The prog folk theme continues this week with the Dave Cousins song, Blue Angel. Born David Joseph Hindson, Cousins was the leader and primary songwriter with the Strawbs from its formation in 1964 through to the present day. The band has at various times included: Sandy Denny (Fairport Convention); Rick Wakeman (Yes); and John Hawken (Renaissance, Spooky Tooth). We can also find Jon Hiseman (Colosseum) and Roger Glover (Deep Purple) as guests on the album that Blue Angel comes from. That’s an impressive list and it illustrates rather well the Strawbs location on the music map, somewhere between folk and the proggier end of rock.
The Blue Angel was the title of a 1930 film starring Marlene Dietrich as the cabaret artiste Lola Lola. The film charts the devastating transformation of respected professor Immanuel Rath into a bit-part cabaret clown when he is first mesmerised by Lola’s beauty, then obsessed by her charms and, finally, consumed by his own jealousy and humiliation. And yet, Lola is not the archetypal femme fatale, manipulating, uncaring and self-centred. She is, as one reviewer put it, “a good-hearted little trouper” who drags the professor around for four years like a ball and chain because “she prefers this clod to her golden coxcombs”.
Whether the story of the professor and the cabaret girl has anything to do with the Dave Cousins song I can not say. The Crotchety intellect is just not powerful enough to decode the poetic lyrics. But those words flicker like fireflies dancing in the night, making fascinating patterns, drawing jigsaw puzzle pieces in the air, giving tantalising glimpses of dark blue desperate meaning.
Born on the quest for a wave of half peace
Acquired in a Dresden china couplet
Bound in the chains of the half book binding
Half way to my half life.
As a piece of instrumental music, though, Blue Angel is much easier to understand. From the solo acoustic guitar introduction through to the wide soundscape of orchestral keyboards, via acoustic rhythm and electric lead guitars, we are firmly in the realms of contemporary music convention. But please don’t interpret this as faint praise. The individual ingredients are quite exquisite and the combination is flawless; it is a work worthy of the angels, of whatever colour.