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RIO/Avant-Prog • United Kingdom

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Henry Cow biography
British progressive pioneers HENRY COW was the leading group of the Rock In Opposition* (R.I.O. for short) movement, initiated by their drummer Chris CUTLER. All members of HENRY COW have been involved in collaborations with Canterbury groups and artists at one point or another, and most of them still are. Their music aged amazingly well over the last 20 years due to diverse influences: some of its roots in the Canterbury school, most notably early SOFT MACHINE, other influences (FRANK ZAPPA, BELA BARTOK, KURT WEIL...). The group functioned more or less as a collective, with a true group identity that changed from album to album as members came and went.

HENRY COW's first album, "Legend" (read "Leg End"), is considered by many their most accessible, and makes a good starter. Their sound draws on modern classical music, jazz and experimental music. "In Praise of Learning" was a collaboration with SLAPP HAPPY, which featured in the addition of a real vocalist (the infamous Dagmar KRAUSE), Pete BLEGVAD and Anthony MOORE. However, they sound nothing like HENRY COW. "In Praise of Learning" and "Concerts" are more noisy albums with a fair dose of improvisation. "Western Culture" is the final HENRY COW release, and it represents the next logical step from "In Praise of Learning". "Western Culture" seems the obvious choice as their best album being essentially jazz-tinged modernist classical music for an extended rock band instrumentation but it contains outstanding music: some fantastic, frenetic drumming, biting guitar work, and the usual array of saxophones, clarinets, oboes etc.

After disbanding in 1979, HENRY COW members got involved in multiple side and solo projects:
- Art Bears
- News From Babel
- Slapp Happy
- Tim Hodgkinson
- Fred Frith
- Chris Cutler
- Cutler and Frith
- Cassiber
- The (ec) Nudes
- Skeleton Crew
- The Science Group

* Rock In Opposition (R.I.O.) defines a c...
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Rer 2010
ReR Megacorp 2006
Audio CD$18.67
$20.19 (used)
Vol. 1-5 Studio (40th Anniversary Box Set)Vol. 1-5 Studio (40th Anniversary Box Set)
Recommended Records 2009
Audio CD$69.59
$78.15 (used)
Vol.2: 1974-5Vol.2: 1974-5
Rer Megacorp 2017
Audio CD$12.18
$12.17 (used)
Vol.4 & 5: TrondheimVol.4 & 5: Trondheim
Rer Megacorp 2017
Audio CD$13.60
$13.59 (used)
Leg EndLeg End
Rer USA 2005
Audio CD$12.61
$15.83 (used)
Vol. 1-5-RoadVol. 1-5-Road
Box set
ReR Megacorp 2009
Audio CD$61.93
$78.15 (used)
Vol. 6-10-Road (40th Anniversary Box Set)Vol. 6-10-Road (40th Anniversary Box Set)
Box set
Rer Megacorp 2009
Audio CD$71.17
$77.24 (used)
In Praise of LearningIn Praise of Learning
Rer USA 2008
Audio CD$12.55
$13.32 (used)
Western CultureWestern Culture
Rer 2016
$119.00 (used)
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HENRY COW discography

Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help to complete the discography and add albums

HENRY COW top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.14 | 214 ratings
The Henry Cow Legend [Aka: Legend or Leg End]
3.50 | 147 ratings
3.96 | 164 ratings
In Praise Of Learning
4.31 | 201 ratings
Western Culture

HENRY COW Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.65 | 56 ratings

HENRY COW Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

HENRY COW Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.03 | 19 ratings
The Road: Volume 6 - Stockholm & Göteborg (40th Anniversary Boxset)
4.67 | 24 ratings
The Road: Volumes 1-5 (40th Anniversary Box Set)
4.33 | 20 ratings
The Road: Volumes 6-10 (40th Anniversary Box Set)

HENRY COW Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

4.67 | 3 ratings
In Concerto
4.25 | 4 ratings
Unreleased Orckestra Extract


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Western Culture by HENRY COW album cover Studio Album, 1979
4.31 | 201 ratings

Western Culture
Henry Cow RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by RoyalJelly

