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Witchwood Media  WMCD2051

This is a newly expanded reissue of the pleasing “unplugged” album recorded by Strawbs frontman Dave Cousins with Brian Willoughby back in 1979, during a period when, the Strawbs having finished their costly 1978 tour, Dave was nurturing a wish to get back to his roots in the folk clubs. The story goes Dave went and called up his old friend from the White Bear days, Brian, to see if he fancied “re-living his ill-spent youth”; the invitation proved impossible to resist, and the pair toured clubs and colleges for a while with an acoustic set which both dipped back into the Strawbs' recording history and rescued a few unreleased gems.

Old School Songs, which encompassed that proven mix of material, was recorded in direct response to requests from wherever the two men played, more or less half in-the-studio and half live (at the 1979 Exmouth Summer Festival); it was originally issued in a privately-pressed limited edition of 2000 copies, although a CD reissue followed just over a decade later (on RGOF), with a further (obscure) Japanese reissue appearing in 2003, close on a decade after the appearance of the second duo album from Dave and Brian (The Bridge). That Japanese edition of Old School Songs contained two bonus tracks, You Never Missed Your Water and Song For Alex, both of which had failed to appear on the Strawbs’ 2003 album Blue Angel – and fortuitously both of these tracks now resurface on Witchwood’s current reissue of Old School Songs (which also sports the notorious original sleeve photo of Dave and Brian posing with a stuffed rhino!). What’s enshrined for posterity on this disc is the pair of musicians captured exactly as they performed during those 1979 tours: just the two men plus their acoustic guitars (albeit with copious use of effects pedals etc at times but absolutely no overdubs!), in “living stereo” and in pretty canny empathy with their material and each other.

Material ranges from fairly early Strawbs epics The Battle and The Hangman And The Papist, through the self-examining A Song For Me, to a sensibly crowd-pleasing take on the band’s 1973 hit single Lay Down. The remastered recording’s a bit jangly at times, but still for the most part perfectly respectable, while the masterful performances, though very much of their time, by and large live up to their reputation. Although this reissue has missed a trick in not reproducing the informative sleeve notes from the RGOF reissue (all the insert contains is a montage of press clippings), it’s still good to see this record available again. (PS: I wonder if Witchwood next plan to re-release The Bridge?)…

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 91 of The Living Tradition magazine.