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on 15 February 2009
This is the second half of unreleased recordings, unrecorded compositions, one-off events, radio and concert recordings of what I think is the most important and engaging of avant-garde rock bands, Henry Cow.
If you want to know how they evolved their unique mix of composed and improvised sounds, this 4 x CD and DVD set is a must buy.
This covers the period 1976-1978. This picks up the point in Henry Cow's 10 year history when Lindsay Cooper's distinctive bassoon added a new depth to their sound and Georgina Born's cello too to a lesser extent but you can also hear the maturing compositonal and playing skills of HC's bedrock players Frith, Cutler and Hodgkinson.(Dagmar Krause's heartfelt singing straddles the two CD sets).
In this set of 4 CDs there's great concert playing from Sweden and Germany, some new songs you may never had heard, and many new never heard before compositions, some of which you may recognise as morphing into tracks that appeared on subsequent Art Bears LPs.
The DVD is the only surviving film footage of HC and was recorded in France with a 6 piece line-up (Cutler, Frith, Hodgkinson, Krause, Born and Cooper). It's not exactly got the theatricals of a Kiss gig, or the physical energy of AC/DC but it's engrossing nonetheless, featuring some well known tunes from In Praise of Learning and others less familiar. If you're interested in the music, like me you've always wanted to see how the players interacted on stage (and I didn't know Dagmar sang with her eyes shut).
The CD book is great too - full of unseen photos, all you need to know backround info and recollections. The book for this second CD set has a more comprehensive review of the whole of HC than the first (there's details of finances for instance), and recollections from Frith and Hodgkinson, but the best piece was written by Georgina Born, who was only with the group for 2 years, and so has written a considered piece from an insider's and outsider's perspective. As a Professor of Sociology, Anthopology and Music, her words have the objective authority of a priviledged observer.
I was just going to buy one half of this box set but once you buy one, you'll want the other.
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on 22 February 2009
Henry Cow 10 disc boxed set (40th Anniversary)
Is it likely at this point that there are any `undecided' old Cow fans? For the majority of `us' there's just one question about this set: buy it now, or wait?
The short answer for anyone interested in Henry Cow is that this set is indispensable, and remarkable value for money (yes, it's expensive, but it is also 10 cds, a dvd and other stuff). Going to the RER site will allow you to purchase the discs one by one, which is also what will probably happen in a few months (disc six is already available).
Generally, the plus of these superbly remastered recordings is to show the energy and liveliness of the band in live format - though the sheer verve of the playing overcomes the occasional slight deficiency in sound quality.
For the long answer - see below - here's a potted overview.
The albums show that the Cow barely released half of what they wrote, and even then, familiar songs were only the scaffolding for live improvisation. Time and again, a lovely or eerie improv will segue seamlessly into a well-known theme. At times, this was the Ur-theme, the birth of a melodic fragment which later became the core of an officially recorded tune. It's the fascination with spontaneous creation and the re-working of melody which is the great joy and surprise of this set. We see songs coming into being, changing and morphing into new compositions. A propos, as has been commented elsewhere, the liner notes are extremely insightful as to both general theories of improv/composition, and specific Cow practices. A handbook for musicians, in fact. We also get to hear the instrumental chops of the entire band, but I was struck mostly by how complex and subtle Chris Cutler's drumming is all through this ten year span. A musical drummer? Whoda thunk?
