Fairport Convention: Cropredy Festival 2001 (Classic Rock Productions, 2002)
Steve Howe (Classic Rock Productions, 2002)


Classic Rock Productions is a new label from the United Kingdom, dedicated to keeping the world up to date with a series of progressive rock bands whose names will be familiar to readers of a certain age.  Wishbone Ash, Asia, Uriah Heap, Rick Wakeman and many others are represented in the first rich release of DVD concerts from Classic Rock.
It's fitting that Fairport Convention is included.  They could hardly be wedged into the prog-rock category and yet they have been playing steadily for now 35 years, and their current line-up still includes a founding member!  This DVD finds them playing at their own festival, Cropredy 2001, August 11th.  It was my 50th birthday, so it's a date that lives in infamy `round our house.  Fairport was in good form that night, and this DVD presents them at the top of their game.
The repertoire includes songs from their long history, from "now Be Thankful" and the closer "Meet On The Ledge" right through to tracks from their most recent CD, XXXV.  The benefit of having the video portion is that the listener gets to see the action.  You can witness Ric Sanders' hyperactivity.  You can see the interplay between the guitarists, and fiddlers.  The camera operators do a fine job of being unobtrusive while capturing the best of the show.
Throughout the program, the band is joined by visitors. Dave Swarbrick makes an appearance. Vikki Clayton comes to sing. Maartin Allcock rejoins his former band-mates, and Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson stops by for a powerful rendition of "Locomotive Breath". Between the songs, clips of the festival are shown. The intimacy of the pastoral setting and friendliness of the crowd are obvious and makes one yearn for a British vacation one August in the near future.
The DVD includes interviews with Dave Pegg, Chris Leslie, Ric Sanders, Gerry Conway and Simon Nichol, which provides a little history to the proceedings.  But it's the music that means the most to fans of Fairport...and the music is stunning.  Beautifully recorded and exceptionally played, this collection acts as a visual companion to Free Reed's recent boxed set.  Classic Rock has provided several Special Features (scene selection, extra interviews and bonus footage) for the trainspotter.
The second DVD for consideration is Steve Howe's self-titled program.  Howe is the longtime guitarist from Yes, and one might expect a glitzy over-the-top production, but this title is just the opposite.  Intimate, almost humble in its presentation, Steve Howe is a model of quiet restraint.  Historical footage of Howe's bands are shown between clips of a more recent interview at the guitarist's home.  He sits in his home studio surrounded by recording equipment and speaks quietly about his influences and his hopes and intensions for his music.  He brings out one after another of his guitars.  Howe has a wonderful collection of stringed instruments which was recently the subject of a glossy hard-cover book, but here... in front of a camera, the viewer not only sees the instrument but hears it.  Howe shows what he played on such and such a song, and then we cut away to the video footage of Yes playing it in concert.  It is a fascinating approach for a guitar-junkie like myself.
My favorite clip is of a young Steve Howe playing "the Clap" at Montreux.  The absolute joy of creation is clear in every move he makes, in the expression on his face, and in the music he plays.  It is an extraordinary segment.  Only one of many.
A program this personal forces the viewer to reconsider the subject.  I'll be tracking down some of those old Yes, Asia and GTR albums...and looking for Howe's solo recordings too.  
Classic Rock Productions are to be commended for releasing programs like Steve Howe and Cropredy Festival 2001 .  They have maximized the potential of the new medium of DVD to present archival footage, combined with new material in an entertaining and exciting package.  They have raised the bar for other labels.  Great stuff!

[David Kidney]

For more info, visit: