Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography


Henry Cow


From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Henry Cow In Praise of Learning album cover
3.95 | 228 ratings | 22 reviews | 36% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

Write a review

from partners
Studio Album, released in 1975

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. War (2:26)
2. Living in the Heart of the Beast (15:30)
3. Beginning: The Long March (6:27)
4. Beautiful as the Moon - Terrible as an Army with Banners (7:02)
5. Morning Star (6:06)

Total Time 37:31

Bonus track on 1991 CD release:
6. Lovers of Gold (6:28)

Line-up / Musicians

- Dagmar Krause / vocals
- Fred Frith / guitar, violin, xylophone, piano (4)
- Tim Hodgkinson / organ, clarinet, piano (2)
- Anthony Moore / electronics & tapes, piano (1,2)
- Lindsay Cooper / bassoon, oboe
- John Greaves / bass, piano
- Chris Cutler / drums, noises

- Peter Blegvad / clarinet & vocals (1), guitar (2,3)
- Mongezi Feza / trumpet (1)
- Geoff Leigh / soprano saxophone (1)
- Phil Becque / oscillator (4)

Releases information

Artwork: Ray Smith

LP Virgin - V 2027 (1975, UK)

CD East Side Digital - ESD 80502 (1991, US) With a bonus track (alternative mix of track 3)
CD ReR Megacorp - ReR HC3 (2000, UK) Remastered by Matt Murman

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
Edit this entry

Buy HENRY COW In Praise of Learning Music

HENRY COW In Praise of Learning ratings distribution

(228 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(36%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(42%)
Good, but non-essential (15%)
Collectors/fans only (4%)
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)

HENRY COW In Praise of Learning reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Syzygy
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Henry Cow's politics were as radical as their music, and this was never more explicit than on this, the second album to emerge from the Henry Cow/Slapp Happy merger, and the third 'proper' Henry Cow album (Desperate Straights was a Slapp Happy album with Henry Cow, IPOL is Henry Cow with Slapp Happy. Clear?). The trademark chainmail sock was deep red, and the cover was adorned with a quote from the left wing film maker John Grierson - 'Art is not a mirror, it is a hammer'. The titles of the two instrumentals also explicitly refer to the band's left wing politics; Beginning: The Long March is a reference to the Chinese Revolution, while Morning Star is the name of the daily paper published by the Communist Party of Great Britain.

And what of the music? The album opens with War, a Slapp Happy song alluded to in the lyrics of A Worm Is At Work from Desperate Straights. Where Peter Blegvad's lyrics had previously tended towards the whimsical, here he goes straight for the jugular and Dagmar spits them out with suitable venom - 'Stacking the bones on the empty aerodrome', 'Shaking her gory locks over the deserted docks' and 'Violence completes the partial mind'. The whole thing is over in less than three fast and furious minutes. This leads into the album's centrepiece, Tim Hodgkinson's remarkable Living In The Heart Of The Beast, a 15 minute call to arms set to complex and compelling music that comes from the same dark, haunted place as Magma or King Crimson circa Lark's Tongues/Starless. Fred Frith plays lead guitar over a desolate soundscape while Dagmar intones doom laden lyrics. The interplay between Frith's guitar and Dagmar's voice in the first half of this composition is remarkable. After painting a picture of bleak desperation, the second half of the piece is rhythmic and focussed and the lyrics offer a way out - 'Dare to take sides in the conflict that is common cause/Let us all be as strong and as resolute...' . It says a lot about Henry Cow's abilities as composers and performers that a revolutionary manifesto sung over complex music is also catchy and even hummable in places. The rhythm gradually speeds up as the piece draws to a conclusion, propelled by a wonderful bubbling and melodic bassline from John Greaves. This brought side 1 of the vinyl original to a close.

