Audion #31

April 1995 A4 40 pages

- The Psychedelic Trigger
(CD label)
- QEH, London, 17/2/95
- Eggman, Shibuya, Tokyo, 9/11/94
: A Japanese Progressive Legend
part 2 - the HENRY COW legacy
plus: MIA (Argentinian prog), Grey Lady Down, Frei Zinger (live), etc.


original (last 66 copies)



UK 4.90




Europe 8.35




World 9.40


Example article extract

"part 2 - the HENRY COW legacy"

Continuing this series of articles charting the various bands involved in the "Rock In Opposition" movement, here we get to the very hub of the story, namely the revolutionary Henry Cow. If you've read my introduction to the series in Audion #30, you'll know a bit of the story already. If you haven't read it, I suggest you read it now!

The brainchild of Henry Cow was tour manager Nick Hobbs, and carried on by him and Chris Cutler through Recommended Records, "Rock In Opposition" has become a catch-all term nowadays for almost anything radical with the left-field Henry Cow ethic, it's influence has been so great. In fact, being the embryo of such a movement means that the history of Henry Cow is so complex that it would be easy to fill up a whole Audion, charting what I know about them, from their roots onto what the various musicians are doing today. But, as much is already available in the way of history, via articles and interviews in various publications, what I've tried to do here is give an overview from their origins till now, bringing the story up to date.

In depth reviews of many albums discussed here can be found in early Audion's, and the "Rock In Opposition" special of Impetus Magazine (issue #9) also makes very interesting reading.

Back in 1968, as student radicalism was sweeping its way across Europe, there was a knock-on effect, not only in politics and social attitudes, but also in music that gave rise to a whole new creative scene. Psychedelia was the fashion of the time, and new forms of progressive music were being developed. It was an exciting time for new and radical music. Instigators of one of the most creative bands to emerge were two like-minded students: Fred Frith and Tim Hodgkinson. The strangely named Henry Cow were quite unstable as a band in the early days, ranging from a duo to a six-piece, and notably numerous drummers passed through. I imagine it would be most difficult to hold together any band described as a 'blues-based group with a Dadaist sense of humour', yet they created enough interest to gain a support slot at their first two major concerts alongside Pink Floyd.

It took until late-1969 for any sort of stable band to emerge, notably when John Greaves joined the ranks. Fred and Tim had been developing their own unique and radical style of complex composition, in a music that drew on influences as wide-ranging as Varese to Captain Beefheart. Henry Cow's first claim to fame can be regarded as their winning John Peel's "Rockortunity Knocks" competition. Though this has never been released, a recording does exist, and hopefully it will be officially released someday. This shows Henry Cow in two different lights. First, we have two songs, very much in the Canterbury vein. I don't know who the singer is, but he sounds very close to Robert Wyatt, and the style is in that very memorable Soft Machine and Matching Mole vein. Contrasting with this is a version of Teenbeat (which later featured on their first album). In retrospect this version is much closer to later bands, a kind of hybrid of The Muffins and National Health, with a nod to Frank Zappa's King Kong, radical and unpredictable, it's a good insight into where the Henry Cow sound came from.

Sometime after this Chris Cutler joined the ranks, forming what would be the stable nucleus of Henry Cow for the next five or so years. At this time Henry Cow would run parallel to Chris' former band: the Ottawa Music Company, a band that included all Egg members. I don't think they recorded anything, but only played live. Many luminaries passed through their ranks, including Steve Hillage, and later all of Henry Cow became involved too.

Now highly active on the arts scene, playing at all sorts of concerts and special events across the country, including theatre productions, ballet scores, etc., Henry Cow also became involved with the London free-jazz scene, and a series of special concerts at the LSE along with the likes of Derek Bailey, Lol Coxhill, Ron Geesin, Ivor Cutler, and others. An early example of Henry Cow's more free-form and improvisatory style of music can be heard on their side of the GREASY TRUCKERS LIVE AT DINGWALL'S DANCE HALL double album. Strangely however, Henry Cow's contribution to this legendary album wasn't recorded at a concert but in Virgin's Manor Studio, though it does sound very live and is amongst the most radical recordings in Henry Cow history. But, prior to this, Henry Cow had played as part of the ensemble performing Mike Oldfield's TUBULAR BELLS at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Possibly because of this, Henry Cow were signed up to Virgin Records, and as a consequence Mike Oldfield also lent a hand in the recording of early Henry Cow albums.

Getting back to chronology, Henry Cow's debut album LEGEND offered a most eclectic type of fusion that could only barely be called rock, with radical use of time signatures, complex composition, and radical use of advanced studio techniques. The majority of the composition was handled by Fred Frith, yet many pieces seemed also to be the product of collective improvisation. Distinctive characteristics in the Henry Cow sound included Fred Frith's fuzzed guitar, Chris Cutler's liberal abstract drumming, and the complex use of multiple winds courtesy of Geoff Leigh and Tim Hodgkinson. All the musicians (except Geoff) also handled keyboards, all proving to be adept at a wide range of instruments, pushing the possibilities of what they could do to the limits. Though vocals are used for effect on various tracks, the only actual song is saved till last, Nine Funerals of the Citizen King which sets the seeds for a new and highly influential different aspect of the Henry Cow sound.

After this, Henry Cow scored a production of "The Tempest" by John Chadwick, and also recorded the aforementioned GREASY TRUCKERS session. Geoff Leigh left and was replaced by the much travelled and highly inventive Lindsay Cooper.


Article by Alan Freeman

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