave: I played my first concert with the guitar during school assembly when I was 11, singing ‘Bring A Little Water Sylvie’ and ‘Tom Dooly’. The dinner-lady told me she enjoyed it and gave me a second helping of pudding, so I realized straight away that entertaining had its benefits.  I had a few bands while I was at school in my early teens: The Hangmen, The Chains and, finally, The Syndicate. The Syndicate was my preferred line-up, a three piece band, the repertoire ranged from blues through to early Beatles.
I was already playing drums in the Boys’ Brigade when I was invited to join The Pride of Murray pipe-band. I was taught by a very strict, but brilliant, teacher and I believe that was the beginning of my understanding of, and love for, complex rhythms. My ambition by that time was a career as a professional pipe-band drummer. But, when we formed Fridays Chyld, with Bob Voice on drums and Dick Dufall on bass, I soon realised that my heart was in rock. We changed our name to Fire and I signed a publishing deal with Apple Pub, the Beatles company. Fire released, on the Decca label, the single ‘Father’s Name Is Dad’ with ‘Treacle Toffee World’ on the b-side. Produced by Tony Clark, I think it still, 44 years later, stands up as a good record and one of which I’m enormously proud. We’re still finding cover versions dating from 1968 up to the present moment. Fire went on to record the musical fairy-tale album ‘The Magic Shoemaker’ but, sadly, after that I felt I had no more to offer the band so I brought it to an end.
I spent a while doing solo shows around the folk-clubs, colleges and universities and then I was booked for a UK tour with Mungo Jerry. It turned out to be the last tour of the original band, they broke up after it. Paul King and Colin Earl asked me if I’d join them in a new band which I was more than happy to do and so The King Earl Boogie-Band was formed. We made a couple of singles, Plastic Jesus and Starlight, and an album, Trouble at ‘Mill. 

Anthony: How did your joining the Strawbs come about?

Dave: I had been doing some shows with Dave Cousins for a couple of years before I joined King Earl, he’d even played some banjo on The Magic Shoemaker album. During the summer of ’72 I played and sang some parts on Dave’s solo album, Two Weeks Last Summer,  and when were looking for a producer for King Earl I suggested we try Dave. Very soon we were all in the studio together recording ‘Trouble at ‘Mill’. When Tony Hooper left Strawbs Dave asked me if I’d be interested in joining the band, I was more than happy to say yes.

Anthony: When I think of the Strawbs, Dave Lambert always comes to mind. You are forever tied to the legacy of the band. What have been your main contributions to the Strawbs?

Dave: One of the main reasons for bringing me into the band was to add power to their sound with electric guitar. They had already done one US tour in early ’72 and because of the nature of the venues; large theatres and stadiums, Dave felt that a more electric approach was needed in order for the band to hold its own in the US. When we returned to the US the new approach was immediately successful so, I guess, that was my first contribution. We always did, and still do, concentrate on strong vocal harmonies. We soon found that my voice blended well with Dave Cousins voice and that my solo lead vocal was an effective alternative to Dave’s lead vocals which gave us variety, particularly in our long pieces like Autumn and Ghosts. Having come from a rock and roll background, I tried to be as positive as I could be with the guitar parts. In other words I didn’t want to change my playing to suit the band, instead I approached it as a fusion of folk with rock and roll. As things developed and the sound of the band became bigger and grander I found myself playing parts which I don’t think I would’ve thought of prior to that. I started listening to more classical recordings, Holst, Elgar, Beethoven for example, and discovered the influence I had been looking for and that, pretty much, is how my Strawbs style came about. I hope that my song-writing also brings another dimension to the band’s repertoire.

Anthony: You’ve been touring for so many years—can you share some of your favorite moments. What was The Zombies tour like?

Dave: This is always a difficult question to answer. Because I enjoy touring and playing live so much, nearly every show is memorable to me for a variety of reasons. The multi-band stadium tours of the 70’s were special. We got to spend months on the road with some lovely people who also happened to be great musicians. My first US tour was with the Eagles, Ten Years After and King Crimson, not a bad start. And that’s how it went through the 70’s, Santana, Frank Zappa, Joe Walsh, Poco….. the list goes on and on. I think some of our best, and favourite, tours in those years were when the bill was just us and King Crimson. The two bands made for a good show and we toured together many times. The atmosphere was always good backstage and the bands and crew socialized off-stage all the time. Very happy days. However, I don’t want to give the impression that it’s only the ‘big’ shows that are memorable or important to me. With Acoustic Strawbs, especially, we can be playing to 100 people one night and the next to 15,000. I enjoy both with the same relish. In fact some of the best shows I have been involved in were played to an intimate audience, there’s something very special about that.
Last year we did a tour of the US and Canada with The Zombies. By the end of the tour we all agreed, both bands, that it would be difficult to recall a happier tour. We all got on so well and I woke-up every morning looking forward to seeing everybody and to the show that night. I really hope that we get to tour together again in the future.