The second half of the album opened with Beginning: The Long March, a studio improvisation/sound collage of the type that Henry Cow included on the second half of Unrest. This is uneasy listening even by the standards of this album, but there is some angular, spiky beauty to be found if you presevere with it. The centrepiece of side 2 is Beautiful as the Moon, Terrible as an Army With Banners, written by Cutler (words) and Frith (music). In a sense, this is the first Art Bears song and is also the most accessible track on the album. The arangement is simple and uncluttered, with Dagmar singing over a piano/drums accompinament with only the most subtle of embellishments. Cutler's drumming is economical and restrained but as restless and complex as ever, and this may be his finest moment on a Henry Cow studio album. The album closed with another dense improvisation, Morning Star, in a similar vein to Beginning:The Long March, again not for the faint hearted but worth grappling with.

Among their contemporaries, only Matching Mole ever released an album as explicitly political as this with 'Little Red Record'. Whether you agree with their politics or not, music as passionate and committed as this is all too rare, and in the prog field it is almost unprecedented. Listen and be amazed.

Review by Sean Trane
3 stars 3.5 stars really!!!

Third album from HC, yet not a true album from them as it is more of a collaboration between them and fellow RIO weirds Slapp Happy. Two albums were recorded almost at the same time by both groups together, one being released under Slapp Happy's name and called Desperate Straights, while the second one is this present one. Again graced with the same Sock artwork than its two predecessors, but in a red colour this time, fitting the communist ideals of both groups. BTW: Area also were far-left activist who made some very political albums, most notably Arbeit Macht Frei and Wyatt's Matching Mole with their second, Little Red Record were not left much behind in terms of explicitness. This album is much more accessible than the abominable Unrest, and might even, be more than LegEnd as well if you like your music sung. But beware Dagmar Krause's voice is not everyone's cup of tea, even if this is one of her more normal vocal performance of her career.

Indeed with 8 musicians on board (plus two guest musos on two tracks), the possibilities to make interesting music is much greater than just a quartet. The opening War is an explicit lyric track where Krause's rather strange vocals fit the biting lyrics, and is actually a Slapp Happy song, reworked. The 15-min Living In The Heart Of The Beast is rounding up the first side of the album, and is easily the album's centrepiece. The "epic" is reminiscent of an early Univers Zero (with vocals, though) crossed with some Wetton- era Crimson.

The flipside gets off to a brilliant track "Beautiful as the Moon, Terrible as an Army With Banners", which is an improvisation, but it is much less free-form than what was found on Unrest and much more listenable than it. Indeed this tracks sounds like early Kraftwerk, Popol Vuh or Tangerine Dream (the pink era), rather than the obtuse free jazz of Pharoah Sanders or Ornette Coleman. The Morning Star (the UK's communist newspaper) is another improv, but slightly more accessible than what was done in Unrest. Closing off the album is maybe my fave track of the album, Lovers Of Gold where Krause pulls her best-ever performance.

Past the IPOL album release, Henry Cow would then absorb some of Slapp Happy's members, most notably singer Krause, thus effectively killing Slapp Happy, While this HC album could make a good introduction to Henry Cow's musical adventures, you might want to check out LegEnd album as well.

Review by russellk
3 stars By this point in HENRY COW's existence they had moved well beyond the comfortable Canterbury sounds that underpinned their first few years, abandoning all conventionality and becoming nothing less than a chamber orchestra using rock instruments to play avant-garde music.

If this doesn't sound like your cuppa tea, it won't be.

It's certainly not mine. But ... oddly, I enjoy this album. There's a spark here, an earnestness, a political awareness that commands my attention. And the addition of a vocalist (DAGMAR KRAUSE from SLAPP HAPPY) serves to give the music direction. The album is structured around the studio version of 'Living in the Heart of the Beast', an extended piece the collective developed on tour, but it's not an epic in the accepted prog rock sense. It consists of a beginning (a bleak left-wing analysis of the Beast - modern capitalist society) and an end (a call to action), sandwiching a central section that beggars description, so complex are the time signature changes and instrumentation.