5 stars This is not only my favorite Cow album, but a top favorite all time album. As much as I love the earlier Henry Cow albums, one still notices other influences there at times, and the long improvs can get tedious on repeated listenings, not to mention the rather strident political tone. The LP release was one side composed by Tim Hodgkinson, and side B by Lindsay Cooper. The album is perfectly conceived and structured, and apart from one Zappaesque section, doesn't sound like anyone else (not counting the bands who've emulated its sound since). The opening of Industry still blows my mind today as it did then, a vivid musical portrayal of industrial society in decay. I also find humour here, especially in Lindsay Cooper's album side...the opening is very reminiscent of Zappa's Uncle Meat, and her compositions continue in a playful vein, a great contrast to the rigid terseness of Hodgkinson's side. I've always found this to be a perfectly engineered and mixed album, as nearly all the albums done at Sunrise Studios in Switzerland that I've heard, and honestly don't hear any difference in the Remaster (assuming I've gotten that copy, but mine also has the 3 bonus tracks mentioned). If I had to recommend one RIO album, this would probably be the one (next to Univers Zero's Ceux du Dehors and the Art Bear's Winter Songs, an essential masterpiece of the genre. (Rating 5)
 The Road: Volumes 1-5 (40th Anniversary Box Set) by HENRY COW album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2009
4.67 | 24 ratings

The Road: Volumes 1-5 (40th Anniversary Box Set)
Henry Cow RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer

5 stars After the breakup of Henry Cow in 1978, the musicians went their own way. The same year, Chris Cutler, the band's drummer and its most politically-involved member, founded an independent record label, Recommended Records. At the break of the new century, Cutler mentioned at one point that he was planning a compilation of Cow's previously unreleased live recordings, which resulted in numerous rumors around the internet. Several years later, in 2009, Recommended Records released the long-awaited 40th Anniversary Box Set. The Road: Volumes 1-5 is the first part of the set.

For a band with a musical vision as inventive and complex as that of Henry Cow, the recording studio was without a doubt the most comfortable environment, opening a new plethora of technical possibilities, such as overdubbing, pre-recorded tape effects, and electronic sounds. And yet, as opposed to many bands whose style relies heavily on studio equipment, Henry Cow display an incredibly high amount of confidence and knowhow in a live situation.

Disc 1, entitled Beginnings, comprises recordings from the LegEnd period, with Geoff Leigh still a full-time member of the quintet. The overall style presented on this album could really be classified as the Canterbury sound. It opens with "Pre-Teenbeat", a composition in two parts, and is followed by two vocal pieces, which had never been released on any album. These flaunt the influence of bands such as Soft Machine, Caravan or even Matching Mole, with fuzz organ very much in the vein of Mike Ratledge, Dave Sinclair or Dave Stewart. Next come the pieces from Henry Cow's debut album. Tim Hodgkinson's composition "Amygdala Extract" and Fred Frith's "Teenbeat" perfectly showcase the group's well-rehearsed sound characterized by near-flawless musicianship and equal input from all of the members. They are not exactly the same tracks as those on the original album, but they employ the main themes and ideas of the source pieces. "Teenbeat" features Dave Stewart, the keyboardist of Egg and Hatfield and the North, who provides light celeste touches and participates in a conversation in the background. The live-cut version of "Citizen King" is astonishingly similar to the studio version and is followed by "Nirvana For Moles" (originally released as "Nirvana For Mice"). The full version of "With the Yellow Half Moon and Blue Star", for which we have got the taste on LegEnd, is divided into eight movements. One is likely to detect the familiar melodies and passages from the studio album. "With the Yellow Half Moon and Blue Star" is probably my favorite piece out of the whole box set with its truly magical, inexplicable uniqueness. The disc closes with the three-part "Guider Tells of Silent Airborne Machine". A title of every part appears to be a name and a surname. This is by far the most experimental track on the album, pointing the way towards the band's future style.

