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12 Mar 2017

Henry Cow “Legend” 1973 UK Free Jazz, Prog Art Rock,

Henry Cow “Legend”  1973  UK  Free Jazz, Art Rock, Prog Rock Canterbury scene
Legend is probably the album with which it's best to start getting into Henry Cow. I feel that although Legend is still quite dissonant and strange-sounding, it is more accessible than Unrest, I think because here the band does not get deep into the the neo-classical/avantgarde territory as some of the tracks from Unrest do. Another thing is that on Unrest the compositions often seem to be static, floating weirdly around, while on Legend most of the music is really energetic and driving.
Very much .......

Mysterious, cerebral, sinister, heavy, psychedelic, avant-garde, British prog jazz. High art. Yes, it takes some work at first, but so does everything on this level. I'm struck by the MOOD established by the irregular times and angular, discordant harmonies that resolve in the most gorgeous way--chords galore, almost overwhelming. And great sax soloing--very underrated stuff. Haha, check the shit Fred Frith is playing on guitar--and yes he's actually playing that. "Amygdala" is one of the top five all-time Canterbury Scene compositions, like Zappa taught M.C. Escher how to play jazz. Great, challenging, weird, archetypal stuff. In a word,

Henry Cow is best known for being the most popular band associated with the rock in opposition (RIO) movement in the 1970's. Their highly complex style blends together the elements of avant-prog and jazz. And there is a clear free improvisation feeling present as well.

Legend was the first of the five studio albums they released in their active period and while it's not my favourite in their discography it's still a very nice listen. Even if their later albums are stronger than Legend is you'll find the same interesting experimental elements from this album as well. Though in my opinion those elements are even better in their following ..........

Political astuteness aside, Henry Cow's Leg End is simply a busy musical trip, comprised of snaking rhythms, unorthodox time signatures, and incongruous waves of multiple instruments that actually culminate in some appealing yet complex progressive rock. Here, on the band's debut, both Fred Frith and woodwind man Geoff Leigh hold nothing back, creating eclectic, avant garde-styled jazz movements without any sense of direction, or so it may seem at first, but paying close attention to Henry Cow's musical wallowing results in some first-rate instrumental fusion, albeit a little too abstract at times. Through tracks like "Amygdala," "Teenbeat," and "The Tenth Chaffinch," it's simply creativity run amok, instilling the free-spiritedness of the late '60s into this, a 1974 album. The techniques are difficult to follow, but the stewing that emerges between the piano, guitar, flute, and percussion is so animated and colorful, it actually sounds pleasant as a whole. Chris Cutler lends his uncommitted, self-governing brand of drumming to the album to help culminate the frenzy, and Leigh's tenor flute does add some extraordinary musical fabric to each of the album's ten cuts. "Nine Funerals of the Citizen King" is one of the easiest pieces to listen to, while the short but amiable "Bellycan" is an excerpt removed from the group's work with the Greasy Truckers, performed a year earlier. In 1974, Henry Cow released Unrest, which contains the same vigor and spontaneity as Leg End, only it didn't receive the same amount of attention. Shortly after, they united with Dagmar Krause and the rest of Slapp Happy to further their unconventional Mike DeGagne ...allmusic.........

"Nirvana For Mice" is almost mind-blowing in it's complexity. There's just so much going on it's hard to get your head around it! Geoff Leigh's sax blowage swirls around in a sea of free-form drum blasts, guitar noodling and electronic squiggles before the whole thing breaks down. My description makes the composition sound extreme, even harsh, but in spite of it's intensity it's actually rather soft and intricate. Henry Cow were too disciplined for mindless cacophony.

"Teenbeat" has to be one of the most beautiful recordings in existance. The first fifty seconds sounds like you've joined the band in ascending to heaven! And good god, ain't it funky when Fred whips his violin out! This is one of my favourite Prog tunes ever... but calling it a 'tune' doesn't really do it justice! The preceding "Teenbeat Introduction" sounds like one of The Mothers' conducted improvisations, with all the duelling woodwinds and sax noise. Of course, Henry Cow don't have all the MOO-AH and HANDS UP!!! and AIIIII!!! of your typical Mothers improv but there are some obvious similarities. In a sense the early Henry Cow were basically a po-faced British version of Zappa and The Mothers. Some moments are little too po-faced - "Amygdala" and the filler-ish "Tenth Chaffinch" - but you've got to take it all in the spirit of musical adventurishness that pervaded the .......

