Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Henry Cow - 1978 - Western Culture

Henry Cow 
Western Culture

01. Industry (6:58)
02. The Decay of Cities (6:56)
03. On The Raft (4:01)
04. Falling Away (7:39)
05. Gretel's Tale (3:58)
06. Look Back (1:20)
07. Half the Sky (5:14)

- Tim Hodgkinson / organs, Alto sax, clarinet, Hawaiian guitar (1,2), piano (3)
- Lindsay Cooper / bassoon, oboe, Soprano sax, Sopranino recorders
- Fred Frith / electric & acoustic guitars, bass, Soprano sax (3)
- Chris Cutler / drums, electric drums, noise, piano (4), trumpet (3)
- Anne-Marie Roelofs / trombone, violin
- Irene Schweizer / piano (5)
- Georgie Born / bass (7)

Western Culture was Henry Cow's farewell album, recorded after a protracted break during which they had become independent from Virgin Records, Chris Cutler had laid the foundations for what were to become Rock In Opposition and Recommended Records and they'd already decided to split. Much of the material which was to become the first Art Bears album had already been recorded before the band decided that the material wasn't 'Henry Cow', although the closing track 'Half The Sky' came from these sessions. With all this turmoil it's surprising that an album was made at all, and in a way it's ironic that this least showbizzy of bands should have followed the old showbiz maxim 'save the best till last'.

Western Culture is Henry Cow's most coherent album - the only one to feature only composed pieces, the only purely instumental album and the album on which Lindsay Cooper emerged as a talented composer in her own right, as well as a great musician. In creative terms, the album is a 50/50 split between Tim Hodgkinson, who wrote tracks 1 - 3 (side 1 of the vinyl original) and Lindsay Cooper (who wrote or co-wrote the remainder).

Hodgkinson's pieces on side 1 really blend into a seamless whole - brass and reeds play a prominent part here, with relatively little electric guitar but with acoustic guitar featuring prominently for the first time on a Henry Cow album. Special mention should be made of guest musician Anne Marie Roelofs, a Dutch musician who had played with them on stage, and who added some warm, blurry trombone lines to complement Cooper's bassoon - her playing is particularly effective on 'Industry' and 'The Decay Of Cities'. These compositions are a continuation of the compositional style first heard on 'Living In The Heart Of The Beast', with more of a jazz element (perhaps as a result of Henry Cow's work with the Mike Westbrook Orchestra and the Art Ensemble Of Chicago). They evoke a decaying urban landscape, with the closing piece 'On The Raft' giving a more optimistic tone with huge brass/reed chords played over a lazy tempo, the whole never quite settling into the comfortable orthodoxy that seems to be promised.

Lindsay Cooper's compositions are a more diverse selection, drawing on contemporary classical and avant garde influences. 'Falling Away' is probably the track that is closest to the avant rock style normally associated with Henry Cow. 'Gretel's Tale' features an astonishing piano contribution by Irene Schweizer, almost like John Cage plying free jazz. 'Half The Sky' takes its title from a famous quotation from Chairman Mao, also cited by John Lennon on 'Woman' a couple of years later - appropriate for a musician who would go on to be a key player in the Feminis Improvising Group.

The key players in Henry Cow continued to work together in various configurations over the years, and released a lot of fine music and exerted a massive influence on the more left field aspects of progressive rock. Odd tracks have since emerged on compilations, but there have been no reunion tours and no 'greatest hits'. Their final press release said that they would not be trapped into reproducing their past in order to secure their future, and they have been as good as third word. Western Culture is a fitting end to a remarkable career, and is an essential album of its genre.

Henry Cow - 1976 - Concerts

Henry Cow 

101. Beautiful as the Moon, Terrible as an Army With Banners - 5:41
102. Nirvana For Mice - 5:30
103. The Ottowa Song - 4:15
104. Gloria Gloom - 4:13
105. Beautiful As The Moon (Reprise) - 3:11
106. Bad Alchemy - 2:54
107. Little Red Riding Hood Hits The Road - 5:49
108. Ruins - 16:29
109. Groningen - 8:53
110. Groningen (Again) - 7:26

201. Oslo - 1 - 5:38
202. Oslo - 2 - 3:15
203. Oslo - 3 - 3:23
204. Oslo - 4 - 3:00
205. Oslo - 5 - 3:00
206. Oslo - 6 - 1:44
207. Oslo - 7 - 4:54
208. Oslo - 8 - 4:01
209. Off The Map - 8:22
210. Cafe Royal - 3:20
211. Keeping Warm In Winter / Sweet Heart Of Mine - 9:58
212. Udine - 9:39

- Lindsay Cooper / bassoon, flute, oboe, piano
- Chris Cutler / drums, piano
- Fred Frith / guitar, piano , violin, xylophone
- John Greaves / bass, voice, celeste, piano
- Tim Hodgkinson / Organ, clarinet, alto saxophone
- Dagmar Krause / voice, piano
- Geoff Leigh / tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, recorder, flute, clarinet
- Robert Wyatt / vocals

This album could be subtitled "The Young Person's Guide To Henry Cow". In the absence of an official compilation, this is the closest thing we have to a one-stop shop which contains new versions of pieces from every album, a couple of cover versions, a generous slice of live improv and (bonus on the CD reissue) half an album's worth of studio improv as well. The original issue was a lengthy vinyl double album, but for the CD reissue Henry Cow's contribution to Greasy Truckers Live at Dingwall's Dancehall is added as well.