Disc 2 comes from the Unrest era, with Lindsay Cooper onboard. Geoff Leigh left the group during their tour of the Netherlands as he could not stand the tension in the band and was unable to keep up with the touring schedule. "Introduction", with a dark, Stravinsky-like feel, quickly transforms into a contrastingly bright piece "Ruins I". As one goes on listening, one is likely to discover that the sudden yet natural changes in pace and mood are very common. The following track, "Half Asleep, Half Awake", composed by John Greaves, is built around a catchy motif. The "Ruins" theme returns in "Ruins II", quickly resolving into "Heron Shower Over Hamburg" (originally released as "Bittern Storm Over Ulm"). This track showcases Fred Frith's signature improvisational style, relying on his distinctive fuzz guitar sound. "Halsteren", which was recorded in Halsteren in the Netherlands (naming a live-cut piece after the city it was recorded in is common practice), uses the opening passage of "Living in the Heart of the Beast". Putting them in different musical landscapes really shows its modal ambiguity. "Halsteren" is divided into seventeen segments, such as "Extension", "First Suspension" or "Solo Extension". The rest of the disc is occupied by Henry Cow's 13-minute political statement "Living in the Heart of the Beast", with the line-up featuring vocalist Dagmar Krause. Robert Wyatt, the Canterbury scene pioneer and mastermind, provides his unique vocals for this piece. The recording quality on this one is slightly less perfect than on the previous tracks, but is nonetheless true to the impressive studio version.

Disc 3 was recorded in Hamburg. Once again, the band name some of their tracks by transforming recognizable phrases (for instance, "Nirvana For Rabbits" instead of "Nirvana For Mice"). They feel incredibly comfortable in the odd time signatures. "Ottawa Song", "Twilight Bridge", and "Gloria Gloom" are Robert Wyatt's compositions (the last one comes from Matching Mole's politically-charged Little Red Record). These are less reliant on improvisation and are kept in a more "popular" song convention. "Hamburg" is an ambient piece divided into five parts with "Red Noise 10" in between them. Next, the theme of "Beautiful As The Moon" comes back, followed by "A Heart". Robert Wyatt's input comes back with "Little Red Riding Hood Hits The Road", which comes from his memorable solo album Rock Bottom. The disc is closed by a loud jam on Soft Machine's 1968 hit "We Did It Again", with Wyatt singing.

Discs 4 and 5 are almost entirely occupied by a lengthy ambient improvisation "Trondheim". The piece might appear as aimless noodlings, but an experienced listener will discover that it goes far beyond that. It should really be regarded as a thought-provoking provocation. Its single-layered flatness and sterility expressed by improvised dissonant parts plays an important psychological role. Even an accurate description of every single note on "Trondheim" will not properly carry the musical metaphor. The subjective meaning of time plays a crucial role here. Towards the end, it becomes a little more ariose. The box is closed by "March", which brings in a repetative melodic sequence.

The Road: Volumes 1-5 presents numerous different periods of Henry Cow's existence; from atonal ambient workouts to fast-paced jazz-rock jams to mellow, melodic, Canterbury-style pieces. Henry Cow was without a doubt a unique band and despite its dynamic, ever-changing style, two elements remained the same: excellent musicianship and incredibly clever musical detailing. Each listen to any of their works reveals many new factors and qualities. This box set is not only a very important historical document, but also an exceedingly addictive listening experience.

 Concerts by HENRY COW album cover Live, 1976
3.65 | 56 ratings

Henry Cow RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer

4 stars 1976 was a very busy year in Henry Cow's career. The band had just released a fruit of their collaboration with a German avant-rock outfit Slapp Happy, In Praise Of Learning, and was busy touring western Europe (for nearly two years continously). At that time, Anthony Moore and Peter Belegvad left the project with Dagmar Krause becoming the lead vocalist of Henry Cow. The sextet got a chance to play alongside Robert Wyatt, who had just completed his newest album Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard. Too busy to record an album, Henry Cow gathered all the worthwhile live material they had and released a double album Concerts.

The album consists of twenty two tracks on two LPs. Disc one starts out with a medley of "Beautiful as the Moon; Terrible as an Army With Banners", "Nirvana For Mice", Matching Mole's political statements "Ottawa Song" and "Gloria Gloom", and the reprise of "Beautiful as the Moon". Than come two pieces recorded with Robert Wyatt himself, "Bad Alchemy", a fruit of collaboration between John Greaves and Slapp Happy's Peter Blegvad, and "Little Red Riding Hood Hits The Road", which comes from his memorable solo release Rock Bottom. After his unfortunate accident, Wyatt was unable to play drums, devoting fully to perfecting his signature vocals. Next, "Ruins", is a 16-minute jam over Henry Cow's piece from Unrest."Groningen" and "Groningen Reprise" are two improvisation-driven tracks, which close the first LP.