There are two improv jams ('Beginning the Long March' and 'Morning Star'), both titles referencing socialist icons. The other songs are the nearest you'll get to conventionally structured pieces here - that is, not really very close. 'War', for example, manages to pack a great deal - a mini-epic, if you will - into just over two minutes.

It's easy to see why the collective didn't make money from their music. This fare simply does not appeal to the sensibilities we've been raised to value. However, if you're able to put aside your desperate search for a steady rhythm and a hook melody, you'll enjoy the dark atmospherics of the improvs and appreciate the numbing complexity of the material.

I can't quite give this four stars - how could I honestly say that this album would be an excellent addition to any prog music collection? But it is a worthy disc nonetheless.

Review by MovingPictures07
5 stars Warning: This review is written by someone whose mind is most likely controlled by an alien who is secretly in love with Chris Cutler and Fred Frith simultaneously.

This possibly could be my favorite album of all time. I'm not entirely sure, but it doesn't really matter. This album is the definition of amazing.

1. War- Perfect song. Perfect vocals. Perfect instrumentation. I love this song to death and I could listen to it repeatedly for hours and hours. It may only be two and a half minutes, but it certainly is well-composed, features wonderful expressions, and covers quite a bit of ground despite its relatively basic structure (for Henry Cow's standards). Flawless. 10+/10

2. Living in the Heart of the Beast- How can you follow the succinct brilliance of War? Only with this song. Repeat everything I said for War except substitute it here. Dagmar's vocals are to die for, proving why she is my favorite vocalist, singing with intense amounts of emotion and clarity. All the instruments and structure on this song are perfect. It is easily as good as War except 15 minutes. You can constantly feel all of the emotions in the song, madness, intensity, persistence. Flawless. 10+/10

3. Beginning: The Long March- Brilliance once more. To have either of the first two songs ever recorded is stunning enough, but to have the third song in addition to BOTH of those be just as brilliant? Amazing. This track is more avant and atmospheric (in a Henry Cow sort of way) than the previous two, but it works very effectively. It certainly isn't your typical march. 10/10

4. Beautiful as the Moon--Terrible as an Army with Banners- Wow, this track is masterpiece status once again. The piano here is perfectly composed and all of the instruments are again in top performance. Dagmar's vocals shine as always. This is one hell of a piano track; I would love to see it performed. So beautiful and full of goosebump moments much like the three tracks before it. My favorite part is at about 5 minutes where you have what I like to call the falling piano portion. Simply must be heard. Flawless. 10+/10

5. Morning Star- More similar to the structure of the Long March here, except still entirely unique. This one is seemingly much more unstructured and avant-garde and may prove to be inaccessible to many ears, but persistence may be required for unlocking true beauty with this one. This song is no less brilliantly structured than any song before it. Cutler's performance, since I haven't mentioned him specifically yet, is of importance particularly in this song. All of the instrumentalists are perfect, once again. 10/10

6. Lovers of Gold- Wonderful closer. What more can I say about this song that I haven't already said about the ones before it? Amazing structure, instruments, vocals, content... all of these songs are, to say the least, crafted with perfection. The more distant, enigmatic atmosphere of this one is a great way to end this album. 10/10

Never have I heard such a radiant combination of instrumentation, song-writing, emotion, intellect, everything that makes each song unique and full of true magic. If you have not heard it, grant your ears the gift immediately. This album gets my highest recommendation of anything I could write.

11/10: Beyond masterpiece album. GET IT.

Review by Epignosis
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Henry Cow's most politically-charged album (no wonder the dominant color of the artwork is red- this album consists of Communist ideology), In Praise of Learning is more of a collaboration with avant-garde progressive rock band Slapp Happy even though it is considered a Henry Cow album only. The most noticeable addition (and what an understatement that is) to the ensemble is vocalist Dagmar Krause. Krause has an unconventional singing voice; a lot of the time, she sounds like an angry Frau Farbissina from the Austin Powers movies. Fred Frith indulges in some fantastic guitar work on this album, but his best bits are on the more coherent songs. The trouble with this album is that it's so uneven. Half of the tracks are excellent examples of avant-garde progressive rock, and the other half are pure, unadulterated fiddling and noise. Tracks like these are the sort that soil the genre for me. Continual discordance and noise is simply not something I can appreciate, let alone listen to. Much of the time I feel like I could have made this album if I were nine-years-old and drunk.

