Nells Jazz and Blues, London
23rd of April 2016
Prog-rock veterans Strawbs return to London for a date showcasing their full electric line-up. Louder Than War’s Craig Chaligne reviews.
Strawbs are an excellent 70’s band that don’t get the accolades given to most of their peers (Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd), a shame given the consistently high quality of the records they released between 1969 and 1979. Unfortunately when they had their taste of mainstream success it was with a song as far removed from their sound as you could possibly be, “Part Of A Union” written by (then) bass player John Ford and (then) drummer Richard Hudson. A catchy song but with a touch of the novelty to it, it became an albatross around the bands neck (especially main songwriter Dave Cousins ). Despite a run of truly excellent albums in the mid seventies (culminating with their magnum opus “Hero and Heroine”), the band called it a day in 1980. Sporadic reunions occurred throughout the eighties and nineties but a 1998 retrospective concert in Chiswick was the first seed of what was to become a more permanent reunion. The return of guitarist Dave Lambert saw the band touring regularly under “Acoustic Strawbs” moniker with occasional outings as “Electric Strawbs” augmented by a rhythm section and a keyboard player.
The line-up at Nells Jazz and Blues included new keyboard player Dave Bainbridge who couples being a good musician with bringing the bands average age down by ten years (the quote is from Dave Cousins). Starting with the anthemic “Turn Me Around” from 1977’s Deep Cuts album, the band rocked much harder than I was expecting with Dave Lambert’s guitar wailing through the venue, the band mostly play as an acoustic trio and seemed to be relishing the prospect of playing with a full electric line-up. The Strawbs’s main quality compared to most of their seventies colleagues is an absence of useless noodling (meaning no bass or drum solos), everything is about the songs and what serves them. The first half of show was a trawl through the band mid-seventies repertoire with the Chas Cronk penned “This Promised Land” proving a particular highlight. The epic “Ghosts” proved again that ambitious doesn’t have to rhyme with tedious. After closing off the first set with a medley of “The River” and “Down By The Sea”, Dave Cousins joked that the break would be used to charge up their pacemakers so they could survive the second set.
As good as the first half was, the second proved even better with a full performance of “Hero and Heroine” based on the re-recorded version the band released in 2011. The whole set just flew by. Starting with the suite “Autumn”, the band then progressed through this wonderful album with gusto. The title track with its intricate tempo changes and an acoustic “Midnight Sun” where Chas Cronk switched from bass to Twelve String proved to be the highlights of an excellent set. Special mention to Tony Fernandez who pounded his drums like there was no tomorrow for the whole of the gig.
Strawbs’ official website is: www.strawbsweb.co.uk.