Anthony: Can you tell us about your listening pleasure? Which bands and artists have influenced you?

Dave: There’s more than one form of influence, those that we’re aware of and the subconscious, even unconscious, ones. From when I was a toddler there was always music playing somewhere in the house. My Mum and Dad had a varied record collection; Kathleen Ferrier, light classical music and Broadway stage musicals, that kind of thing, it all sunk into my brain and, in some cases, my soul. When my older sister started to buy her own records I heard The Shadows, Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard etc. The turning point for me though was hearing The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and, perhaps most importantly, Eddie Cochran. In my opinion Cochran was the father of Rock and even Heavy Metal, listen to ‘Something Else’ and ‘C’mon Everybody’. I started to listen to Blues and Rhythm and Blues when I was at secondary school, Leadbelly, Howling Wolf and, of course, Chuck Berry began to fascinate and influence me. Once the 60’s phenomenon took off, led by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, I doubt if there was one band that didn’t influence me one way or another. My preferred listening though was The Who, The Yardbirds, Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys, Pink Floyd and, later, Hendrix and Cream. To be honest I don’t really listen to a lot of music and, as I said earlier; since the 70’s I’ve tended to listen to more classical stuff. You never stop being influenced by what’s around you though.

Anthony: Can you catch us up with your solo work?

Dave: My first solo album was ‘Framed’ in 1979. I made it in Los Angeles and the line-up was Denny Sewell (drums), Tom Hensley (keyboards), Richard Bennett (guitar) and John Entwistle and Lee Sklar (bass). As you can imagine, with a band like that, it was a great experience. You can still find the album on eBay but it’s not available on cd and it’s possible, because of legal problems, it never will be.
During the early 80’s, Chas Cronk (Strawbs’ bass-player) and I put together some tracks which, at the time, were not released. Under the title ‘Touch the Earth’ these recordings were eventually released in 2006 under the banner Lambert Cronk. Again the line-up was exciting; Nick Magnus and Andy Richards (keyboards), Ian Mosely and Tony Fernandez (drums).
In 2005 I released a second solo album called ‘Work in Progress’.
It comprised demo’s of my material that I’d recorded over a period of 20 years, mostly by myself in my own studio. Some of the songs on this album are among my personal favourites of my songs.
There are two Fire cd’s which have been released in recent times. The first, ‘Underground and Overhead’, is a collection of our demo’s and unreleased recordings from the 60’s. I love it because I can listen to it, close my eyes, and revisit myself in the 60’s.
In winter 2007 Fire got back together to play two live concerts of ‘The Magic Shoemaker’ in its entirety. It was an unbelievable experience for all of us. The two nights were recorded and the resulting cd ‘The Magic Shoemaker Live’ was released the following year.

Anthony: I’ve got to ask about the song The Man Who Would Never Leave Grimsby . There’s a lot of emotion there. Can you give us some background?

Dave: In the 70’s I had a letter from a young lad in Africa. His name was Lucky Nwankwo and he lived in a small village in Nigeria and was a huge Strawbs fan, to the point where the other villagers gave him the nickname ‘Strawbs boy’. It was a charming and moving letter and I never forgot it.
A few years ago we were playing in London and, before the show, the guys were having a chat in the dressing-room. I was getting ready so I was not paying close attention when I thought I heard our keyboard player, John Hawken, say; ‘the trouble was he would never leave Grimsby’. I turned to John and asked him what he had just said and he repeated; ‘he would never leave Grimsby’. The man he had been talking about was a highly respected drummer who had been asked to join some very high-profile bands but declined because didn’t want to leave his home town. I found this fascinating and scribbled on a scrap of paper ‘The Man Who Would Never Leave Grimsby’; put the piece of paper in my case so I wouldn’t forget the quote and the story. From time to time, in the weeks and months after that, I looked at those words but didn’t attempt to write anything. Eventually, as I had hoped it would, the song suddenly started to form in my mind and was complete in a day. The catalyst was when I remembered the letter from Lucky Nwankwo and he is the subject of the second verse, although I changed his homeland to Kenya for lyrical purposes. While I was writing and recording the song it became more and more emotional because it celebrated the, apparently, na├»ve and selfless dedication and love some people can have, something to be treasured.