Side A of the second disc is fully occupied by an atonal, free-form piece "Oslo" with half-an-hour of disturbing, dissonant noodlings with Dagmar Krause moaning somewhere in the distant background. One might be tricked into regarding this in the same way as other pieces. However, these kinds of melody-less, single-layered, improvised pieces far beyond being just aimless noodlings. Time and its subjective meaning plays a crucial role in "Oslo". Side B comprises tracks from Greasy Truckers Live at Dingwall's Dancehall sessions (recorded a few months after their debut, Legend), which also included Camel, Gong, and Global Village Trucking Co. (a very interesting album, by the way). The four tracks are also fully improvised, but are far more entertaining than the aimless "Oslo". In fact, at moments I feel like they would, but are highly likely more accessible than "Oslo". At moments, they might remind of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma. As always is the case with Henry Cow, the titles of these tracks are excellent - "Off the Map", "Cafe Royal", "Keeping Warm in Winter".

Similarly to thier studio releases, the instrumental skill of all the Henry Cow members is superb. It appears that they actually do not need studio equipment and possibilities it brings to sound good. Fred Frith's unique guitar style is as always spot-on and the multi-instrumentalist abilities of Tim Hodgkinson are really highlighted here. Lindsay Cooper's bassoon, oboe, and flute give the band a unique, chamber-like feel, which often provides a much-needed rest from tiring free-jazz work-outs. John Greaves' bass is a very pleasant suprise. On studio releases, his playing always seemed to stay in the shadow of other musicians. Concerts perfectly showcases his great skill.

All in all, Henry Cow's only official live album (excluding those released long after the band's departure) is a quintessence of what the group really was. Concerts features diverse, varied compositions, which display the incredible loads of live energy and technical know-how that Henry Cow's members have. The album portrays the band in great form, full of fresh musical ideas. Like studio releases, it needs to be given time and numerous listens to be fully comprehended. Recommended!

 Western Culture by HENRY COW album cover Studio Album, 1979
4.31 | 201 ratings

Western Culture
Henry Cow RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Henry Cow in a nutshell?

After the release of In Praise of Learning, Henry Cow toured Europe intensively for nearly two years, which ultimately compelled John Greaves to leave. To replace him, the band recruited a young female cellist Georgie "Georgina" Born. Despite the fact that she had never played bass guitar before, she adapted well and turned out to be quite proficient with the instrument. Dagmar Krause, the band's vocalist, left the group due to poor health, which made it impossible for her to tour. However, she agreed to sing on Henry Cow's upcoming album. In the end, the material known as Hopes and Fears was released by the trio of Fred Frith, Chris Cutler, and Dagmar Krause under the name Art Bears. Almost simultaneously, numerous problems forced Henry Cow to break up. Not for long, however, as the band recorded their last album Western Culture a few months later as a quartet consisting of Fred Frith, Tim Hodgkinson, Chris Cutler, and Lindsay Cooper.

Western Culture is the first studio album that does not have the band's signature sock on the cover. The sound is once again strongly oriented towards classical music. It's their only entirely instrumental album (Unrest did feature some word-less vocal parts). The jazz methods are gradually estranged with only tiny bits of the genre's influence, mainly on improvisational passages and on parts relying on heavier rhythm. The contemporary classical music influences of Schoenberg or Stravinsky are evident, while the free jazz of Ornette Coleman, once an important element, is alienated. All this made the quartet sound somewhat similar to Art Zoyd or Univers Zero. Henry Cow introduces electronic effects, which were to some extent used on In Praise Of Learning. Not infrequently, the band also plays in odd time signatures, which is typical of them.