I've never expected to like this album as much as I did. I've heard it maybe once or twice before, but never gave it a closer listen. This album club was a good opportunity for it. The more I listened, the deeper it sunk. It is a grower. I've learned that album's name has two versions Leg End and Legend, like a kind of wordplay, but that Leg End is probably the original title, and it fits with the cover art. This first album is supposed to be their most accessible, and since it's the only one I listened, it makes me wanna hear more.

What especially caught my attention are the masterful off-kilter compositions, always unpredictable even when they are seemingly straightforward. What lies beneath are rich and dense textures of different sounds interplay. Great example for this is the opening track, perhaps the jazziest song on the album, Nirvana for Mice. A solemn and grandiose opening turns into the two saxophones improvisational duel accompanied by bass and drums interplay that gives it background texture. The sounds are bouncing off each other or uniting, sometimes joyfully, but often with underlying tension towards collapsing. This builds to an incredibly energetic climax. This is a great piece of music. And then it teases with an intriguing shift only to not go there, but instead lead into the second song. It seems like Nirvana for Mice is still going on somewhere else.

The second song Amygdala is a change of pace. It's a calm, pastoral, classically beautiful music with a guitar, flute and organ interplay. I must admit that after the splendid first track and my wondering of where did it go, I lose my interest and attention till the end of this track. And it's a shame because it promises a beauty that I cannot fully appreciate until I hear it alone, outside of the album. Maybe that will do the trick.

Teenbeat (Introduction)/Teenbeat is when we hear Henry Cow's full on avant-garde/free jazz approach. The two tracks are joint in a way that the natural ending of the first became the atypical beginning of the second, tying them as one piece of music. The first part (introduction) is abstract, atonal, free composition with menacing undertones leading the way to some pretty wild free saxophone and drum playing. After all this tension we enter a release in the form of false ending which is in fact, as I said, the beginning of Teenbeat. This part is the perfect example of those unpredictable compositions I mentioned above. There's a lot of shifts, turns, changes formally and in mood that is simply fascinating. I don't have the words to describe it. I am amazed that these changes never feel arbitrary and random, but follow some inner twisted logic and the need for an expression and not just musicianship. There's drama here and an almost cinematic feel especially when, in the middle of the track, we unnoticingly, find ourselves in another scene of the 'film'. This part is my favorite - there's some complex interplay here, but with some off beat, hypnotic, repetitive chords tying everything together and leading the way. Beautiful.

After such powerful music I almost struggle to give my attention to Nirvana (Reprise) and Extract From "With the Yellow Half-Moon and Blue Star", and they are rather short compared to what went before. Although the latter fares better, and since the title says Extract, I wonder if there is a longer composition.

Teenbeat (Reprise) is the rockiest and most energetic track on the album with Frith's guitar as the lead. I already wrote that I haven't heard that much of jazz-rock genre, but if this song is representational in any way, I might explore it.

The Tenth Chaffinch - Well, since I'm a sucker for experimental, abstract, atonal compositions rich with atmosphere, this was one of the first tracks to catch my attention. This is where, I think, we hear the vocals for the first time in the album. The vocals are dissonant and hypnotic, and play a part of the instruments. They add a creepy quality to an already nightmarish atmosphere. This track also have a cinematic feel for me, this time rather surreal.

Nine Funerals of the Citizen King is the only track with singing. It's the most accessible and one of the best tracks on the album. The lyrics are rather cryptic, so I did a little research and learned that they speak apparently of French Revolution. I don't know if that's true and it doesn't really matter to me, because the melodies are beautiful and there's a certain sadness that violin carries all the way and which is so strongly evoked by the saxophone that bursts somewhere in the middle of the song.

The album ends with Bellycan, a proper chaotic, free jazz freak-out.

Besides making me want to hear more of Henry Cow, Leg End also makes me want to explore more of the so called Avant-Prog, RIO bands and it could get me into jazz, at least some of it. We'll see.

I'm on the fence how to rate this album as the poll demands. It's between very good and brilliant. My favorites are Nirvana for Mice, Teenbeat (Introduction), Teenbeat, The Tenth Chaffinch and Nine Funerals of the Citizen King. I'm expecting Amygdala and Teenbeat (Reprise) to further sink in. The other three feel like extracts from some more elaborate compositions. Anyway, the rating for this album can only go up.

