Tag Archives: From the Witchwood

Dear Dave Cousins … (A letter to the only man I’ve ever truly loved)

Dear Dave,

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.


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Posted by on March 6, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Wordy Rappinghood

Oh, how I hated that song. My sister had the 7″ vinyl single (I fear she still has it) and she played it ALL THE TIME!

Having said that, I couldn’t think of a better title for this post. I’ve thought of how to write this piece for ages and tonight I’ve just decided to splurge it out and see if it makes any sense.

Once upon a time, I had a toy record player that played – – – Pinky and Perky records. I know, I know, some readers will have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about because they’re too young, or not British, but some will remember those singing pigs. (For that I’m sorry. Sorry to have reminded you.) Now, I don’t remember P&P’s songs and certainly not their lyrics so I have to jump a year to when I was four. Then came the song that changed everything. Two Little Boys by Rolf Harris was the first song my mother ever explained to me. It’s a sentimental number but, more importantly, it has a narrative. Did the nascent writer in me grasp at that song and file it away as an example that stories can take any form?

I learned to read rather early. By the time I was six, I’d consumed all of A.A. Milne’s works. At the age of eight I moved on to adult books. My parents were unaware of this and, trust me, I should NOT have read most of my father’s library. But it’s my mother’s record collection that I want to think about here. Simon and Garfunkel, Pearls Before Swine, Leonard Cohen and, later, Pink Floyd. All of them told stories with their songs and I heard and absorbed. One of my treasured memories is of sitting on the balcony of our apartment in Banjul, The Gambia, listening to my mother’s three Strawbs’ albums over and over. Every so often our English home help would rebel and play her Motown singles and my dream world would rip open to the reality of an eight-year-old far from home who had yet to make any friends and who was mind-numbingly bored. I’ve had a dislike of Motown ever since.

Much better to be absorbed in the beautiful artwork of the Strawbs’ record sleeves and to read the lyrics printed there. The Hangman and the Papist on the From The Witchwood album is a long, stirring and tragic song that builds in tempo and power to a terrible end. When my mother explained how the story was built around the Reformation (and the troubles in N. Ireland) and that, in those days, a man might really be forced to hang his brother, I cried. I still wanted to marry Dave Cousins, though. He’s the man who wrote this story and then sang it into me so deeply that I’m taken straight back to that African balcony despite having listened to the song a zillion times in the, almost, forty years since then. Yes, I gave up David Cassidy there and then for the portly (sorry Dave), bearded chap dressed in sheepskin, pictured on the back of a record cover. I still love Dave now. Whatever the man is like as a human being, I love that in him is the talent to put together images and ideas and communicate them to me the way that he has. Thank you Dave for the music, the stories and the inspiration.

When other children would be climbing the walls with frustration or misbehaving, I withdrew into myself and dwelt in an imagination built with words. Who is responsible for that? Is it Janet and John who led me to Milne and Nesbit and Ransome (and Playboy and Penthouse and The Story of O)? Is it Rolf Harris singing Two Little Boys? Is it Dave? Or Roger Waters? Or David Bowie?

Who knows? And really, does it matter? I have enjoyed dragging these thoughts from my mind to the keyboard and seeing a picture of my writerly self’s gestation emerge on this page. Writer’s are born. And nurtured. Both must be true. Inspiration and influence are everywhere and songwriters are every bit as important as authors to the blank sheet that is a newborn storyteller. Creativity is creativity and, whether it’s expressed by chipping away at marble, throwing paint at a canvas or agonising over alliteration, it’s an un-dam-able river with uncountable branches. Those childhood stories, songs and pictures, and their creators are the architects of our inner landscapes. Landscapes that bend the individual’s branch of the river, fill it with shallows and hidden depths, and, ultimately, make it unique.

You are not me. Your inner landscape is not like mine but you are a reader, maybe you’re a writer or an artist. Perhaps you listen to story songs too but it doesn’t matter if you don’t.You may disagree with me or dislike my taste in music but, if you haven’t already, look back at the dawn of your own inner world. Is it like the Big Bang or is it like the birth of Narnia? Can you go back and see your imagination when it was still fresh and shiny?

By the way, if you don’t know, Wordy Rappinghood was by the Tom Tom Club – the bounders.


Posted by on October 2, 2012 in Musing, Struggling Writers


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