Once upon a time two little girls grew up listening to their mother’s music. Their mother was a Strawbs fan. In Somerset, Berkshire, West Africa, Norfolk and many, many other places in between, the Strawbs provided the soundtrack to the lives of those little girls.
I was one of those little girls. St F was the other.
In The Gambia, when I was eight and St F was three, I sneaked into my mother’s record collection and played Strawbs, From the Witchwood and Grave New World over and over whilst reading the lyrics.
In Gothenburg, five years later, trapped on a small boat with nothing to do and nowhere to go, we listened to Nomadness and Burning for You. Later, sailing that same boat down to Nigeria, St F would join me on night watch and we would sing all the songs we knew from those albums to keep ourselves awake and scare away the night terrors. I don’t want to spoil you though, Dave. It wasn’t all about you. We did throw in a bit of Steeleye Span and The Yetties too. And we did a mean version of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. But, mostly, it was about you.
In 1980 I turned fifteen and in a junk shop in Norfolk I found a battered copy of Bursting at the Seams. That was the beginning of my own Strawbs collection. I still have that LP. The sleeve is much Sellotaped but the disc remains scratch free.
I won’t bore you with all the times that you, and Tony Hooper, and all the other Strawbs, past and present, impacted on our lives – I think you get the picture – but can you imagine the shock and awe of finding that our move back to the West Country meant that we were living just up the road from you? Our (much) younger brother was at the same school as your sons. I’d be waiting to pick him up on my motorbike when you’d pull up in your car to collect your boys. I’d watch but I never approached you. Like the Magic Mountain Music man, I’m really rather shy …
Then, joy of joys, you and the band got together and performed in the village hall! Oh. My. God. St F and I were beside ourselves! We danced, we sang and, at the end, Tony Hooper called us over and wanted to know how two twenty-somethings knew all the words to all the songs. Sadly, the conversation was cut short by outside influences and, like a couple of Cinderellas, we were dragged away by forces out of our control. All the way home I kept thinking ‘Please don’t let that be it. Please don’t let that be the only time I see them.’ But it was. For about twenty years.
Fast forward to 4th March 2015.
We were late, you’d already started.
‘Aargh! No!’ squealed my sister and pounded up the steps into the venue with me thundering along behind her. We made it into our seats for the closing bars of the first song.
There you were. And there we were. St F and I looked at each other and went, ‘Eeeeeeeeeeee!’ because we’d finally made it to one of your gigs. The set was short because you were sharing the bill with two other acts but we sucked up every minute and, when you got to the final number, Lay Down, and invited the audience to sing along, we did you proud. We were word-perfect – of course.
In the intermission, I spotted you at the bar. Swerving some neighbours from our village who’d come to hear the songs of Wishbone Ash, I said ‘D’you want a drink?’ to St F and shot off without waiting for her answer.
‘Dave,’ I said, amazed at my own temerity (But I was several whiskies in). ‘Have you got a minute?’ And, bless you, you stopped and smiled and said, ‘Yes.’
It mattered to us, Dave. It was great that you and Chas Cronk and Dave Lambert signed my CD but it was fan-bloody-tastic that you came and sat at our table!
‘Aren’t you going back in to see Carl Palmer?’ you asked and we shrugged.
‘Nah, we only came to see the Strawbs.’
‘But, he’s very good.’
‘I don’t doubt it.’ I shrugged again.
There was no one to interfere this time. The whole evening was an early birthday present for me. St F got the tickets as a surprise and our friend Rude Girl had sprung for us to stay in a nearby hotel. We were unfettered and, thanks to you, at ease. While everyone else was next door listening to Fanfare for the Common Man, we swapped stories and drank a bit and, when I confessed I’d not heard of the album Prognostic, you went over to the merchandise table, got a copy and gave it to me. I don’t think the gift came easy, you were gone a while. It seems the man in charge of the merchandise may have been less than keen to part with it.
‘Did you get into trouble for that?’ St F asked, indicating the CD.
‘Yeah,’ you said.
When the bar filled up again at the next intermission, you were swept away. A chap in a Rick Wakeman t-shirt wanted to interview you for his radio show (but had broken his mic) and you were called back to the merchandise stand but, before you went, you thanked us for our company and you kissed my hand. I had told you about The Gambia and you’d laughed and said we were sad little girls. We’d laughed too but what you couldn’t know, and we couldn’t tell you, was that we were sad little girls. For all those years and, still now, we have only ever had each other – and The Strawbs. You will never understand – how could you? – but that’s OK. I get it. St F get’s it. You, Dave, gave us the stories, the music and the magic to take us away from it all. I fell in love with you back in 1972 when I was a skinny eight-year-old. I still love you now, you and all the Strawbs. But especially you. When you kissed the hand of a woman on the eve of her fiftieth birthday, you reached back to all those earlier Lorraines and, somehow, you made a difference. I know because I’ve been back and checked. I can’t explain but somewhere in a parallel universe is a little girl dreaming along to your songs and she gets her happy ending because she does get to meet her hero. And he is kind.
Thank you, from St F and from me. Take good care, come back next year and know that even if you don’t remember us, we’ll be in the audience singing along.