In the quest to give the full Canterbury Sound era of Progressive Rock a fair hearing, I have acquired several albums to see what this Musical Culture had to offer, mainly on the basis of the wonderful first five albums that Caravan released between 1968 and 1973, most noticeably “In The Land Of The Grey And Pink” in 1971 and the wonderfully titled “For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night” in 1973, but more of these wonderful albums on another week.

The Canterbury sound was mostly based around a band calling themselves “The Wilde Flowers’’ who were formed in 1963, with an original line up of Kevin Ayers, Brian and Hugh Hopper, and Robert Wyatt. Only Brian Hopper survived the full journey until they disbanded, but as each flower dropped off they went off to form their own band.

Richard Sinclair left to later be in “Caravan”, “Hatfield and the North” and “Camel” before an illustrious solo career.

Kevin Ayers was a founder member of Soft Machine before leaving after just one album, having toured the world and neighbouring planets with the likes of Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix on one package tour (fifteen minutes each on stage four times a day) before starting his own band, which gave starts to various lead guitarists giving their career it’s initial kick start. Kevin Ayers was probably Progressive Rock’s answer to John Mayall in the world of Blues, where Mike Oldfield went on to international success, replacement guitarist Steve Hillage left to form Gong and go and live on the planet Teapot, whilst his replacement Andy Summers did rather well in the Police after his time with the band. Ollie Halsall also did rather well for himself after doing his time with Kevin Ayers.

During this time Kevin Ayers also put out some extremely good solo albums, the best of which is probably “The Confessions Of Dr Dream” (1974). I will admit he did also turn out some dross as well, but for the moment lets be nice.
Hugh Hopper was also to join Soft Machine, replacing Kevin Ayers. Robert Wyatt, after being unceremoniously fired from Soft Machine, bit of a bitter pill to swallow that as he had been a founder member, but he went on to form the band Matching Mole (sneaky dig at his old comrades as the French for Soft Machine is Machine Moule), and then onto a highly successful solo career, and to this day he is probably the most commercially successful of all the musicians who immerged from the Canterbury scene. This despite the fact that Robert Wyatt was paralysed and confined to a wheelchair after a fall in 1974, but you can never keep a good man down.

Canterbury, Kent, and it’s surrounding area was a positive melting pot for music in the early Seventies with bands jumping up to have their name associated with the movement. You only had to have an aunt who had been once to go and wander the gardens of the illustrious Canterbury Cathedral, and you became part of the scene. Amongst those not already mentioned were “Khan”, “Egg”, “National Health”, “Just Us”, “Delivery”, “Quiet Sun” (who numbered a certain Phil Manzanera who went onto fame and fortune in Roxy Music) and “Henry Cow”.

The Canterbury sound by definition was a fusion of all influences and blending them all together, sometimes it worked beautifully, sometimes it really didn’t, but because it was all supposed to be a bit on the avant-garde side, you could produce some absolute rubbish and because everybody was too afraid to stand up and tell you it was bad, they never did.

Some people actually went out and bought the albums, taking them home and playing them, at which point the dog would have probably packed his Winalot in a bag and moved to a new neighbourhood, and your flatmate or parents would hate it, making you even more determined to stick by your new found heroes.

It is not as if the chaps from Henry Cow tried to hide their intent. Trying to explain the racket that comes out of the speakers when you subject your ears to this nonsense, one of the members of the ensemble (who with obvious reason wishes to remain anonymous) has written on the inside sleeve notes of this album:

“After working on our pre-composed material (Tracks 1-4) we started recording studio improvisations onto multi-track tape. This involved the use of ambient as well as close miking, so that the whole recording area became to a certain extent, a unified acoustic space in which people could move around during takes. But we also had separate channels wherever possible, to maximize the possibilities for changing things afterwards. These multi-track recordings then became raw material to be twisted about, using such process as over-dubbing written parts, editing, looping and mixing down before superimposing other material, often with the tape running at different speeds. This was a new experience for everybody (Mott: I bet it was). Because we weren’t working to a plan, it involved collective decision making. This is why Phil Becque the producer gave up and left us to it, and why Henry Cow is credited as mixing engineer for tracks 5-8.’’

What a load of old gobbledygook. They just had not got a clue what they were doing. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but nowhere near enough people any of the time for this lot to make a buck to live on this noise. Showing a remarkable lack of any imagination, both of the first two albums had a painting of a sock on the front cover - nothing else, just a woolly sock. Remarkably they went on to record four albums over their ten year lifespan. This, their first album, should have been re-titled upon its CD release as Henry Cow, End.

