The Dragonfly and the Cello

For nearly half a century I puzzled over why Dragonfly is one of my favourite Strawbs albums, then I suddenly realised the blatantly obvious answer: it’s the cello.

Clare Deniz’s sonorous contribution lends a warm endearment to this charming hamper of folk-rooted delicacies. The second Strawbs album to be released is the only one in which the instrument supplies a discernible carrier wave to nearly all the tracks. It’s a cuddle with the classical that leaves an embrace of class.  Deniz was only part of the group briefly, joining as the album was being prepared and leaving before it was completed.[1] The cello hums in and out of the songs not unlike the album’s eponymous flying bug, enchanting, soothing, menacing, haunting, delighting.

Ron Chesterman’s double bass also provides sinews to tie the melodies together with sounds that tug the listener towards the scent of real ale and passively imbibed nicotine. He left the band after this album to be replaced by players of more contemporary generators of lower notes. Electric bass riffs have their charm but lack the raw beauty of their unplugged predecessor. Cello plus double bass is more than triple delight.

It is not just the classical strings that prevent this collection from falling into the proverbial second-album syndrome trap. Yes, there are cast-offs from the first album, but they blend with the newer material so satisfyingly that there is no sense of the second-hand at all. To my mind this is a much more coherent collection than the song-salad of the previous pressing. The cello and bass have a bonding function, but there’s more unity apparent than that. The songs seem to sit comfortably and confidently together on this shelf of more-than-folk but less-than-rock.  This is a band that has not only found its feet but decided on a direction, something that was not distinctly discernible from the first album. The audible aroma is English pastoral. There is balmy sun, bitter winds, glorious seashores, nightmare nights, lovers who love and leave, and airborne insects that kiss.

It was recorded at Rosenberg Lydteknik, Copenhagen, and released in 1970 wrapped in the first record sleeve on which Rick Wakeman received a credit.[2]

Tracking the tracks:

Side One

The Weary Song.  A sudden vocal jump-starts the album, with a lyrical melding of the allegorical military and the sincerely paternal. The cello sweeps in to assert the presence that it will proclaim for much of the following three-quarters of an hour. The result is a melancholy anticipation that is charmingly reminiscent of the feeling we have all known of wanting to stay but having to go.

Dragonfly.  The title track is an exotic elicitation inspired by a Swedish woman.  There is a wonderful oriental continuum comprising a dulcimer and Chinese piano.   Producer Tony Visconti pipes the recorder. Like the unequally winged flying insect quartering a British riverbank, this song seems to at once fully belong and not belong at all.

I Turned My Face into the Wind.  Perhaps the only Strawbs song inspired by the bleak beauty of the Lancashire Moors. A trip to Top O’Slate near Rawtenstall evidently prompted the composition. The bracing mood is so accurately conveyed that this northern lad sensed the Lanky connection long before the link was disclosed.[3]

Josephine for Better or for Worse. Written for the Irish author and songwriter Dominic Behan and his wife.  Musings on marriage vows successfully sustained.

Another Day. A truly magical evocation of early morning on the beach.  The cello is warm, the lyric lively, the bass swims.

Side Two

‘Til the Sun Comes Shining Through.  Dave Cousins is somewhat dismissive of this number in his commentary on the lyrics,[4]  but I’ve always liked the song. It is of its time but also of another time, and so in that sense it is a true contender for becoming a ‘proper’ folk song.  Yes, it is romantic, but aren’t we all when we are yet to be disillusioned?

Young Again.   This is the only song individually credited to Tony Hooper on the album, but it fits so seamlessly that it could easily be a Cousins composition. Sung beautifully against skipping guitars and a playful bass line it is sweet but not saccharine. The recorder returns, but no cello is apparent in the mix, nevertheless the nostalgic temperament is fully in tune with what has gone before and the trauma to follow.

The Vision of the Lady of the Lake.   A far superior epic to the one that graced the previous album, and much more neatly narrated than the sequel song to it that would eventually appear in 2017 (The Ferryman’s Curse). The cello-driven genesis is intoxicating. It is a pseudo-Arthurian melodrama in which the combination of music and lyrics paints a pre-Raphaelite morality tale. This is where Rick Wakeman loses his album credit virginity for providing the piano, but it is an ensemble victory, with Paul Brett’s lead electric guitar jarring in just the right way, supplying an advanced herald of things to come. Bjarne Rostvold’s drums make all the difference, not entering until needed and then driving us relentlessly towards the doom.

Close Your Eyes.  Cousins / Hooper tailpiece in the hope of sweeter dreams.

In summary:

Dragonfly is cider, chocolate, coffee and brandy, with a narcotic kick.  It is a walk on the moors of midwinter, and a soak in the heavy sun of high summer.  It is nostalgia, mythology, melancholy and elation, tightly plucked and bowed to resound in a mostly tenor clef. It’s music to hammock to.

More background to the above and all the lyrics can be found on the STRAWBS OFFICIAL WEBSITE.


The music and lyrics of the Strawbs have been the single greatest influence on my own creativity.

In particular they inspired a fantasy tribute entitled Strawberry Gothic which can be found in:

The Atheist’s Prayer Book

I once used the opening few bars of The Vision of the Lady of the Lake as a theme to

The Sherlock Holmes Solution play and it worked wonderfully to set a sense of impending menace.

Another visionary lake

is located in the Papercuts collection of stories.

[1] D. Cousins, Exorcising Ghosts, Witchwood Media Ltd, 2014, pages 117-120.

[2] Ibid, page 123.

[3] D. Cousins, Secrets, Stories, Songs. Witchwood Media Ltd, 2010, page 67.

[4] Ibid page 70.

See also:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s