"War" This song has crept into my subconscious with a vengeance. I find myself singing it even in public (as best I can and with the consequence of being the recipient of more than one strange look from the elderly), but it's just a great unconventional piece of music, probably Henry Cow at their best. Krause spits out the words like venom from a furious lamia. It also has some outstanding musicianship, including sax and bass. Those quick slides up the neck of the bass are a nice touch, and even the less musical sections of the music serve as an interesting bridge.

"Living in the Heart of the Beast" The opening distorted guitar riff (a rare sound for Henry Cow) is highly interesting, as are Krause's hypnotic vocals. A synthesizer lead follows the main melody, and the lyrics are a call to arms against capitalism (the beast of the song's title). The heavy music abruptly stops as some quiet piano surfaces and Krause sings over it. Odd percussion work takes over thereafter, and then there's some even more unconventional keyboard business. The vocal melodies become even weirder, sung as they are over stark instrumentation. The violin is a rare moment of beauty in this highly offbeat piece of music, and I cannot help but be reminded of King Crimson instrumentals such as "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" or "Providence." At several points, Frith is on fire as a guitarist (perhaps avant-garde's answer to Robert Fripp), and the bass playing of John Greaves is outstanding. The final moments of the song are certainly highlights, with a phenomenal movement on piano and drums.

"Beginning: The Long March" This is six-and-a-half grueling minutes of seemingly random noise. I fail to see why anyone delights in listening to this.

"Beautiful as the Moon- Terrible as an Army With Banners" Over a dark piano, deep bass, and easygoing percussion, Krause sings another highly mesmerizing melody. Despite this being one of the simplest pieces on the album, overall the music is fairly unembellished even if the piano work is strangely chaotic and rhythmic all at once. I think Cutler's percussive work here is the best on the album (perhaps second to that of the opener).

"Morning Star" Titled after a communist newspaper, this is another improvisational instrumental, with exotic-sounding bends, bizarre noises, and disorderly drumming. Most of the notes sound like the strings of a guitar had been tuned down as far as they would go, and then chords played as the player manipulated the tuning keys. The squealing woodwind runs all over the place. As with "Beginning: The Long March," I just don't see how this can be anybody's idea of good music.

"Lovers of Gold" This is a final plea for Communism: "Lovers of gold, give all you own to bats, and spiders, and to moles." For the most part, this track consists of further wild experimentation and irrational-sounding improvisation. All of the instruments are all over the place even though the track maintains a thick atmosphere due to the background sound. Hardly my idea of pleasing music, but to each his own.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars Usually, when I hear Dagmar Krause singing, whether it's with Slapp Happy, The Art Bears, or Henry Cow, I find that her shrill meandering melodies detract from the fantastic instrumentation behind it. Not so much on this album. Her tone still annoys me a bit, but it seems to fit in better here. And one song featuring her vocals, Living In The Heart Of The Beast, might just be one of the best RIO pieces ever. The music is just so fantastic that I can forgive her voice.

This is a teaming of the bands Henry Cow and Slapp Happy, and both bands seem to fare wll for it. Other highlights, besides the above mentioned track are War more toward the Slapp Happy side of this grouping, with Peter Blgvad sharing the vocals with Kraus, and Beautiful As The Moon - Terrible As An Army With Banners which fares much better as a studio piece than on the live album.

Review by Sinusoid
3 stars A good tagline for this album would be, ''Are you up for the challenge?'' You had better drop every previous musical sensibility you've ever had before spinning IN PRAISE OF LEARNING because Henry Cow drops one of the biggest musical challenges you will ever hear.

