A well-produced box-set is always a pleasure. (Cue fanfare). This one is a cracker. Ian A. Anderson, through 72 tracks in this splendidly selected and annotated 3 CD set, commemorates the lifespan of ‘Les Cousins’ the basement folk and blues club in Greek Street, Soho that flourished in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The zeitgeist fostered at ‘Cousins’ was one of musicians learning from and influencing each other – exciting groups and artists taking traditional music to diverse places and different levels, pushing the emergent mid-sixties folk revival relentlessly forward – blues influences mixing with the British folk tradition to create a potent mid-Atlantic mix. From the pool of classic blues comes Jo Ann Kelly’s superbly dead-beat ‘Moon Going Down’ and Alexis Korner’s version of Hociel Thomas’s ‘Go Down Sunshine’.
Ian’s ‘Les Cousins’ playlist has intriguing folk family-tree connections – Jansch/Renbourn/Mc Shee before the giant days of Pentangle and Clive Palmer/Dr. Strangely Strange before and after the Incredible String Band. A joy for me has been the discovery of so many tracks I missed completely across the years, coupled with half-forgotten songs, lost in the great vinyl meltdown of the eighties, returning like long-lost friends. The agonising love-ballads, such an integral part of clubs like Cousins abound. Everything from ill-disguised fury to reflective sugar-coated misery is there between Sandy Denny’s ‘You Never Wanted Me’ and Steve Tilston’s ‘I Really Wanted You’.
Les Cousins closed in the face of the expanding 1970s college circuit. If, like many, you still muse wistfully on those smoke-filled, claustrophobic basement fire-traps you can now listen in the safety of your own headphones to those who played a seminal part in the great folk/blues shift and left us better and ever-grateful for it.