Rock In Opposition, part 2 – Henry Cow.
The Core off Henry Cow was a trio, all multi instrumentalists credited with a wide range of instruments over their albums, Chris Cutler : drums, piano, trumpet, vocals, Whistle , Toy instruments ; Fred Frith : guitar, piano, violin, keyboards, bass, viola, xylophone, vocals ; Tim Hodgkinson : organ, clarinet, hawaiian guitar, piano, keyboards, saxophones, vocals. Besides the trio a series of other members and guest appeared in the band. The band was founded in the late 60’s but had it first record out in 1973.
From: The Henry Cow Legend 1973 (later released as Legend or Leg End on different labels)
Right from the debut Henry Cow played a highly sophisticated and complex combination of styles, seemingly inspired from as different directions as Progressive Rock like Soft Machine and Gentle Giant, Avant-garde Jazz, and Modern Classical music.
From Unrest 1974
During the middle of the 70’s, Henry Cow collaborated with another Avant-garde band, Slap Happy. Resulting in two 1975 albums, Slap Happy’s Desperate Straights and Henry Cow’s “In Praise Of Learning” both featuring members from both bands, notably German vocalist Dagmar Kraus, with whom Frith and Cutler would form Art Bears. Personally I prefer what they did with Art Bears, most of “In Praise Of Learning” seems to be too confused for my taste, but it does contain one masterpiece, with vocal extraordinary from Dagmar Kraus, the very beautiful “Beautiful as the Moon – Terrible as an Army With Banners”.
From “In Praise Of Learning” 1975
As a result of the work with Kraus, there was a disagreement within the band, about how much material should be song focused, and how much should be instrumental, as a result the material with songs was released as the “Art Bears” debut, and the instrumental work was released as Henry Cows final album, Western Culture. Even though Western Culture was Henry Cows last album, and a result of disagreement, today it seems as a highlight. The sound is great, and the music is still as fresh today as it was back then.
Uncompromising avant-garde at its best, as Henry Cow could do it so well, also a demanding album, most people won’t immediately enjoy. All the music was written by Tim Hodgkinson and female bassoon, oboe, sax player Lindsay Cooper, as all the Cutler/Frith material went to the Art Bears album.
From Western Culture 1979
Henry Cow was the founding force behind the RIO movement in 1978, shortly before the group would disband, and its members would move into different other band constellations.