Side 1 of the vinyl original was taken up with a 23 minute medley originally recorded in 1975 for legendary DJ John Peel's show. It was winning Peel's 'Rockertunity Knocks' contest that helped Henry Cow secure a record deal in the first place, so it's fitting that this session was included. Rather than simply rattle through a few tracks off their latest album, they arranged a continuous medley with new bridging passages. They start with 'Beautiful As The Moon...' from In Praise Of Learning, here played with even more clarity and intensity than the album version. This leads into a new, different version of 'Nirvana For Mice', the opening track from their first LP. The substitution of Lindsay Cooper's bassoon for Geoff Leigh's sax gives the piece a rather different, less overtly jazzy feel. Then we're into 'Ottawa Song', a version of a song known to some from Matching Mole's Little Red Record. This again was a fitting choice, as Matching Mole were the only other UK prog act of the time to make explicit political statements. Dagmar's interpretation of the lyrics is clearer than Wyatt's, and the arrangement almost makes it into a new song altogether. 'Gloria Gloom' is an otherwise unreleased Cutler/Frith composition, and a reprise of 'Beautiful As The Moon...' brings the whole thing to a close. Clear and concentrated, this was Henry Cow at their most accessible.

Side 2 was tracks 2 and 3, recorded on stage with Robert Wyatt. This segment opens with 'Bad Alchemy' from Desperate Straits, featuring Wyatt and Dagmar duetting to great effect, before a segue into a manically uptempo reading of Wyatt's 'Little red Riding Hood Hit The Road'. Following this is a live version of 'Ruins', probably the most complex of their composed pieces. This version is nothing short of amazing, but the real revelation comes in the closing section of the piece where Dagmar sings Fred Frith's violin part from the studio original.

If CD 1 gives a good overview of Henry Cow's skills as composers, CD 2 plunges into the altogether more challenging waters of their group improvisations. 'Groningen', Groningen Reprise' and 'Udine' all come (I believe) from a Dutch tour where they played as a quartet without Dagmar or Lindsay Cooper. In parts of these pieces you can hear fragments of what would become 'Living In The Heart Of The Beast' on In Praise of Learning. The interplay is often stunning on these tracks. 'Oslo' features the full 6 piece line up in almost half an hours worth of extremely free improvisation, including Dagmar apparently speaking in tongues about half way through. On all the concert recordings Frith's guitar is superb, and he also manages to work in some manic xylophone passages. The remaining tracks on CD 2 were earlier recordings from 'Live At Dingwall's Dance Hall', and they sound like a set of studio improvisations recorded between the departure of Geoff Leigh and Lindsay Cooper joining. Leigh is credited on the sleeve, but any contributions he made are inaudible and his name is also absent from the composer credits. These are not as advanced as the studio improvs on "Unrest" and "In Praise Of Learning", but they are a welcome addition to this reissue.

"Concerts" was excellent value on vinyl, and is even better as a CD reissue. It functions as a good introduction to the many faceted beast that was Henry Cow, and gives tasters of their previous albums without spoiling them.

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.

Henry Cow - 1974 - Unrest

Henry Cow 

01. Bitter Storm Over Ulm (2:44)
02. Half Asleep; Half Awake (7:39)
03. Ruins (12:00)
04. Solemn Music (1:09)
05. Linquaphonie (5:58)
06. Upon Entering The Hotel Adlon (2:56)
07. Arcades (1:50)
08. Deluge (5:52)

- John Greaves / bass, piano, vocals
- Chris Cutler / piano, trumpet, drums, vocals
- Lindsay Cooper / bassoon, oboe, recorder, vocals
- George Born / bass
- Fred Frith / guitar, piano, violin, keyboards, xylophone
- Charles Fletcher / vocals
- Tim Hodgkinson / organ, clarinet, piano, keyboards, saxophones, vocals

Henry Cow's second album saw a number of changes from their debut. Saxophonist Geoff Leigh had left, and was replaced by multi instrumentalist Lindsay Cooper.

The album drifts away from the Canterbury roots evident on their debut, showing two distinct sides to Henry Cow. Side 1 (tracks 1 - 3) features pieces composed by individual members, whilst side 2 is largely taken up with group improvisations enhanced with studio effects. If you're looking for comparisons, side 1 has a lot in common with Univers Zero, while side 2 is closer to Faust.

