Deep Cuts and shallow scars

The previous three pressings had an autumnal or winter feel to them. This album always sounds like summer, even when the song is a tragic or sad one, or even about the prospect of a hard, hard winter. Many of the tracks were written quickly during the warmer months of what in the UK was a distinctly memorable year meteorologically. A protracted hot drought resulted in water rationing, stand pipes on street corners, and long-drowned ruins resurfacing as reservoirs drained to rare shallowness. There was much sun-worshipping and record ice-cream sales, but despair too, as green spaces parched and gardens wilted. Deep Cuts replicates that mix. It is much more upbeat than its predecessor but beneath the joy there is weariness, melancholy, cynicism and, as always with the Strawbs, profound philosophical pondering. Somehow the cuts don’t sting quite as much as older wounds.

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. The twelfth, Deep Cuts is one I always associate with summer and that season in 1976 in particular, which is actually a false memory as it wasn’t released until October.

Dave Cousins and Chas Cronk forged their tightest songwriting collaboration on this album and the combination churned up some refreshingly bright compositions. There was a change of record label here too – leaving A&M to join the Polydor distributed Oyster set-up. The group sound rejuvenated and in many ways this is a collection that should have been much more successful.

The first single I Only Want My Love to Grow in You, fell foul of a glitch in UK chart compilation, and hence failed to attain the all-important top 30 ranking. (It languished at number 51 for six weeks.1) Had it made it higher, the extra exposure may well have lifted the band back into more commercial contention, something to which this album was well suited. The record-buying cultural shift was already advanced though, with punk on the near horizon and disco becoming all-consuming.

Here’s a track by track guide of the 1976 vinyl pressing:

Side One

I Only Want My Love to Grow in You. One of the greatest summer hits that never was.

Turn Me Round. Another of Cousins’ allegorical songs. The most poetically testing of the tracks in this collection. The imagery lingers like a predator on a thermal.

Hard Hard Winter. One of the few songs on the album that lyrically and musically feels akin to those on previous recordings. A winter postcard on a summer dressing table. Despite the gloom there is a snow-globe sparkle to it.

My Friend Peter. A dark song set against a rousing arrangement. The personal political mingled with domestic tragedy.

The Soldier’s Tale. An allegorical anthem inspired by the Jacobite uprisings of the eighteenth century. The soldier’s tale is timeless.

Side Two

Simple Visions. The best song on the album. It summarises the philosophy of the album both lyrically and musically. The production is excellent and the track builds marvellously with clever contrasts of intensity, pace and rhythm.

Charmer. The second single released from the album. The public ignored it in their millions. Not a bad ditty but too ‘poppy’ to suit the fans and too ordinary to attract the masses.

(Wasting My Time) Thinking of You. A clever diversion. The style is reminiscent of 1930s chamber vamp and it absolutely works.

Beside the Rio Grande. Cowboy crucifixion.

So Close and Yet So Far Away. The lyrics remained deeply enigmatic for many years. Cousins’ books perhaps add clarification. This is a tribute to enduring affection, always there but never affixed.

In summary

The key to this album is to be found in a line from Simple Visions:

Let us make deep cuts and mix our blood

Sacrifice the mocking bird above.

The collaborations involved costs as well as benefits. The songs are lusciously produced and the record is much more commercial as a consequence but, with a few exceptions, the songs are commentating rather than campaigning. The cuts might go deep, but they leave shallower scars than some of the blades employed in earlier essays. This is partly the product of a desire to slough off the darknesses that had first characterised and then dogged the band’s previous work. The result truly was refreshing but that brightness was hard to see among so many other shiny exhibits, and it was not the dominant mood that the faithful followers principally associated with the Strawbs.

The mocking birds may have been sacrificed, but so too were many of the flocking ones. The album didn’t trouble the charts, which is a shame, because it brought a burst of ripe sunshine to a chilly chain of releases.

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


1 D. Cousins, Exorcising Ghosts, Witchwood Media Ltd, 2014, page 194


The music of the Strawbs is the single biggest influence on my own creativity. In particular that influence was acknowledged in Strawberry Gothic a short story that closes The Atheist’s Prayer Book.

Two of the rosebuds bowed their heads, seeming so oriental in such a stereotypically English way.

I took the thorn they offered, cut my wrist, sliced the stem, then mixed my blood with florid sap.

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