Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Henry Cow - 1975 - In Praise Of Learning

Henry Cow
In Praise Of Learning

01. War (2:26)
02. Living In The Heart of the Beast (15:30)
03. Beginning: The Long March (6:27)
04. Beautiful as the Moon - Terrible as an Army With Banners (7:02)
05. Morning Star (6:06)
06. Lovers of Gold (6:28)

- Dagmar Krause / vocals
- Peter Blegvad / clarinet, guitar, vocals
- John Greaves / bass, piano
- Chris Cutler / piano, trumpet, drums, vocals
- Lindsay Cooper / bassoon, oboe, Wind
- Mongezi Feza / trumpet
- Phil Becque / synthesizer
- Fred Frith / guitar, piano, violin, keyboards, xylophone
- Tim Hodgkinson / organ, clarinet, piano, keyboards, saxophone, vocals
- Geoff Leigh / trumpet, saxophones
- Anthony Moore / synthesizer, piano, keyboards, electronics

Henry Cow's politics were as radical as their music, and this was never more explicit. Their third album sees the band collaborating with Slapp Happy. The trademark chainmail sock was deep red, and the cover was adorned with a quote from the left wing film maker John Grierson - 'Art is not a mirror, it is a hammer'. The titles of the two instrumentals also explicitly refer to the band's left wing politics; Beginning: The Long March is a reference to the Chinese Revolution, while Morning Star is the name of the daily paper published by the Communist Party of Great Britain.

And what of the music? The album opens with War, a Slapp Happy song alluded to in the lyrics of A Worm Is At Work from "Desperate Straights". Where Peter Blegvad's lyrics had previously tended towards the whimsical, here he goes straight for the jugular and Dagmar spits them out with suitable venom - 'Stacking the bones on the empty aerodrome', 'Shaking her gory locks over the deserted docks' and 'Violence completes the partial mind'. The whole thing is over in less than three fast and furious minutes. This leads into the album's centrepiece, Tim Hodgkinson's remarkable Living In The Heart Of The Beast, a 15 minute call to arms set to complex and compelling music that comes from the same dark, haunted place as Magma or King Crimson circa Lark's Tongues/Starless. Fred Frith plays lead guitar over a desolate soundscape while Dagmar intones doom laden lyrics. The interplay between Frith's guitar and Dagmar's voice in the first half of this composition is remarkable. After painting a picture of bleak desperation, the second half of the piece is rhythmic and focussed and the lyrics offer a way out - 'Dare to take sides in the conflict that is common cause/Let us all be as strong and as resolute...' . It says a lot about Henry Cow's abilities as composers and performers that a revolutionary manifesto sung over complex music is also catchy and even hummable in places. The rhythm gradually speeds up as the piece draws to a conclusion, propelled by a wonderful bubbling and melodic bassline from John Greaves. This brings side 1 of the vinyl original to a close.

The second half of the album opens with "Beginning: The Long March", a studio improvisation/sound collage of the type that Henry Cow included on the second half of Unrest. This is uneasy listening even by the standards of this album, but there is some angular, spiky beauty to be found if you presevere with it. The centrepiece of side 2 is "Beautiful as the Moon", Terrible as an Army With Banners, written by Cutler (words) and Frith (music). In a sense, this is the first Art Bears song and is also the most accessible track on the album. The arangement is simple and uncluttered, with Dagmar singing over a piano/drums accompinament with only the most subtle of embellishments. Cutler's drumming is economical and restrained but as restless and complex as ever, and this may be his finest moment on a Henry Cow studio album. The album closed with another dense improvisation, Morning Star, in a similar vein to Beginning:The Long March, again not for the faint hearted but worth grappling with.

Among their contemporaries, only "Matching Mole" ever released an album as explicitly political as this with 'Little Red Record'. Whether you agree with their politics or not, music as passionate and committed as this is all too rare, and in the progressive field it is almost unprecedented. Listen and be amazed.



  2. one of my faves of all time. thanks!

  3. by the way - this is the remixed shite version from the 1990s. Look for the "original mix" version. This version has this crappy reverb all over everything and huge chunks of the music are either missing or pushed back in the mix in such a way that it looses vitality. The original mix was kind of murky, but at least everything is there and there isn't this tinny sounding reverb on everything.

  4. I got the ESD 1991 versions of the studio albums (1995 for concerts) and the ReR 1998-2004 versions of the whole lot... which one do you think is better?

  5. maybe post both versions? let the visitors decide?

  6. I don't know the ReR of the whole pile. I listened to it on vinyl forever, and then I bought the ESD version. It sucked horribly. I know "some people" and apparently there was some behind the scenes personality bullshit going on in the remix. Note how the keyboards and woodwinds are reduced and almost absent, and how there's this horrible tinny sounding reverb on *everything*. It's dreck. Several years later, I bought another copy that advertised how it was *THE ORIGINAL MIX*. It was much better. Unfortunately, I ripped it for my computer back in the early 2000s, and my drive wasn't very big, and so it was ripped at 160. I retired my CDs to boxes in the basement, and have no idea where the Henry Cow box is, so I've been waiting for the Original Mix to come up online to save me the horror of rummaging through my junk yard of a basement. Every time I find a 320 to DL, it's the crappy remix version. I think the crappy remix is fine if you've never heard Henry Cow before and don't know anything about audio engineering. It has its uses - it certainly sounds sharper and more precise in my car than the old version. But other than that, it's pretty bad.
    Well, now you put up the box set, so hopefully this will fix the problem....

  7. DOnt worry, Ihave both versions, I will repost them as 798a and 798b... let me see if I can convince a good friend in Miami that has the original 70's LP's in mint condition to do a needle drop for us so we can compare all three