British bluegrass, you say?

The Zombies and The Acoustic Strawbs on tour with '60s flashbacks

"Gonna hunt the possum where the corn cob blossom."

Imagine the audience reaction in London, England in the 1960s when a band of young folkies sang that Earl Scruggs number in all its Blue Mountain glory.

No? Can't envision that?

No wonder. No one other than the Strawberry Hill Boys - who took their name from groups such as Scruggs' and Lester Flatt's Foggy Mountain Boys - was playing bluegrass music in England in the 1960s.

"I was playing banjo, but it was old-timey banjo," said David Cousins, sole original member of the British group long known as The Strawbs.

Cousins picked up the instrument after a friend played for him some songs from Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. Then he got his hands on a recording of Scruggs at the Newport Folk Festival and followed suit.

"We started out in the mid-1960s rather curiously as Britain's first bluegrass band," Cousins said from San Diego, where the band played Monday. "When I started writing songs for the band, Strawberry Hill Boys didn't fit, so we became The Strawbs."

Touring with The Zombies, best known for their 1964 hit She's Not There, The Acoustic Strawbs perform Wednesday, Oct. 12 at Kamloops Convention Centre. As far as Cousins could recall, neither band has played here before.

"Kamloops? Where's that?" he asked.

Here, people might well ask, "The Strawbs? Who's that?"

In retrospect, the '60s musical cross-current wasn't out of keeping with the times. English groups such as The Rolling Stones and The Beatles were heavily influenced by American roots artists. That's how the British Invasion originated: American blues and rock were synthesized by Europeans and returned in popular form.

Yet the evolution of The Strawbs was only beginning as Cousin experimentation with open tuning.

"I'm changing the tuning on the banjo strings all the time and that is what gave the band its distinctive flavour, its world flavour. It's sometimes called church music and it does have that hymnal flavour."

They recorded briefly with Sandy Denny, who went on as lead singer of Fairport Convention. Then they brought in pianist Rick Wakeman in 1969, added bass and drums and the sound changed again to folk rock. Wakeman went on to join the prog rock band Yes.

They shifted their focus to North American, where they still have a fan base. There have been multiple lineup changes, amicable breakups and reunions over the years. Then, Cousins injured his wrist 10 years ago, which led to The Acoustic Strawbs. The lineage is so complex that the band's website includes a family tree 48 years high.

"We had some astonishing musicians pass through the band."



IN CONCERT

WHO:The Acoustic Strawbs and The Zombies

WHEN:Wednesday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m.

WHERE:Kamloops Convention Centre, 1250 Rogers Way

TICKETS:$35, available from Kamloops Live! Box Office, www.kamloopslive.com

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