I am going to take the CD off the player now and go and look for the Dog..........Mott The Dog..............

You all know Dagmar Krause's reputation. Room-clearer. Insane. "Mrs. Crazzzzzzy Squirrrrrel," as one poster put it. I'd had the Art Bears two-fer CD, Winter Songs / The World as It Is Today, for ages, and I never quite understood why everyone had such violent reactions to her singing. Sure, she gets a bit hysterical on "Rats and Monkeys," but it's nothing too shocking, really. Then I got In Praise of Learning.
There is no doubt in my mind that "War" is the origin of Dagmar's reputation. She's harsh and aggressive, rolling her Rs and exaggerating her vowels, scraping holes in your ear with a stylistic icepick. I love it, of course.

In Praise of Learning is a collaborative effort between Henry Cow and cabaret-rockers Slapp Happy, and "War" could technically be considered a Slapp Happy song, since it was written by Peter Blegvad and Anthony Moore. It's hard to imagine that such aggressively "out" music could be created by the same band that gave us "I've Got Evil." But members of Slapp Happy have since said that when they worked with Henry Cow, they tried to tone up the dissonance and experimentation so the music would better suit Cow's musicians. The result is a weird mixture of catchy diatonic melody and the insane vocals described above, as well as creepy laughing noises straight out of the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus" and a middle section that switches from noise collage to cheerful jazzy sax playing halfway through. I can't imagine a better integration of such apparently irreconcilable styles.

"War" is followed by the epic "Living in the Heart of the Beast," a massively dense and complex piece by Tim Hodgkinson. This track is as perfect an example of the RIO aesthetic as I can think of, with its angular melodies, subtle motivic development, and violent textural contrasts. The piece abounds with brilliant moments, from the double-tracking of Dagmar's voice in one section to the driving and furious guitar solo in another, from the quiet passages of instrumental interplay scattered throughout to the weirdly funky guitar and drumming under the word "fear" about halfway in. The track concludes with an Art Bears-like call for a proletarian revolution against "capital's kings who reduce [us] to coinage," and this chorus is so stridently powerful as it fades into the distance that it almost makes Marxism seem feasible.

And then, there's side two. After such a breathtakingly excellent pair of tracks, it's not surprising that the second side pales in comparison. "Beautiful as the Moon - Terrible as an Army with Banners," by Chris Cutler and Fred Frith, is sort of a rocked-up early 20th-century German art song, which is pretty good but only gets really impressive during the apparently double-tracked piano solo near the end, where two Friths play slightly out of sync to create a strangely liquid effect which seems to foreshadow Ligeti's Itudes. The other two tracks are highly edited group improvs. While "Beginning: The Long March" is a rather interesting composition of mostly ambient noise, "Morning Star" is too sparse and noodly to hold my interest for more than a couple of minutes.

I should probably mention that the CD I have is labelled In Praise of Learning (Original Mix). I haven't heard the remixed version, but I hear that it has a less colorful sound and a forgettable bonus track, so I'll stick with this version. I recommend that all prospective buyers do the same. ........gnosis..........

Henry Cow are more or less the founding band of the mythical RIO scene. Firstly, RIO stands for Rock In Opposition. Allegedly, the name RIO originates from a festival that Henry Cow organized under the name "Rock In Opposition" in London in 1978 for groups that they considered interesting, but were doomed to languish in obscurity. In the aftermath of the festival, a small nucleus of groups more or less operated under the RIO denominator: Henry Cow and Art Bears (UK), Samla Mammas Manna (Sweden), Etron Fou Leloublan and Art Zoyd (France), Stormy Six (Italy), Univers Zero and Aqsak Maboul (Belgium).
In addition, the term RIO may generate both musical and political associations. Musically, RIO is usually associated with a certain style of music that could include the following elements: an angular, sharp-edged, and complex playing style, a certain interest in improvisation and the integration of classical instruments, i.e. chamber music instruments (such as bassoon, clarinet, violin, oboe), in a rock context. One should see this as a rough, incomplete working definition, as not even the bands mentioned above necessarily make use of all of these elements. Henry Cow does make use of all them all though: They regularly use an angular playing style, classical instruments like oboe and bassoon play an important role, and they often work in an improvisational mode. ............gnosis..........

