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Henry Cow - Concerts CD (album) cover

CONCERTS

Henry Cow

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.52 | 41 ratings

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Syzygy
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars 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 (on the CD version) 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 Cows contribution to Greasy Truckers Live at Dingwall's Dancehall (1 side of a double LP the other 3 featuring Gong, Camel and Global Village Trucking Company. If you ever come across a copy with the initials CG on the label, PM me please).

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 disc 1 gives a good overview of Henry Cow's skills as composers, disc 2 plunges into the altogether more challenging waters of their group improvisations. The CD also alters the running order of the vinyl original. '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 disc 2 were earlier recordings from 'Live At Dingwall's Dance Hall', and they sound like a set of studio improvisations recorded between te 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.

Syzygy | 4/5 |

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