Angels and needles

Listening to Ghosts

Dark the night, not a sound
Damp and cold, frosty ground
Above your head the lion screams
To tear you from your moonlit dreams.

Dave Cousins, Ghosts lyric

Throughout 2021 I’m reflecting on the first tranche of Strawbs albums (including Dave Cousins’ solo album Two Weeks Last Summer) in the order that they were released. This is the most gothic of the collection to my haunted mind. It’s chillingly sweet that this one follows Hero & Heroine with its magnificently redolent Autumn track. Ghosts is an album for cold winter nights.

Just like its predecessor, this album has a nebulous coherence. The tracks feel like they are from the same demonic brood. Even the upbeat songs have a sliver of the sharp and painful. They all unleash at least one species of menace. There is something of the afterlife about them.

This is a collection to be kept in a crypt.

Listen to it by candlelight.

Damp with sweat, mouth is dry
Twisted branches catch the eye

Beside your bed the angel stands
You cannot touch his withered hands.

Here’s a track by track guide of the 1974 vinyl pressing:

Side One

Ghosts. The title track is, I suspect, something of a favourite of band leader Dave Cousins judging by the way it persists in live set lists. This is not a complaint. It is among his finest compositions, and is a majestic manifestation in sound of spiritual malevolence.

There the needle stands before me
I climb inside it towards the light
Where the angel stands in glory
His sword of peace defends the night.


Lemon Pie. A reflection on opposition. Oxymoron verses. Poetry in notion.

Starshine / Angel Wine. Chas Cronk’s song inspired by a mature appreciation of childhood.

Where do you Go? (When You Need a Hole to Crawl in). This presents as a real contrast to what has gone before, but listen to the lyrics and the haunting is still here.

Side Two

The Life Auction. Cousins was inspired to write this following the disposal of the effects of a recently deceased old lady. The theatrical treatment opens with a spoken poem and its mountainous chords are subjected in the mid section to a verbalised augmentation that verges on the melodramatic, but the production just about holds it all together in an uncomfortably palatable concoction.

Don’t Try To Change Me. Dave Lambert’s rocker lashes out like a wolf in a bad mood.

Remembering. John Hawken’s sorcerous ambience changer softens the way for . . .

You and I (When We Were Young). The most benign of all the tracks but the melancholy still keeps it in the ominous coven.

Grace Darling. One of my favourite Strawbs songs – but not this version. I don’t dislike the treatment here, but the drama of the historical inspiration is much more powerfully created on later recordings. The choral effects are absolutely correct for this album, however, placing it hauntingly in concordance at the tail end of the spectral procession.

In summary:

Listening to this album is akin to visiting an historic home with gloomy rooms bearing portraits with eyes that stalk and connected by corridors with floorboards that croak. Should you find yourself alone, you instantly suspect you have unseen company. You emerge into the light knowing that to get out you must revisit darkness.

Early birds, morning breeze
Spinning leaves, sleepy trees
Gently tap the window pane
It’s good to see the sun again.


This was keyboard maestro John Hawken’s final Strawbs album until the reunions of the twenty-first century. When he left the gothic shawl went with him. The next album would have a very different mood carapace.

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


Strawbs songs inspired many of my stories, but this album in particular prompted aspects of some of the Christmas ghost stories in:

Click on the pic for more details.

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