And - a footnote - those of us who were a little disappointed with the earlier `Concerts' album (it came too close on the heels of `In Praise of Learning' and included much of that material) the live concerts here are another beast altogether: dynamic, in context, exciting and always surprising.
For Henry Cow fans, some notes on each cd follow. For clusters of devotees, I'd suggest an eminently Cow solution to the cash/value problem: club together and buy the set for $25 per person. Listen, share, collectivise. I'm sure the band would understand and approve.
see also review of Box One
CD6: Stockholm and Goteborg
The band in its second or third (or fourth?) home - Scandinavia, the gem of this set is a long composition called alternately `Hold to the Zero Burn' or `Erk Gah' (the latter apparently being Fred Frith's reaction when he first saw the score). The `March' with which they routinely drew concerts to a close has its loveliest version here.
CD7: Bremen
Enough said.
CD8: Hamburg
The last performance of the original line up with John Greaves. Some very impassioned playing here.
CD9: Late
Fragments and performances from the time around `Western Culture' (or WestCult as Chris Cutler refers to it) with new song styles showing that the current punk scene had been taken on board. The tension between ever imore complex compositions and shorter, punchy (but hardly less complex) songs would soon fracture the band into two parts, one of which (Frith, Cutler, Krause) would take the style further as `Art Bears'. Some of those songs are seen here just before they escaped from the Cow's grasp.
DVD10: Vevey
A simple nighttime concert in a field from the `In Praise of Learning' days, featuring Georgie Born on bass. It's worth it just to put faces and movement to the sounds.
CD 11: of limited availability, there's a whole nuther hour of excellent unreleased material - A Cow Cabinet of Curiosities - for those of you who go for the whole set. In addition, having shelled out for all the cds, the manufacturer cheekily assumes you must be a H. Cow nut, and includes an empty box which exactly fits the five studio cds you are presumed to own already.
A class act indeed.
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For the 40th Anniversary of progressive avant-rock group HENRY COW, one of the first bands signed to Virgin Records, their current label ReR MEGACORP has released three five disc retrospective boxed sets, 'THE ROAD Vol. 1-5,' 'THE ROAD Vol. 6-10,' and THE STUDIO Vol. 1-5. The first two contain unreleased studio and live material, and the third their "canon" (Leg End,Unrest,Desperate Straights (their collaboration with SLAPP HAPPY), In Praise of Learning (with SLAPP HAPPY) and Western Culture. All the sets come in sturdy boxes that when set side by side form a b&w group picture and logo. 'THE ROAD Vol. 2' has a 58pg. booklet with tons of info, including track notes, appendixes on their equipment and accounts and lengthy reminiscences by band members and friends. An empty jewel case (Vol. 4 & 5 is a 2 disc set) is included where you can handily store your copy of Concerts. Formed in 1968 and disbanded in 1978, HENRY COW's influences included rock, blues, classical, opera, jazz and of course, the avant-garde. Their compositions are complex, challenging and extremely original, but they are also dedicated improvisors who would sometimes improvise entire concerts. In 1978 HENRY COW initiated the Rock In Opposition (RIO) movement, a collective of progressive bands united in their opposition to the music industry that refused to recognize their music. Representing England, the other founding members were STORMY SIX (Italy), SAMLA MAMMAS MANNA (Sweden), UNIVERS ZERO (Belgium) and ETRON FOU LELOUBAN (France). I will review each set volume individually......

