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Henry Cow - The Road: Volumes 1-5 (40th Anniversary Box Set) CD (album) cover


Henry Cow



4.66 | 29 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
4 stars Late 00's and it's been over 30 years since RIO fans have had any legitimate material emanating by the band that pretty well started it all, and all of a sudden come three 5-Cd box-sets, two of them filled with previously unavailable material (legit anyway) , while the last one is just five studio albums already available (they include Desperate Straights from Slapp Happy as one), thus leaving out the double Cd Concerts aside,(or maybe disseminated through the other box-sets).

Disc 1: The music here concentrates on pre-76 live material and I must say, I was hoping for a lot of material dating from prior to Leg End., and there is only one disc. Thus, this Beginnings Cd worries from 68 until 73, knowing the apart some three songs, the rest is from 71 at the earliest. And if you read my review of Leg End stating that Cambridge (HC's home town) was a town in Kent, a few miles out of Canterbury, this album is more proof of that. Another review of Robert Wyatt's first solo album End of an Ear could've been the earliest RIO-related album ever. Indeed this first disc goes out of its way to show that without Soft Machine's very existence, a far away rock movement might also not have seen the light of day. For it is clear that Frith and Co were definitely looking at the Machine and Caravan for inspiration , not only instrumentally, but in the vocal dept. Frith does a credible cross of Wyatt and Sinclair on vocals, while Hodgkinson pulls a credible Ratledge/Sinclair and Leigh a Brother Jimmy and Gentle Elton. Among the highlights are Came To See You, the 10-mins Teenbeat. Beginnings is definitely the most interesting Cd in these two boxsets, IMHO, although there are more worthy stuff to come.

Disc 2 is representing the 74-75 live era, the one around the release of the studio album of Unrest, and indeed the feeling is completely different on this Cd. As one can expect, there is much less Canterbury soundscapes and the usual goofy bonhomie that goes along with it, although there are still many strong and long moments in here, such as the first six tracks coming from an unmarked tape of early 74 where Drake does wonder with the sound. And HC do wander on the dissonance path, the tracks from Unrest oblige. Two or three of these tracks come from the Unrest album, but appear in a different light, more accessible than the studio version. Then come the Halsteren tapes where they did a big jam/improves lasting over a 30 minutes, where most of the sub-tracks are dissonant, the group being reduced to a Geoff Leigh-less quartet and most of the tracks were given names at the time of Drake's rebuilding job. I'm not a big fan of this second set, but most likely, I'll warm up to this. The last part of this Cd is a first throw of the IPOL epic Heart Of The Beast with a Robert Wyatt intervention. Rather interesting and definitely worth listening.

Disc 3 is mainly a German radio concert for NDR's then Jazz Workshop in late March 76 and still features John Greaves on bass, and to say the least, dissonant music , The music holds mostly in one block, some of it coming from the IPOL album, while there is an excerpt from Matching Mole's Gloria Gloom. In general the feel is dissonant but not free form like the upcoming Trondheim concerts. The last tidbits from this disc are from Italian and French sources and a cover of Little Red Robin from Rock Bottom, with another appearance from Wyatt himself, seemingly charmed by Dagmar and Lindsey's feminine presence (from the picture shown anyway). This third disc is definitely worth hearing as well.

Disc 4 & 5 are probably the hardest to take, both on them from Trondheim and with a little editing could sat on a single disc, rather than sit on two half-filled discs. This is especially true because of the nature of the music on this double disc affair. This is more of a "musique concrète" than free-form improvised rock or jazz, thus implying the music is atonal rather than dissonant. The group operates as an instrumental quartet (no bass), but I sure hope that most of the Tronheimers that braved the Artic summer chills were at least aware they would get dished this kind of music ahead of time. I'd have hated finding out that Dagmar was missing and that Greaves was not yet replaced by Georgie and get dealt this bunch of non-sense music (no offence to HC) that aggresses at best or bores at worst Anyway this double Cd is best left alone. Even if there are some accessible moments, it's a real shame that they've made it a double mandatory release along with the other discs in the boxset.

In conclusion, the first of the three boxset makes this RIO enthusiast only moderately happy, as the Trondheim concert over two Cds are a bit too much to be painless. Of course the first Cd of this is to my taste, but I'd rather have had the choice to make up my boxset from choosing from the 10 discs: my choices being, vol 1, 2, 3; 7 & 10 (the Dvd)....

Sean Trane | 4/5 |


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