Side 1 kicks off with Fred Frith's Bittern Storm Over Ulm, a short piece that, according to the sleevenotes, "owes a debt to O.Rasputin's 'Got To Hurry' by the Yardbirds". Frith leads from the front with some magnificent guitar squalls and the rhythm section out- Beefheart Beefheart, and the whole thing is over in less than 3 minutes. John Greaves' Half Asleep, Half Awake follows. A beautiful, under stated piano intro leads into the most accessible piece on the album, a reverie which has echoes of post-Third Soft Machine or Zappa circa Hot Rats/Burnt Weeny Sandwich, but which has a sound all of its own. Cooper's oboe is the lead instrument for the main body of the piece, followed by shorter bursts of clarinet and guitar. The final piece on side 1 is one of Henry Cow's most uncompromising composed pieces, Ruins, a piece which could well define the RIO sound and which has rarely been equalled for complexity or depth. 25 years after first hearing it, I still find new nuances every time I play it.

Side 2 opens with a short piece from Henry Cow's music for a production of The Tempest, an oboe/guitar duet, before launching into some dazzling studio improvisations. Linguaphonie features a lot of half and double speed recording, puctuated by the band reciting bits of nonsense in a variety of foreign languages - sample 'il y a pour moi vingt cinq chiens', or 'there are twenty five dogs for me'. Upon Entering The Hotel Adlon is a manically fast paced burst of improv that could blister paint at 50 paces. Arcades/Deluge closes the album, a beautiful and melanholy group improvisation that closes with a brief fragment of song from John Greaves, with semi audible lyrics.

Unrest is a superb achievement by on of the most committed and uncompromising of 1970s rock groups. It may be hard work, but ultimately it is also highly rewarding.

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.

Popol Ace - 2003 - Popoloddities (1971-1994)

Popol Ace 
Popoloddities (1971-1994)

01. Fly High (4:04)
02. Steelgrass (3:46)
03. The Art of Living (3:52)
04. Neon Nightmare (2:44)
05. All Right (5:05)
06. Sweet Louise (4:45)
07. Political Man (3:56)
08. Jingle, Jangle (3:39)
09. No, No, No (3:29)
10. Shape of Things (3:31)
11. I Can Sing (3:06)
12. Black Tulip (2:50)
13. Let the Music Turn You On (5:19)
14. Art of Living (Live) (4:30)
15. Leavin' Chicago (Live) (4:01)
16. All We Have Is the Past (Live) (4:48)
17. The Jester (Live) (4:36)
18. For Eternity (Live) (6:10)
19. Hi-De-Ho (Live) (4:32)

- Arne Schulze / guitar
- Thor Andreassen / drums
- Terje Methi / bass
- Peter Knutsen / keyboards
- Jahn Teigen / vocals

Compilation of singles, demos and live recordings

Popol Ace - 1978 - Curly Sounds

Popol Ace 
Curly Sounds

01. Bye Bye (4:35)
02. Tango for One (4:13)
03. Jay (4:03)
04. Love's Last Ballad (4:09)
05. Joe's My Name (4:02)
06. California USA (4:55)
07. Let the Music Turn You On (3:50)
08. Mountain Man (3:53)
09. Northern Winds (3:49)
10. Wonderland (4:45)

- Arne Schulze / guitar
- Pete Knutsen / guitar, keyboards
- Thor Andreassen / drums
- Terje Methi / bass
- Asbjørn Krogtoft / vocals

 This is Popol Ace`s last album, Jahn Teigen the vocalist quit right before they released this, in fact he sung on many of these songs (some can be heard on popoloddities) , not that it was better with his vocals on it, cause the album is a really low point for the band, gone is the progressive stuff that made popol such a great band, instead they play pop, disco and some jazzy stuff.. the only progressive stuff on this album is the middle theme on the first track and the song Northern Winds which is VERY good, and also the album closer Wondeland is also a very nice song, very happy moods.

Popol Ace - 1975 - Stolen From Time

Popol Ace 
Stolen From Time

01. Bury Me Dead (5:57)
02. Today Another Day (5:39)
03. Jester (3:58)
04. Soft Shoe Dancer (4:42)
05. Mr. Bigalow (4:13)
06. Sweet Tune (5:02)
07. Sleepwalker (5:24)
08. I Can See Tears (6:01)
09. Suicide (8:20)

- Arne Schulze / guitar
- Pete Knutsen / guitar, keyboards
- Thor Andreassen / drums
- Terje Methi / bass
- Jahn Teigen / vocals

Guest musicians:
- Sylvette Allart / ondes Martenot (4, 6 and 7)
- Richard Raux / soprano sax (3)
- Inger Lise Rypdal / backing vocals (7)

Not 100% Prog "Stolen From Time" is a good album in Classic Rock field. But also in Prog Rock field "Stolen From Time" not cut a poor figure. The style is a bluesy Rock with symphonic arrangements. But the final result is a good Rock. Piano and keyboards are the dominant instruments with good insertion of guitars and good vocals. The drums is mixed too high and for this motive this album sound so much Rock.
In general the songs are good also today but "Mr. Bigalow", the more famous song of this album because a good radio hit also today (and that I have listen to radio various times), is a strange southern rock/ AOR. For the rest good POP as Fruupp or Beggars Opera with less Prog tendencies and more POP bluesy treatment.

So, if Classic Rock please you, I think that this album is an interesting album for your discography. But also for true Prog discography this is a good album.