Fred Frith's fuzz guitar does not play a substantial role here, compared to previous releases. It is used economically, more as a musical ornament than a solo instrument, like on previous releases. In addition, Frith introduces a completely new element to Henry Cow's music ? an acoustic guitar, which has a bright percussive sound, fitting perfectly the band's music. He also plays bass parts (Georgie Born plays the instrument on one track only) as well as soprano saxophone. However, he completely has abandoned playing violin, letting Anne-Marie Roelofs handle the instrument. In addition to wind instruments and piano, Tim Hodgkinson uses synthesizer and organ, although not the lush Hammond, a mainstay of progressive rock, but the organ sounding closer to a violin or a harmonium. Lindsay Cooper laid down the bassoon, oboe, Soprano sax, and sopranino recorder parts, while Chris Cutler supplied the band with trombone and, of course, drum work. One of the tracks also includes a guest pianist, Irene Schweizer, whose playing gives the band a jazzy flavor. Taken together, all these instruments create a very unique, yet familiar sound.

Some moments on Western Culture remind me of the band's debut Legend. This might be partially caused by the band's general retreat towards chamber influences. The album is rather short at only 36 minutes long divided into seven pieces, each of which has a different feel.

Western Culture was Henry Cow's farewell song. The band blessed us with four albums. Although not flawless, they all are very different and one-of-a-kind experiences. Sometimes jazzy, sometimes classical, the band always looked for what had not yet been said. They still remain a very respected band, known as one of the inventors of experimental rock. Western Culture is a quintessential album of the group, summing up everything they had to say over the ten years of their existence. Five Stars!

 In Praise Of Learning by HENRY COW album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.96 | 164 ratings

In Praise Of Learning
Henry Cow RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer

4 stars During their recording sessions for Unrest in Virgin's Manor Studios, Henry Cow were introduced to a German avant-rock band Slapp Happy. This group invited Henry Cow to guest on their new album Desperate Straights. Despite stylistic differences, the two decided to carry on playing together. In 1975, they joined forces to record an album with Henry Cow's material and named it In Praise Of Learning. Soon after, the bands started touring Western Europe for nearly two years continously and played alongside Robert Wyatt.

In Praise Of Learning is a milestone in Henry Cow's catalog. The band's dissonant free-jazz approach of Unrest is being estranged with more of "pure" avant-rock quality being put in the foreground. The contemporary jazz influences are by no means uncommon, but they are just a part of the musical extract. Although to a lesser extent, the band still shows some of their older chamber music elements, which played an important role on their previous releases. Even some Krautrock-inspired electronic effects are introduced. In addition, the band is becoming a lot more politically-oriented. We were able to catch just a glimpse of Henry Cow's political views on their debut Legend, specifically on "Nine Funerals Of Citizen King". Chris Cutler's left-wing lyrics deal with problems of social injustice as well as the ruthless music industry.

Anthony Moore, the keyboardist of Slapp Happy enriches the band's sound by adding organ as well as various electronics, while Phil Becque deals with synthesizer parts. Although it is not entirely felt, the wind section is extended with an addition of trumpet player Mongezi Feza, the comeback of Geoff Leigh (who played on Legend) on woodwinds and Peter Blegvad (who also played guitar). These combined with Lindsey Cooper's woodwinds give more of a jazzy, rather than chamber feel. Dagmar Krause, Slapp Happy's female singer adds a unique quality to the group's sound with her emotional soprano vocals. These work very well with the lyrical themes, as they picture an ordinary woman, who talks about class war. Other than that, Henry Cow's sound remains unchanged with Fred Frith's distorted guitar timbre and folk fiddle, Tim Hodgkinson's jazz-influenced piano, Chris Cutler's accurate and percise drumming or John Greaves' steady basslines.

This album contains six tracks. These are not very varied, really presenting only two or three different stlyes, but they all contribute to a very interesting and a unique whole. "Living In The Heart Of The Beast" is Henry Cow's own 15-minute suite, which opens with a dissonant distorted guitar and going through many different moody phases, it closes with a jazzy march, that brings some of more mainstream progressive rock acts to mind. I feel like this is the most representative piece of the album, both musically and lyrically. "Beautiful as the Moon - Terrible as an Army With Banners" is another longer track with a very smooth jazz-rock feel, leaded by solo piano. "Beginning: The Long March" or "Morning Star" (named after a British socialist magazine) present the more experimental side of Henry Cow's sound with more of an ambient electronic free-form approach. All in all, the band organized their album time very profficiently.