Disc/Volume Six: "STOCKHOLM & GÖTEBORG" was released separately ahead of the sets as a taste and teaser. It's also the first disc to feature bassist Greaves replacement Georgie Born, who's also a cellist, adding a new flavor to the COW sundae. Before this set her only recorded work with HENRY COW was two tracks on 'WESTERN CULTURE,' here she makes up for lost time since she's on practically every track of this set. All the material on this disc was recorded for radio, resulting in an excellent listening experience. Track 8, "Ottawa Song" is a actually the same performance featured on Disc Three and was included by mistake due to a tape mix up. Tracks 9 to 11 are the earliest, recorded on May 28, 1976 at Göteborg, tracks one through seven and twelve thru thirteen were recorded in Stockholm May 9, 1977. Dagmar and Georgie don't perform on the Göteborg tracks since the it was recorded during the same tour as Trondheim (Vol. 4 & 5), with Dagmar ill, and the band between bassists. The disc also features a version of Hodgkinson's legendary "Erk Gah," finally making it's debut on a HENRY COW release......

Disc/Volume Seven: "LATER and post-Virgin" features the version of the band (Born, Cooper, Cutler, Frith, Hodgkinson & Krause) that would persevere until their unfortunate end. Considering that all the material on the disc was taken from bootleg recordings, the sound is quite listenable, probably because they had an audience who came to listen and absorb, not to party. The earliest tracks are from 1976 in Chaumont, France, a year after their last album for Virgin. There are two improvisations, the first quite percussive with excellent drumming by Cutler and a xylophone coda by Frith, the second, Cooper and Hodgkinson having a tasty sax and bassoon duel. There is also a version of Frith's "March," which makes numerous appearances throughout the sets. The rest of the material is from 1977, the earliest three cuts from London in February that feature "Joan," a then unreleased Cutler/Frith composition that would reappear on Cutler, Frith & Krauses' post-COW collective ART BEARS' first album 'HOPES & FEARS,' a wild "Teenbeat 2" and the non-LP "Would you Prefer us to Lie?" from the pens of Cutler/Greaves. The sound on these tracks have more hiss, but are still very listenable. From May we get a very clear and wonderful eleven minute "Untitled" piece by Cooper from The Netherlands and Dagmar performing Brecht/Eisler's "On Suicide," maybe from Italy. The roughest material was recorded in December Amsterdam with a sinister "Brain Storm over Barnsley" and a reunion with Geoff Leigh on tenor and guest Anne-Marie Roelofs on trombone (who would continue to collaborate with the band) for two "blowing sessions, a quartet of reeds and trombone and a full extended band session. What the tracks lack in sound quality is balanced by the palpable ambience......

In the fall of 1977 Dagmar announced that she was leaving. Because of health concerns she could no longer tolerate the grueling touring, basically living in a bus for months at a time with five other people. She did, however want to continue recording with the group, who met and decided it was time to disband altogether. They agreed to continue for six more months so they could record their current material (which became 'WESTERN CULTURE' and the ART BEARS first album) and go on a "farewell tour" playing all the venues that had supported them over the years......

Disc/Volume Eight: "BREMEN" recorded in March 1978 is all instrumental in crystal clear sound, courtesy again Radio Bremen (see Vol. 3), edited and remastered from the original stereo tapes. Beginning with a more-restrained-than-usual eleven minute improvisation we're treated to "New Suite," a combination of six short mostly Frith pieces, ending with his beginning-to-be-ubiquitous "March," that wouldn't have sounded out of place on 'LEG END,' excellent stuff. The rest of the disc contains the 47 minute "Die Kunst Der Orgel" which contains two sections, the 34 minute/four section improv "Bremen" and a thirteen minute/two-piece extract of Hodgkinson's "Eyk Gah" (a full version appears on Vol. 10). What struck me listening to "Bremen" was how at times it reminded me of another of my favorite improvisational-minded groups...the GRATEFUL DEAD. While their instrumentation differs, both band's improvs are far-reaching and continually substantive, no "noodling" or interminable instrumental solos...and for those inclined, never boring......

Disc/Volume Nine: "LATE" covers the last seven months of their existence. From March 1978 there's nine tracks from a Rock In Opposition Festival that featured all five aforementioned founder groups. They perform a short typical Frith piece, "The Herring People," a four section improv, "RIO" and Lindsay's "Half The Sky" which was also recorded for 'WESTERN CULTURE.' Five tracks are from June or July in Italy including a version of Thelonius Monk's Jackie-ing" and the traditional "Virgins Of Illinois," and a short take of Hodgkinson's "Viva Pa Ubu" (a studio version is on 'WC' as a bonus track) from they're third-from-final concert. The sound quality throughout is good. Soon afterwards the band would record their final album, afterwards on August 27, 1978 HENRY COW was put out to pasture......

