Strawbs: Access All Areas

Their hits and misses on a rare 1990 TV show.

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By 1990, when Strawbs assembled at Central TV’s studios to record this hour-long performance, they were very much a part-time project rather than an ongoing concern.

Mainman Dave Cousins had quit music to become a successful executive in local radio, keeping his hand in playing festivals and one-off dates with a line-up of mates. Despite their part-time status, this particular incarnation – featuring their early-60s co-founder Tony Hooper and first drummer, Richard Hudson – turned out to be one of the most stable in the band’s lengthy career, running from 1986 until 1992. Drawing on some of the best-known numbers and a smattering of newer material, this set touches upon the emotionally ragged divorce tale of Cut Like A Diamond and Cousins’ bitter divorce from the band itself at the end of the 70s with a charged Something For Nothing. The mood softens with Ringing Down The Years, a remembrance of Sandy Denny. When it comes to their ‘greatest hits’ – the premise of the TV show on which they appear – we inevitably arrive at the execrable tub-thumping Part Of The Union, whose rousing singalong netted them the No.2 slot in the charts in 1973. It’s written by Richard Hudson and John Ford, and Cousins gamely plods through it with gritted teeth. Elsewhere, though likeable enough, it feels like a professional rather than inspired display, a sense in which the crew are going through the motions. The normally dramatic Down By The Sea is curiously muted and perfunctory. Both the audio and DVD collected here have been previously issued, but this is their first combined outing. While it’ll appeal to completists, those wanting to explore the depth and brilliance of Strawbs in their prog rock pomp heyday would be better off with Hero And Heroine, and other studio releases of that vintage.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.