We spoke to Dave Lambert, guitarist for The Strawbs about his career and long time association with the iconic 70′s band. Lambert is frequently associated with the “Pop” success that found the Strawbs in 1972 when their classic album, “Bursting At The Seams” was released featuring Dave and his hit song , “Lay Down.” Dave Lambert does not give many interviews so we were honored to speak to him. We are very pleased to present it here and we hope you enjoy it.
LBFH: You have been involved with The Strawbs in various incarnations for many years now. Is there a specific period where you felt there was a great expression of creative energy for you as a composer and guitarist?
DL: I think it’s fair to say that, over many years, there have been a lot of periods where I’ve felt a burst of creative energy. When I first joined the band for instance I was full of pent-up ideas and the title of my first Strawbs album, Bursting At The Seams, can’t be more descriptive from my point of view. Then when we put together the new line-up for Hero and Heroine there was yet another release of energy, probably a result of the previous band splitting up. For a few years, when we came to record a new album, I was able to draw on, and benefit from, positive energy. I’ve always had a deep love of live performance, and I would say it’s very rare for me to do anything other than put my last drop of energy into my performance, it’s when I feel most alive.
LBFH: You still do a fair amount of touring and playing. After all the years of touring, have you grown tired of the life on the road, or is there always present that initial feeling of excitement?
DL: I think I’ve already covered most of that with my previous answer. I adore playing live although the schlepping around can get you down sometimes. The saying in the business is: the music is free it’s the schlepping you pay us for.
LBFH: Can you remember what your first paying gig was, and how it felt to be compensated?
DL: I am cursed with an elephant memory so, of course I remember all my early shows and nearly all of the subsequent ones. My first performance was when I was in front of my primary school, aged 11, but I didn’t get paid for that. My first paid show was in a school band called The Hangmen, I was 12 and it was a private party. Being paid didn’t really bother me one way or the other at that time, I considered it valuable experience.
LBFH: Are you a self taught guitarist?
DL:In 1959 I asked my parents for a guitar for Christmas (I was already playing ukulele and drums) and they kindly bought me a Rosetti acoustic costing £4.15.11d, about £4.80p today. I thought I’d just be able to get it out of the box and play it but it didn’t work like that. It didn’t matter because the second part of my present was a course of lessons with a guitar teacher. I went along for a month or so until I got the basics and from then on I worked things out for myself. The lessons were invaluable though.
LBFH: The very first concert I ever went to was the Strawbs. It was on Long Island in New York. It was at the Commack Arena (no longer there) and you were warming up Blue Oyster Cult. There was a kind of magic about concerts in the 70’s. Do you feel that the business of music has become more complicated over time that interferes with the connection between performer and audience?
DL: In the band we often talk about those days and I find when I meet up with musician friends from that period, the conversation inevitably includes reminiscences of those days. There’s no doubt that it was a very special time to be involved in touring, particularly in the US and Canada, but, mainly because of tight security in the large arenas, there was never a lot of interaction with the audience. It’s different today. Now we are able to interact, after shows, with our fans old and new and that’s great for us and, I hope, for them.
LBFH: How would you describe your artistic relationship with Dave Cousins?
DL: I always consider Strawbs to be a creative unit, we describe it as being a ‘living thing’. Within any creative environment there has to be a certain amount of tension because there are people putting forward ideas that they truly believe in and that’s healthy. (Otherwise there would be no progress or advancement.) On occasion some of those ideas may be rejected and that can lead to frustration. Dave and I have always been able to find, what we believe to be, the right path to take on any project we’re involved in. We’ve known each other for so long now that, I think, we instinctively know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The effect of the blend of our voices was something which became apparent from when we first sang together and was strengthened further when we added Chas’s voice to make it three-part. A lot of people tell me that they view the harmony vocals as an extremely important part of our sound.
LBFH: Are there any musicians that you admire who you would like the opportunity to work with or exchange ideas?
DL: There are so many musicians I admire and, over the years, I‘ve been fortunate to be able to play with many of them. I’ve always admired RayDavies and I’d like to have had a chance to run through a few things with him. I wouldn’t be able to add any useful contribution to some others that I revere, Jimi Hendrix for instance, because they fill the entire space themselves, brilliantly.
LBFH: What music really hooks you emotionally?
DL: Most of what Brian Wilson writes connects with me directly. Songs such as Good Vibrations, God Only Knows and In My Room are, in my opinion, emotional masterpieces. Since I was a small kid I’ve always listened to classical music. I love listening to Elgar and Holst but my favorite piece (since I was twelve) is the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7thSymphony.
LBFH: What are some of the things you do when you are not being a musician? I’ve read that skiing is something you have a passion for?
DL: Skiing is very important to me and my family. I worked for twelve seasons as a ski instructor with the Austrian ski school and thoroughly enjoyed it. My daughter qualified as an instructor in New Zealand and she worked a couple of seasons there. Last winter we started my granddaughter, Erin, and she took to it straight away. She was nearly 4 when we started her, the same age as my daughter when she first skied, so maybe Erin will keep the tradition going and do a spell of instructing when she’s older. My other main hobby is cricket. I played at school and, when I moved to Kent, played for many years with my local village team. These days I like to watch games live or on TV, I never tire of it.
LBFH: We try to present our readers with inspirational examples of artists who’ve made music careers a major part their lives. Can you tell me, what was your biggest inspiration to pursue a career in music?
DL: I simply wanted to do what my idols were doing. Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, The Everly Brothers, Tommy Steele, the Shadows… as a kid I dreamed of doing the job they were doing. Originally though, I’d been on track to become a professional pipe-band drummer. I started drumming when I was very young and I was playing in the Boys’ Brigade band by the time I was eleven. I joined an adult bagpipe band, The Pride of Murray, when I was 14.The plan then was to try, as a career, to join one of the Scottish regiments or maybe a distillery band. As soon as I heard Hendrix playing Hey Joe I dropped everything and went back to following my original dream, no contest.
LBFH: What was one of the most significant obstacles you faced?
DL: I wouldn’t say I ever faced any obstacles as such but there are bound to be many disappointments along the way. Eventually you come to realize that things like rejection can be turned into positive energy if you truly believe in what you’re doing.
LBFH: What kind of career advice would you give to artists looking to make their way into this industry?
DL: I would say to them: I promise you; the journey is far more exciting and rewarding than the destination so keep the faith and enjoy the ride, savor every minute.
LBFH: Do you feel that there is a message in the music that you bring to people?
DL: After a performance people from the audience will often say to me that they can’t express in words the emotions they felt during our show. I think its best left like that don’t you?
LBFH: What is next for Dave Lambert?
DL: Strawbs are quite busy this year with tours in the UK, Italy, Portugal, Germany and Canada so I can’t look beyond that at the moment. I continue to write and record new songs while I’m at home and not working but there are no immediate plans to record anything new with Strawbs. From time to time someone will ask me to help out with a project and I usually agree if I’m available, I’d rather be playing than not playing. One of the more exciting, and sometimes frustrating, things in this business is that most of the time you don’t know what’s waiting round the next corner. That’s OK, these days I just roll with it.
About the interviewer:
Thomas Mangano is a composer and a performer living on Long Island, NY. He is the owner of a production services company that provides music, soundscapes and effects to professionals in film and media industries. He is also the founding member of the Boutcher/Mangano Jazz Trio and currently serves as the Music Director for the Custer Observatory.
To learn more about Thomas, Please visit hi website: Thomasmangano.com