In Praise Of Learning is an absolutely exceptional work with a distinctive, unique sound. This album could be the closest that Henry Cow got to being a progressive rock band and so naturally In Praise Of Learning should be quite appealing for fans of the genre. Fairly inaccessible, this recquiers much more than one or two listens to appreciate fully, But I assure you - this will be a very rewarding journey. Highly recommended, a masterpiece! 4.5 stars!

 Unrest by HENRY COW album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.50 | 147 ratings

Henry Cow RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer

4 stars The Return of the Giant Sockweed!

After releasing their debut album Legend, Henry Cow were organised a tour with a German experimental band Faust. In addition, the group was offered to play with Mike Oldfield (whom they met while recording LegEnd) on the BBC session recordings of Tubular Bells. It was at that time that Geoff Leigh left the band, being unable to keep up with the touring schedule. He was replaced with a classically-trained female oboe and bassoon player Lindsay Cooper, who had previously played in a folk rock outfit Comus. In early 1974, Henry Cow returned to Virgin's Manor Studios to record their second album called Unrest.

It is known that there were many tensions between the members while recording this album. From a certain point of view, that is detectable at times with the band breaking free from the aesthetic of their first offering. Unrest is composed of two distinctive concepts. Side one presents a rather familiar Henry Cow sound, full of well-though, elaborate, demanding compositions and accurate musicianship. The Canterbury-style jazz influence is pushed to the background and is substituted with a darker avant-garde chamber-like quality, owing a much greater deal to classical compositions of Arnol Schoenberg, Paul Hindemith, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, and even Olivier Messiaen. Free-form parts and collective improvisation, reminiscent of Peter Brötzmann, Ornette Coleman, and Marion Brown, previously being just a portion of the group's musical sauce are being much more present and pronounced. Side two is said to have been fully improvised based loosely just on little themes that the musicians brought in. The free-form mayhem is definitely an acquired taste and one is guaranteed to be disgusted with it without having been introduced to the style. The presumably unplanned and instrumentally undemanding moments play a different role from traditional music forms. It all comes down to personal views and experience, but, in my opinion, free improvised music deserves a seperate, unique interpretations - somewhat similar to abstract art of Mark Rothko and Jason Pollock. It is there to create certain tensions, invigorate creativity, give one space for contemplation.

As previously mentioned, Henry Cow's sound on Unrest is a lot darker than on LegEnd. The fast-paced jazz passages are virtually gone and are replaced with slowly evolving, dissonant, experimental passages, including a bassoon, saxophone, and violin prominently, which drive the group closer to their later works and what would lie under the label "Rock In Opposition." Despite the changes, we are still capable of observing the group's classic elements: Fred Frith's fuzz guitar solos, Tim Hodgkinson's signature Farfisa organ sound, Chris Cutler's percise drumming. and John Greaves' distinctive bass playing style, as well as his fuzz bass tone.

After Henry Cow's LegEndary debut album comes this strange beast - Unrest. Often dismissed as unambitious or, in demanding minimal creative effort, even by band's most enthusiastic fans, this album, at least for some, proved difficult to appreciate. The trouble does not lie in the poor quality of music or lack of members' musical skill, but in lack of comprehension of musical forms other than those formed by western culture, that is free-form improvisation. However, even with that, the album features a few incredibly elaborate musical compositions, namely "Ruins", with its rhythmic melody based on Fibonacci's sequence, "Half Asleep, Half Awake" with its neo-classical piano prelude and unorthodox harmonic solutions. As said above - not an accessible album, but a phenomenal, mature effort nonetheless.

 The Henry Cow Legend [Aka: Legend or Leg End] by HENRY COW album cover Studio Album, 1973
4.14 | 214 ratings

The Henry Cow Legend [Aka: Legend or Leg End]
Henry Cow RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Henry Cow was formed in the summer of 1968, soon after two Cambridge University students, Tim Hodgkinson and Fred Frith, met in a blues club. The two quickly found they shared common approach to music and started performing as a duo. In a short time, they were joined by a few other musicians and after various personel changes Frith and Hodgkinson recruited a bassist John Greaves, who would stay in the band for a longer period of time. It was around 1971, when Henry Cow started functioning as a proper band, playing at numerous music festivals and taking part in John Peel's "Rockortunity Knocks" contest, for instance. The band took their time to observe ever-changing musical trends and constantly learn. By and by, the quartet was joined by Geoff Leigh on woodwinds and Chris Cutler on drums. In 1973, the quintet signed a deal with Virgin to record their debut, which they called Legend (or Leg End as it is often called).

