The Strawbs have always been a very special band. I can think of no other band that has morphed itself through so many musical genres as the Strawbs. From 1967 through the end of the 1970's, Dave Cousins, the driving force behind the band, has led The Strawbs from bluegrass with legendary vocalist Sandy Denny, to acoustic folk with Tony Hooper and John Ford, to electric folk with Rick Wakeman and of course progressive rock, not to mention a touch of glam and heavy metal here and there!
The Complete Strawbs Live at Chiswick House is an excellent DVD document of a one off reunion show to celebrate the band's 30th anniversary. The day long festival was edited down to ninety minutes of classic Strawbs material. This isn't merely a greatest hits set, there are a few obscure gems as well from the band's earliest days as a folk group. In fact, one of the best features of the DVD is that it is broken down into four segments, each one celebrating a separate epoch from the band's rich history. All key players from the band's past are present, save for Rick Wakeman who is replaced by his son Adam(looking like a member of teen pop group Hanson!). Dave Lambert, Brian Willoughby, John Ford, Blue Weaver and Tony Hooper are just some of the names that are here and perform very nicely. I love the homey atmosphere of the concert. In the earliest part of the film, there are only a couple hundred people present, but by the end of the evening, the Chiswick House grounds are filled to capacity with a thousand fans.
Extra DVD features include a bonus track of "Blue Angel", a song originating from Dave Cousins' newly re-released solo album of 1972, Two Weeks Last Summer. Also Dave Cousins briefly reminisces about the concert on a summer day in 2002. Plus there's a sneak preview of a vintage clip of The Strawbs live in Tokyo from 1975. The full film of the event is scheduled to be released later this year.
There are a couple of caveats to go along with this DVD. The sound quality isn't the greatest, especially when compared to so many modern concerts being released in Dolby Surround. However, The Complete Strawbs is presented in stereo and it is acceptable given the low budget of the recording. More problematic is the video recording. For some reason, there is a great deal of distortion when there is movement on screen, which is especially annoying during the more rocking parts. I'm not sure if this is because of a PAL to NTSC conversion, a flaw on the DVD itself or a problem with my machine. However, once one gets used to these annoyances, it is a very enjoyable concert.
Though not the best place to start a Strawbs collection-newbies are advised to check out the excellent 2 CD Halcyon Days compilation-established fans are going to really like the homespun and very English feel of the entire event. The Strawbs have been an on and off again band for the past twenty years and I am happy to report that they have just released a new studio recording that is exclusively available on the band's website at the moment. The Complete Strawbs is a nice chapter in the career of this important prog/folk band.