Disc/Volume Ten: "VEVEY 1976" is an All-Region DVD and the only known video recording of HENRY COW, making it a priceless artifact for fans. Recorded outdoors on August 25, 1976 at Vevey, Switzerland, the band is set up on the grass of a lawn/field. Tim Hodgkinson and his keyboards are set up stage left, to his right Lindsay Cooper and Georgie Born on chairs, Chris Cutler's drums and percussion, and finally Fred Frith, stage right. Dagmar, dressed in her (socialist) party finest, stands in front of the girls making a feminist triad. The first number is 'IPoL's "Beautiful as the Moon...Terrible as an Army with Banners" with their first improvisation of the evening, "Vevey 1," interspersed. Fred plays the piano parts on an upright located behind Lindsay and Georgie. After an introduction by Tim in haulting French the band performs their cover of Phil Ochs' "No More Songs." Next is a terrific "Living in the Heart of the Beast" featuring an excellent Frith performance on guitar, xylophone and violin. Rounding out the concert is the fourteen minute second improv "Vevey 2," the final version of Frith's ubiquitous "March" and eighteen minutes of Hodginson's "Erk Gah." Special mention goes to Chris Cutler, who plays the drums like an octopus from an old cartoon. I also want to note that although the DVD is supposedly All-Region, it wouldn't play in my older SONY home theater system, but I had no problem viewing it on my computer and multi-region DVD player......

The band:
Georgie Born - bass & cello
Lindsay Cooper - bassoon, flute recorder, piano (1-2), tapes (9-11)
Chris Cutler - drums, amplification, piano (10)
Fred Frith - guitar, xylophone, tapes (9-11), piano (13-14)
Tim Hodgkinson - organ, alto sax, clarinet, voice & tapes (9-11)
Dagmar Krause - singing (1-7 and 12-14)
John Greaves - bass & voice on track 6
the songs:
1. "Stockholm 1" (Born/Cooper/Cutler/Frith/Hodgkinson) 6:38
2-6. "Erk Gah" (aka "Hold to the Zero Burn" (Hodgkinson) 10:46
7. "A Bridge To Ruins" (Hodgkinson) 5:08
8. "Ottawa Song" (Cutler/Frith) 3:27
9-11. "Göteborg 1" (Born/Cooper/Cutler/Frith/Hodgkinson) 16:53
12. "No More Songs" (Ochs, arr. Frith) 3:35
13. "Stockholm 2" (Born/Cooper/Cutler/Frith/Hodgkinson) 6:13
14. March (Frith) 4:15

The band:
Georgie Born - bass & cello
Lindsay Cooper - bassoon, oboe, jaw harp, flute, piano (3,4,5), accordion (5)
Chris Cutler - drums, contact microphone amplification, (5,6,7)
Fred Frith - guitar, xylophone, tubular bells, violin, piano (7)
Tim Hodgkinson - organ, alto sax, tapes, clarinet (12), voice (5)
Dagmar Krause - voice (1,3,7)
the guests:
Geoff Leigh - tenor saxophone (10,11)
Anne-Marie Roelofs - trombone (10,11)
the songs:
1. "Joan" (Cutler/Frith) 5:26
2. "Teenbeat 2" (Frith) 8:05
3. "Would you Prefer us to Lie?" (Cutler/Greaves) 4:28
4. "Untitled Piece" (Cooper) 11:31
5. "Chaumont 1" (Born/Cooper/Cutler/Frith/Hodgkinson) 9:01
6. "Chaumont 2" (Cooper/Hodgkinson) 2:14
7. "March" (Frith) 7:00
8. "Brain Storm over Barnsley" (Frith) 3:23
9. "Teenbeat 3" (Frith) 6:45
10. "Post-teen Auditorium Invasion" (Cooper, Hodgkinson, Leigh, Roelofs) 3:56
11. "Bucket Waltz" (Born/Cooper/Cutler/Frith/Hodgkinson/Leigh/Roelofs) 4:26
12. "On Suicide" (Brecht/Eisler) 3:42