Legend comprises diverse musical styles including post-bop and free jazz of Ornette Coleman or Rahsaan Roland Kirk, 20th century classical music of Arnold Schoenberg or Benjamin Britten, as well as some material of their contemporaries - Soft Machine, Gentle Giant, King Crimson or Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention. Henry Cow's music is demanding and complex throughout, full of exceptionally clever detailing. The band's sound is rich in countless free sections, odd time signatures, unconventional arrangements, and unusual sounds.

All of the previously mentioned characteristics are executed in a proficient way. Virtually every musician appearing on Legend is a multiinstrumentalist. Tim Hodgkinson handles most keyboard parts and can be often heard playing clarinet and saxophone. This becomes evident on Hodgkinson-Leigh sax duel on the opening track "Nirvana For Mice". Fred Frith's guitar tone varies from highly saturated and almost synthesizer-like to clean and glassy. Frith also plays violin, which is an important element of the band's music, giving it a feel of Bartok's violin concertos. Geoff Leigh laid down flute, clarinet, recorder and saxophone parts. John Greaves is capable of fantastic grooves, while Chris Cutler's drumming is characterised by astonishing precision. With all of that in mind, without a shade of doubt, the musicians of Henry Cow present phenomenal musicianship and musical know-how throughout the whole work. The sounds of the so-called "toy instruments" such as a pixiphone are not uncommon and enrich the album, giving it even more of a unique sound.

Legend opens dynamically with "Nirvana For Mice", which, as the time proved, has become one of the band's most memorable and loved pieces. The elaborate instrumental arrangement in shifting time signatures already proves the excellent compositional and musical skill since the very beginning. A beautifully contrasted, mellow "Amygdala" follows, highlighting Tim Hodgkinson's beautiful Farfisa organ sound. Then, the piece loses itself in improvisation. Next piece, "Teenbeat Introduction" opens with an atonal free-jazz-inspired mayhem, in the vein of Peter Brötzmann. Soon, the improvisation is dropped for more organized, intricate passages of "Teenbeat." Side two opens with a reprise of the first piece, this time played just on electric guitar by Fred Frith. "Extract from 'With the Yellow Half-Moon and Blue Star'" with a somewhat folky feel to it shifts between jazzy and classical influences, once again showcasing the band members' unbelieveable compositional and instrumental skill. When the tension is at its highest, it is released on "Teenbeat Reprise" - a rapid jazz-rock jam with Fred Frith's saturated, almost synthesizer-like fuzz guitar sound in the foregroud. When the piece starts to grow a bit quieter, it suddenly turns into "Tenth Chaffinch", a music-less experimental recording once described as "a conversation between Ligeti's choir on LSD and drunk Buddhist monks." Then comes the last, and, in my opinion, the most ambitious track the band has ever produced - "Nine Funerals Of Citizen King." It does not have any static time signature, nor a key, but derives its musical influence from European folk music. The music is probably as sophisticated as it gets, while the lyrics intelligently reffer to dadaism, William Shakespeare, king Louis Philippe I and the story of the second French revolution, as well as a conspiracy theory regarding the "Citizen King" and an English poet William Wordsworth working together. The track is closed with a dark woodwind sound, resembling a flyind fighter plane.

All things considered, Henry Cow's debut album is a consistent and a very mature work. Borrowing from many different genres, Legend sounds like no other record. Not Canterbury scene, not jazz-rock, not progressive rock in the strictest sense of the word - Henry Cow occupy a strange territory of their own. Experimental, complex, vigorous, original, eclectic, extremely intelligent, mature, and one-of-a-kind, in short - a beautifully twisted masterpiece, five stars.