On a more political level, the name RIO is often associated with an anti-capitalist, left-wing (or even Marxist-Leninist) political stance. Although this may be true for bands like Henry Cow or Stormy Six, one can not generalize that all RIO (influenced) bands have a strong left wing political agenda. However, it should be noted that the organization of the "Rock in Opposition" festival was most likely led by anti-capitalist, left wing motives.

Henry Cow's first album, Legend, starts with "Nirvana for Mice," which just as well could have been a superb outtake from Burnt Weeny Sandwich by Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Great avant-garde rock with a jazzy vibe. The album maintains the high level of the opening track, mostly featuring experimental, instrumental rock with strong musical links to the Canterbury scene and Zappa, but elements of neo-classical and chamber music are present as well. A very good debut.

On their second album, Unrest, the first four tracks (on CD) are "pre-composed," while the others are improvised. The composed tracks include some of their best output. "Half Asleep, Half Awake" is for me the highlight of the album. A very elegant composition which sounds like the perfect symbiosis between Canterbury jazz rock, avant-garde, and chamber music. Magnificent. The 12-minute "Ruins" is in a similar style as "Half Asleep, Half Awake" and excellent as well, but maybe slightly less elegant. Then there is the aptly named "Solemn Music," which is far too short, but very beautiful. The improvised tracks are harder to listen to, despite the fact that arrangements are much sparser. Short bursts of cacophonous noise are followed by quiet sections with slowly meandering saxophone leads, stuttering, mutated electric guitar, vocal experiments, and subtle percussion. And while some of the improvised tracks are interesting, I think that I would have liked the album better if they had included more semi-composed tracks. Comparing Legend to Unrest, I feel that Legend is a slightly more coherent album where the improvised-sounding parts are spread out more evenly over the album, while Unrest is split rather abruptly.

In Praise of Learning and Concerts are more noisy albums with a fair dose of improvisation. Both have great moments, but as a whole they didn't hold my interest very well. However, their last album, Western Culture, is nothing less than a masterpiece. The band seems to focus more on composition. Furthermore, the classical/chamber music elements have become more prominent over the Zappa/Canterbury influences that were dominant on Legend. The album effectively displays in the form of instrumental music, a cold and mechanized Western society. Under titles like "Industry," "The Decay of Cities", and "Falling Away", hides the angular, gloomy, threatening meta-beauty of RIO music. In my opinion, Western Culture is by far their most mature and coherent work with some fantastic, frenetic drumming, biting guitar work, and the usual array of saxophones, clarinets, oboes, etc., which sometimes sound fierce and aggressive, but mostly they form a more reflective counterpoint to the distorted guitar playing and the busy drumming. "Western Culture" may be a difficult listen, but it contains outstanding music. .......

Henry Cow are from Cambridge, England, and are considered the leading band of Rock In Opposition, are even the pioneering group par excellence of the genre. These musicians broke completely with the trends of their time by incorporating a great instrumentation, which can be worthy of both classical and jazz, as well as a futuristic vision and within an avant-garde context of progressive rock. Henry Cow is born with a rocky musical approach that is quite visionary that sometimes relies heavily on metals (saxophone and trumpet) and jazzy rhythms, a guitarreo always remarkable thanks to the famous musician Fred Frith, from whom we will hear some memorable solos in this album. Henry Cow's music also defines Rock In Opposition by incorporating a strong symphonic component into his compositions, and emphasizing classical instruments such as violin, viola, clarinet and flute. Among his influences are often Frank Zappa, Soft Machine and not least the composer Béla Bartok, who also strongly impacted Art Zoyd and Univers Zero, two other great powers of the RIO. To date, two boxes (boxets) with unpublished material and some concerts by these legendary performers have recently been published and published, with the intention of celebrating the fortieth anniversary of their formation. If not, at least part of this interesting material will be published here, but for the time being enjoy your debut, Legend, considered his work more accessible....................


Geoff Leigh: Saxes, flute, Clarinet, Recorder, and Voice

Tim Hodgkinson: Organ, Piano, Alto Sax, Clarinet, and Voice

John Greaves: Bass, Piano, Whistle and Voice

Fred Frith: Guitars, Violin, Viola, Piano, and Voice

Chris Cutler: Drums, Toys, Piano, Whistle and Voice 


Nirvana For Mice
Teenbeat Introduction
Extract from “With The Yellow Half-Moon and Blue Star”
Teenbeat Reprise
The Tenth Chaffinch
Nine Funerals Of The Citizen King

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