Antiques, Curios and collectable dreams

Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios is a unique artefact in several ways. It is a live album like no other, in that is truly cohesive in style, mood and configuration, yet it is not a repressing of ‘greatest hits’, nor is it a crowd-pleasing indulgence. It is much closer to a proms concert than a stadium-shaking extravaganza. It has a classical feel, but is infused with progressive seams. Its twin faces look back to tradition and forward to experimentation. It has a tone that haunts, a spirit that consoles, an attitude that invites, and poetry that hymns.

One highly unusual aspect is that it was the first album by an unknown band released in the United States despite being a live recording. In the UK, it was the Strawbs third album to see the light of day.

It is a record – in two senses – of the gig that catapulted the classically tutored, prodigious keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman into popular music notoriety. The reviews in the press were unanimous in their acclamation. Wakeman had only just turned 21, and though increasingly well known as a session musician (he played the Mellotron on Space Oditty in 1969), he didn’t grace the rock stage until the Strawbs signed him for £12 per week in 1970.[1] The Melody Maker music paper put him on the front cover following the Queen Elizabeth Hall gig labelling him as “Tomorrow’s Superstar”.[2]

It is also the first Strawbs album on which the newly-recruited duo of John Ford and Richard Hudson appear. They will bring much to the party in future outings, but here they are chiefly responsible for enriching the audible weave, broadening the vocal harmonies, and giving a superb multiple pulse that pumps irrepressible life through the sinews of the melodic arches, pillars, vaults and chapels of this Elizabethan-romanticism-folk-rock fusion.

It is a shame that Clare Deniz had departed the band before this recording, as her cello would have slotted supremely into the overarching classical darkness of this collection – which is an album in the truest sense, in that all the tracks belong in the same box of dark delights.

There are multiple dreams in this heady concoction: a child’s dreams, dreams of youth, evangelical dreams, and dreams of life after death.

For trade purposes an antique is defined as an artefact that is over one hundred years old, though some dealers are pushing for that to be lowered to fifty years.  If the latter was to be invoked, the original pressings of this album would eponymously fit the bill. It was recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 11 July 1970 and mixed at Trident Studios by the producer: Tony Visconti.

The antiques . . . and the curious. John Ford, Richard Hudson, Dave Cousins, Rick Wakeman and Tony Hooper at the London Apprentice in 1970 and yours truly haunting the same bar in 2013.

Tracking the tracks:

Side One

Martin Luther King’s Dream.  A tribute to the civil rights leader. Lyrically loyal to the teachings of Dr King, this empowering anthem is melodically reminiscent of religious worship. 

Th Antique Suite.  The title track is a twelve-minute folk-gothic masterpiece. The new rhythm section test the floorboards and summon the gloomy atmosphere around Cousins’ sung narration, while Tony Hooper replies like an angel and Wakeman’s fingers pull back the otherworldly curtain. Cousins’ Catholic indoctrination is evident in the lyrics. It is a youthful perspective on a Dream of Gerontius (Newman/Elgar) type of composition. The song depicts the death and afterlife journey of an old man as viewed through a perspective of memories that are peppered with the people he has known and the objects that surrounded him at his passing. It was prompted by the death of a doctor Cousins knew.[3] 

Temperament of Mind. This is a five-minute piano improvisation by Rick Wakeman incorporating a series of well-known musical motifs into a light-hearted compendium of melodious joy, having being forcibly induced as a consequence of a power cut at an earlier gig, when the mains supply failed at Sheffield City Hall.  With all electric instruments silenced, Dave Cousins turned to the twenty-one-year-old keyboard wizard and told him to “just play anything”.  What ensued went down so well they kept it in the repertoire.[4]

Side Two

Fingertips.  One of Strawbs’ most erotic songs. Richard Hudson’s sitar adds a marvellously mystical Asian veil to song actually inspired by a Scandinavian encounter.  Snow and spice.

Song of a Sad Little Girl.   A charming elicitation of parental concern when a sick child is tucked up in bed.

Where is this Dream of Your Youth?   A live rocking rendition of a track from the eponymous ‘first’ album. Rick Wakeman lets rip, while the rest keep up. Dreams were generated and later realised, but where are they now?  In perspective.

In summary:

Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios is gloriously atmospheric. The live ambience is superbly suited to the mood of the songs.  The audience is respectful and appreciative without imposing on the delivery of the songs, and the audible balance of the recordings create an architecture of sound grand as a cathedral, intimate as a sacristy, unsettling as a crypt.

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

[1] D. Cousins, Exorcising Ghosts, Witchwood Media Ltd, 2014, page 124.

[2] D Wooding, Rick Wakeman the Caped Crusader, Robert Hale, 1978, page 56.

[3] D. Cousins, Secrets, Stories, Songs. Witchwood Media Ltd, 2010, page 80

[4] D. Cousins, Exorcising Ghosts, Witchwood Media Ltd, 2014, Page 133

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