 Western Culture by HENRY COW album cover Studio Album, 1979
4.31 | 201 ratings

Western Culture
Henry Cow RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by GKR

5 stars How do we speak without words?

HENRY COW fascinates me. Its a constructed band aware of their own social construction, trying to explain the world in gestures (sometimes with actually words). The band, when decided to use lyrics, produced one of the most aloudly speaking poems of the late-capitalist society, "Nine funerals for the citizen king".

As one of the unique (and almost only) marxist bands that was formed in the seventies, HENRY COW was also aware of what made HERY COW be HENRY COW. And its here that they produced with heart what is the instrumentation equivalent of Demetrio Stratos singing. Full expression without saying a word. Full humanization of thoughs through metal squalid sounds. If the tracks' titles already give us the hint of what each song is about ("Industry", "The decay of cities", "1/2 the sky") and the sides are also named (a-side: History and prospects; side-b: Day by Day), a good experience is listen to the album without knowing the titles - you'll probably get a correct answer, as their playing lead you into the idea.

Only in ART BEARS we can see how they perceived revolution as a whole, but in "Western Culture" we perceived... well... everything else.

 The Henry Cow Legend [Aka: Legend or Leg End] by HENRY COW album cover Studio Album, 1973
4.14 | 214 ratings

The Henry Cow Legend [Aka: Legend or Leg End]
Henry Cow RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by TerryDactyl

4 stars And with a great reeling squonk, the Mighty Henry Cow are born, and it seems to have been a rather difficult birth, of course there's tons of weird facts about how it came to be, and there are many discourses upon how difficult a band the Mighty Henry Cow are, but to my ears the very first time I heard the Mighty Henry Cow, they sympathized and stretched in to fit so perfectly that the only thing I could say after the ravishing was "Where have you been all my life?" as I lit a Kool Mild and took a slug from my bottle of Olde English.

It's like John Coltrane sometimes, other times not so much (Coltrane is better than the Mighty Henry Cow but only because he happened to be a walking god among men) mostly because the Mighty Henry Cow ARE a rock band of some stripe, though the stripes might be vertical or horizontal, depending if you are knocked on the floor by their brilliant beaming ugliness.

Also there's guitars. Coltrane had no guitar. the Mighty Henry Cow would make two really wonderful records, then acquire Dagmar, of whom I'm not incredibly fond, and remain not quite as good as this before disbanding. I can't give either this or the next album Five stars because they aren't quite five star affairs, but for what it's worth, This record kicks asps, and rattle snakes too. Try it and you may I say listen to 'the Cow every day.

 Unrest by HENRY COW album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.50 | 147 ratings

Henry Cow RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by claugroi

1 stars This is the first time I rate an album 1-star. The reason is that it deserves so. This album goes against everything I consider to be music. And I'm not even talking about GOOD music, but music in general. It seems to me that the guys arrived in the studio and said "Ok, let's record a new album. Hit anything that makes any noise, but be sure not to hit it with rhythm. Let's make the most chaotic music ever".

No sense of rhythm and melody are to be found here. Also, the sounds are too dissonant. One thing is producing a very jazzy album with sparse and light instrumentation or an eclectic prog album with lots of counterpoint and dissonant layers, but this goes beyond that. It really trespasses the limits of music and becomes sheer torture.

Some reasonable moments do exist, but only for some seconds. For instance, the piano intro of Half Asleep, Half Awake and some oboe or bassoon notes here and there, but most of it is pure improvisation with no goal at all. It seems they just turned the mics on and played anything, literally anything. That's not music to my ears. Music should be a sincere and deep expression of one's artistic inner feelings. There's a big difference between that and making any noise you can. Not even Solemn Music and Bittern Storm Over Ulm, which are the ones that resemble actual songs the most, are enjoyable.

I'm really sorry for this rating. I know some people like this (some even rated it 5 stars, a huge blasphemy in my opinion) and I tend to recognise a band's effort even in the poorest albums, but I just can't stand this.

Some people might say to me I need some time to understand this album and, consequently, enjoy it. Well, I've been listening to this record since 2009 and I don't think I should give it any more tries. I guess I just don't like it and that's it.

All in all, a very dark and unpleasant album. Stay away from it.

Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to E&O Team for the last updates

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