Anthony: Anything new on the horizon for you musically? Will we ever see a full-band Rock tour for the Strawbs, as opposed to the great Acoustic concerts?

Dave: In 2009, I, along with Graeme Taylor, Jon Davey and Tom Leary formed a band called Zeus. We played at the Strawbs 40th anniversary concert, in Twickenham, and in May of this year we headlined the final afternoon of the 2012 Folk on the Pier festival in Cromer, Norfolk. The band has been extremely well received by the audiences and we’re hoping to do many more shows in the future. All of us have commitments to our other bands and it’s not easy to find a period of time when we’re all free at the same time but, as I said before, we are determined to do something else together. The great thing about it, for all of us, is that it’s a departure from our regular work plus; we get on really well with each other, personally and musically. We have recorded an album which will be released at a later date, not too much later I hope.
Acoustic Strawbs are on the road all through the year as we have been since 2001. We’ve already been to Norway, Italy and Portugal this year, all interspersed with an ongoing UK tour. Through the summer we’re doing festivals and some one-off shows. In September we head off to Canada, back for a few UK dates and then, in October, to the US. After that the full electric band will be touring the UK throughout November. Seeing it written down it all looks quite exhausting but I’m certain I’ll enjoy every minute of it. You’ll always find a list of our upcoming shows posted on our web-site.

My last request: Can you give us your top ten list of songs, Strawbs and solo work, that you feel best exemplify your career? And could you tell us a bit about each song.

Dave Lambert’s Top Ten Songs:

1. Father’s Name Is Dad (Fire) I wrote this in 1967 and it remains one of my favourite records that I’ve been involved in. It’s simply a cry from a teenager to be accepted as ‘normal’ instead of some kind of dangerous freak.

2. Treacle Toffee World (Fire) A companion piece for Father’s Name and all the above comments apply.

3. The Winter and the Summer (Strawbs) Since I started writing songs I had always positively avoided the standard approach to ballads and love songs. It wasn’t because I didn’t like them, more that I was attempting to find a different way to express those emotions. The Winter and the Summer was my first go at a love song in the traditional style. It became the first of my songs to feature on a Strawbs album; ‘Bursting at the Seams’.  

4. Cold Steel (Strawbs) This one started with a riff that I’d had around for while. When I came to write the lyric it all kind of poured out and became a cathartic experience for me. It was a song I needed to write in order to vent some heavy, pent up, emotions. We feature this in the Acoustic Strawbs show nearly all the time.

5. The Man Who Would Never Leave Grimsby (Strawbs)
Listen here for this song. Please, this is for listening only. To purchase, seek the above links. Thank you.

6. Ghosts (Dave Cousins) (Strawbs) One of our trademarks, in the 70’s particularly, were the longer multi-themed pieces. They have different themes and short songs linked with riffs and lasted anything up to 15 minutes. By the time we came to record the track Ghosts we had already tackled this format a few times and I think this represents the band at our best.

Ghosts live from the Acoustic Strawbs Tour

7. Autumn (Dave Cousins) (Strawbs) We put this on together on the road. The US tours in those days could last anything up to three months, which presented us with a lot of opportunities to work on, and rehearse, new material. In fact we played this first time before it was completely finished but it was clear from the word go that it would work. The final part; ‘The Winter Long’ (which most people know as ‘Hold on to me’), has become a bit of an anthem for us. People have got married to it and even, sadly, used it for funerals. We play it at every show and I think we’d be lynched if we didn’t.

8. Don’t Try To Change Me (Strawbs) I don’t usually think about re-recording my songs but I would like, at some point, to re-visit this particular one. As I was writing it I was trying to depict the frustrations and ups and downs that creep into a relationship.

9. Lay Down (Dave Cousins)  (Strawbs) Still my favourite Strawbs single and our first hit record. A straightforward rocker but with a religious influenced lyric, definitely one of Dave Cousins’ best.

10. The Man I Saw Last Night (From: ‘Work In Progress’. Dave Lambert solo cd) My number one guitar player is Peter Green. I adore his use of melody combined with great power. His story is well documented now but back in the 80/90’s we heard very little about him and what he was doing, he had virtually disappeared. Eventually they tracked him down and a documentary was made and broadcast on TV. I watched the programme and woke up the following morning knowing I had to write this song. It didn’t take very long because, as has happened to me many times, the song was ready to write itself.

Listen here for this song. Please, this is for listening only. To purchase, seek the above links. Thank you

Anthony: Thank you for sharing this amazing list of Rock history past and present with our readers. It’s been a pleasure to have you on my venture into the blog world. Feel free to drop by anytime. Dave Lambert, folks.

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