Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Henry Cow - 1973 - Legend

Henry Cow 

01. Nirvana for Mice (4:53)
02. Amygdala (6:47)
03. Teenbeat Introduction (4:32)
04. Teenbeat (6:57)
05. Nirvana Reprise (1:11)
06. Extract from with the Yellow... (2:26)
07. Teenbeat Reprise (5:07)
08. Tenth Chaffinch (6:06)
09. Nine Funerals of the Citizen King (5:34)
10. Bellycan (3:19)

- John Greaves / bass, piano, vocals, Whistle
- Chris Cutler / piano, trumpet, drums, vocals, Whistle , Toy instruments
- Fred Frith / guitar, piano, violin, keyboards, viola, vocals
- Tim Hodgkinson / organ, clarinet, piano, keyboards, saxophones, vocals
- Geoff Leigh / clarinet, flute, recorder, saxophones, vocals

Probably my favorite band of all times, so again a warning... I am VERY biased when it comes down to Henry Cow...

"There are a million ways to tell this story: through the music, the social arrangements, politically, artistically, subjectively. Certainly every member of the group would have a very different version. I'll just try to give some bones, some significant events, a little background and say, now and then, how, I felt about some of it. Memory is treacherous, so I write this referring as much as possible to contemporary documents and notes. Most what follows is adapted loosely from something I wrote for Andy Ortmann soon after the band broke up. Which explains why the style is sometimes a little odd.
A couple of other preliminaries:
Henry Cow was first and foremost a performing group; none of the records get near to what we were like on stage, and of course, there is a mass of music that we never even tried to record.
For the bulk of our touring life, there were as many women in the band as men - road crew as well as performers.
Henry Cow was a full time project and we pretty much lived on top of each other for about 5 years, either on tour or rehearsing. We lived frugally - all the money we earned went into a kitty to pay for equipment, vehicles, repairs, and travel. Only in the last three-and-a-half years were we finally able to pay ourselves anything (£10, £15, £20 and in the last six months £25 a week). The band fed us - that was my job, with Maggie Thomas, who came on most of the tours with us and ended up being our sound engineer. John's wife Sarah was also our sound engineer for a long time, and their tiny son Ben travelled with us a lot, as did Dagmar and Anthony's son Max.
The group was run through a combination of meetings - formal, weekly, minuted meetings - and personal zones of responsibility (for accounts, catering, route planning, administration, maintenance and so on). We wound up in a lot of bizarre places and did some things which, looking back, might appear extremely eccentric - noble - ridiculous - stupid - idealistic but which seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. There was hardly any outside - so where would perspective come from? I just mention it, since there's no space for any of that in here. Your cue, then, to dip what you read below into a pot seething with failure and achievement, art and psychology, agape, confusion, suffering - and moments nothing could improve upon. And hormones. Lots of hormones. You talk about a revolution? We 'eel.. someone else already had the last word on that:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

Henry Cow's debut album came out after they had been around in one form or another for about 5 years, so there was a lot of material to cherry pick for this album. This is Henry Cow's most accessible effort, and is probably the best place for newcomers to start.

Henry Cow never stopped evolving, and each album has a distinct identity of its own. They drew on a whole range of influences, from rock to contemporary classical to free jazz and beyond. This is their jazziest album, a feeling reinforced by the twin saxes of Geoff Leigh (who was to leave shortly after this was released) and Tim Hogkinson.

The album opens with the twin horn riff of Nirvana for Mice, a deceptively straightforward sounding piece. Listen to what's happening underneath the main theme and there's all manner of interesting interplay between John Greaves' bass and Chris Cutler's never predictable drums. A brief massed vocal leads into the almost tranquil Amygdala, where Leigh's flute and Frith's guitar meander in a purposeful way over Hodgkinson's organ chords. Some atonal twin horn duelling leads into Teenbeat/Teenbeat Reprise, the track proper featuring some blistering sax solos and the rhythm section firing on all cylinders, and a brief reprise of 'Nirvana' brought what was side 1 to a close.

Side 2 kicks off with a brief Fred Frith piece before Teenbeat Reprise picks up the pace again - this time it's Fred Frith's manic violin, possibly paying homage to Stefan Grapelli, which leads the proceedings. The Tenth Chaffinch is a studio improv of the kind that Henry Cow would do much better on Unrest and In Praise of Learning - there are some good ideas here, but 6 minutes is probably twice as much as was required. The album proper closes with a strange Tim Hodgkinson song, apparently about the French revolution.

"LegEnd" is an astonishingly assured debut album. Every bar of music is crammed with ideas, nobody coasts and there is little superfluous material. Whilst there are some parallels with contemporary acts like Soft Machine and Egg, Henry Cow was a unique act which was to cast a long shadow over the more experimental, avant garde end of prog for decades to come. Essential listening.

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