The band:
Georgie Born - bass & cello
Lindsay Cooper - bassoon, oboe, soprano sax, recorder, piano (9,10,11,14), accordion, egg-slicer
Chris Cutler - drums, marimba (9,10), piano (1,14)
Fred Frith - guitar, tubular bells, marimba (8), xylophone (14), violin, piano (7)
Tim Hodgkinson - organ, alto sax, clarinet, mbira, voice (9)
the songs:
1. "Armed Maniac/Things we forgot" (Born/Cooper/Cutler/Frith/Hodgkinson) 11:55
"New Suite"
2. Van Fleet (Frith) 1:48
3. Viva Pa Ubu instrumental extract (Hodgkinson) 4:35
4. The Big Tune begins (Frith) 0:45
5. The Big Tune continues (Frith) 2:11
6. The Big Tune ends (Frith) 1:30
7. March (Frith) 3:46
"Die Kunst Der Orgel"
8-11. Bremen (Born/Cooper/Cutler/Frith/Hodgkinson) 34:25
13,14. Erk Gah instrumental extract (Hodgkinson) 13:04

The band:
Georgie Born - bass & cello
Lindsay Cooper - bassoon, oboe, soprano sax, recorder
Chris Cutler - drums
Fred Frith - guitar, xylophone, violin
Tim Hodgkinson - organ, alto sax, clarinet, voice (7)
the songs"
1. "Joy of Sax" 3:50
2. "Jackie-ing" (Monk, arr. Westbrook) 1:15
3. "Untitled 2" (Cooper) 1:32
4. "The Herring People" (Frith) 2:07
5-8. "RIO" (Born/Cooper/Cutler/Frith/Hodgkinson) 17:09
9. "Half The Sky" (Cooper) 5:05
10. "Virgins of Illinois" (trad.) 2:13
11. "Viva Pa Ubu" (Hodgkinson) 2:18

DISC/VOLUME TEN: "DVD - VEVEY 1976" (75:16)
The band:
Georgie Born - bass & cello
Lindsay Cooper - bassoon, oboe, soprano sax, recorder, piccolo
Chris Cutler - drums
Fred Frith - guitar, xylophone, violin, tubular bells, piano
Tim Hodgkinson - organ, alto sax, clarinet
Dagmar Krause - voice
the songs:
1. "Beautiful as..." (Cutler/Frith) 6:50
2. "Vevey 1" (Born/Cooper/Cutler/Frith/Hodgkinson/Krause) 8:49
3. "Terrible as..." (Cutler/Frith) 2:19
4. Tim speaks 1:04
5. "No More Songs" (Ochs, arr. Frith) 3:48
6. "LITHOTB" (Hodgkinson) 16:57
7. "Vevey 2" (Born/Cooper/Cutler/Frith/Hodgkinson) 13:51
8. "March" (Frith) 2:42
9. "Erk Gah" (Hodgkinson) 18:28

'THE ROAD Vol. 6-10' is a treasure trove for the HENRY COW enthusiast or any adventurous listener. The DVD alone was worth the price of admission for this fan! If you're new to the band, start with 'LEG END,' almost all it's tracks are composed instrumentals, or "DESPERATE STRAIGHTS," a collaboration with SLAPP HAPPY since all of it's tracks are of three to five minutes in length, and all but one feature vocals. If you're hooked, pick up the rest; 'UNREST' and 'IN PRAISE OF LEARNING" (with SLAPP HAPPY) both have a 50/50 ration of composition to improvisation. 'WESTERN CULTURE' features two LP-like side long instrumental compositions with some bonus tracks. The 2CD 'CONCERTS' is like an early mini-distillation of the live boxed sets and contains an excellent BBC Session medley and a great live recording of one of their best compositions, "Ruins." If you're interested in these sets don't delay much longer, they are currently out-of-print but still carries them and is actually the cheapest way to go, they deduct the added VAT (tax) for foreign orders. They're also still available from the ReR MEGACORP site. Hit THE ROAD and get them all before it's too late......
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