Hallmarked from Woolworths

I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was in the bargain LP display stand in Woolworths. My newly adopted favourite rock band were more successful than they’d ever been, having just clocked up a number two single and album, and here was a hitherto unreleased recording among the budget collections of compilation albums, popular classical orchestras and well-worn middle-of the road light entertainers.

It was a treasure chest among the summer-season flotsam.

The explanation is simple. The All Our Own Work album had been recorded in Denmark in 1968 but had failed to find the distributor that impresario Karl Emil Knudsen had hoped for, and hence lay unhatched in his Copenhagen nest. Singer Sandy Denny then left to join Fairport Convention and the Strawbs signed with A&M – the first UK band to do so – and began to gain promotional momentum. Five years later, when the Strawbs climbed the charts, the Pickwick Hallmark label seized the moment, and this box of delights was unearthed.

It is a shame that this album did not see the light of day in the late sixties, but had it done so, the history of the band may have been very different. Would they have become categorised differently? Would public expectations have tied them more strongly to the safer sidelines of contemporary folk?

Having their first significant record deal just a year or so later, and without a female vocalist, must have realigned their focus. It gave them time to move on from what were mostly songs of longing and aspiration into sharper, more pointed compositions that benefited from more mature and more diverse perspectives.

All Our Own Work is, however, a little trinket box of hallmarked gems.

Tracking the tracks

(N.B. There are various other albums of Sandy Denny with the Strawbs. This track listing refers to the 1973 Pickwick vinyl.)

Side One

On My Way. An uplifting escape song encapsulating the need to sever home ties and find one’s future.

Who Knows Where the Time Goes? This is the best-known, and best, Sandy Denny song and this is the best version of it. Play it in firelight on a chilly autumn evening; or play it anywhere, close your eyes and the autumn firelight will come.

Tell Me What You See in Me. This doesn’t quite match the version on the Strawbs’ eponymous first A&M album where the full Arabic treatment is afforded it, but it’s a great version of this oft-recorded track, and is here sung from a female perspective with Denny taking the lead vocal.

Always on My Mind. A Tony Hooper sing-along tribute to the obsessions of new love.

Stay Awhile. A lamentation in fear of loss, or of unrequited affection.

Wild Strawberries. Banjo with reheat engaged.

Side Two

All I Need is You. Picks up where Stay Awhile left off but in a much more upbeat style.

How Everyone but Sam Was a Hypocrite. A polemic in a pub. Something of snapshot of late sixties social mores and urban snobbery.

Sail Away to the Sea. A great summer-inducing nautical whimsy.

Sweetling. Almost bubblegum. Almost.

Nothing Else Will Do. The only time Dave Cousin’s used the word Babe in a lyric. A song of longing.

And You Need me. A warm brandy closing number. Security laced with uncertainty.

In summary:

Bearing in mind the somewhat primitive recording equipment utilised on the stage of the Vanløse Bio cinema during the day when it was empty, the sound is remarkable. There is a deep, rich, almost numinous resonance to the tracks. The sincerity of late sixties contemporary folk is enchantingly enkindled. The harmonies are heavenly, the musicianship exemplary, the lyrical integrity ambrosial.

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

Related posts

Each month during 2021 I’m reflecting on one of the first Strawbs vinyl albums to be released. Here’s a trio:

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