Henry Cow's brand of music is very hard to put in words. For the big epic (''Living in the Heart of the Beast'') and ''Beautiful as the Moon'', Henry Cow take on the dramatic classic opera approach loaded with quiet passages that seem to do very little. This is until the piano and Dagmar Krause's vocals create a mini-climax. Frith and Greaves occasionally provide fret pyrotechnics, but the overall mood of these pieces is dry.

''War'' is the odd thing on the album as its a short, fiery piece with manic piano, occasional guitar bursts and Krause's voice turned completely ugly. I say it's the lone highlight of the album. Two other tracks are complete improvisations in the sense of the band seems to have just randomly hit notes for six minutes. I am not impressed.

Hardcore RIO that's meant to really challenge the listener, something I feel that Henry Cow wanted to bestow upon us. Not the best introduction to the genre, especially if one needs to have a melody or two at some point.

Review by Bj-1
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars A drastic, dramatic and difficult album to grasp, being both controversial lyrically and musically. "War" should seriously gain some radio play as it is the finest short song in the RIO movement ever penned, and probably the only Henry Cow composition with a proper hook. Wonderful sense of timing, catchy melody and menacing lyrics almost spitted out by Dagmar Krause, the result works fantastically. The real treat here however is the 15 minute "Living in the Heart of the Beast", a fabulous composition of avantrock, with one of the most powerful and dramatic conclusions I've ever heard in a song. The complexity of the piece alone rivals anything by King Crimson, paving it's way though a myriad of unique images and soundscapes.

Side two of the original vinyl consist of two sound collage pieces, which are enjoyable enough but are mostly for for people of particular interest (me personally find them both very interesting, "The Long March" being one of Cow's most thrilling collages), while "Terrible as an Army With Banners" displays the band at it's msot beautiful and moody. Yet again very powerful music and the most "normal" piece of music here. I consider this album one of the RIO essential though it might be not a good one to start with, at least not for newbies. A real octopus of an album. 4.5/5

Review by Warthur
3 stars The ghosts of Henry Cow's old Canterbury influenced are well and truly exorcised with this album, which is the second part of their collaboration with Slapp Happy (the other half being the Happy-helmed Desperate Straights). After the opening War, which features Dagmar Krause's vocals over an unusually accessible and catchy instrumental performance, the album goes full steam ahead into avant-garde free jazz-influenced territories.

The frightening sonic soundscapes evoked are designed with an avowedly political intent - to shake people up and challenge conventional ideas of what rock music is, and to express a Marxist message. Like all true revolutionaries, of course, Henry Cow are more radical than Communist regimes of the era would have been comfortable with, but then again the point isn't so much to defend Soviet bloc implementations of Marxism - most Western Marxists would argue that the Soviet system corrupted the idea of Communism anyway - so much as it is to act as a critique of the very foundations of the capitalist system.

The consequence of this is that the album places a heavy emphasis on avant-garde noise, free jazz, tape experiments and other bizarre sounds, the point being to challenge the very idea of what makes music "music". All quite valid, all quite important to expanding our musical pallettes, but personally I just don't find the album particularly interesting to listen to. I certainly don't demand that my music be accessible, or soothing, or make me feel happy about the way the world is going, but aesthetically speaking I don't get on with the album. It is doubtless a major achievement, and anyone chasing up the Rock In Opposition scene will doubtless want to listen to it sooner or later, so I'll extend the rating to three stars, but buyer beware: this isn't easy going, it will require several listens to digest, and by the end of that process you may find - like me - that you feel that it just wasn't worth the effort.

Still, I really dig War, and it's convinced me that I need to look into Slapp Happy's work in the future (apparently it's an outtake from the Desperate Straights sessions, which is why it sounds so different from the rest of the album), so there's that.

Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Out of the box.

Here it is in all its Rock in Opposition glory - tread careful dear listeners and question what is music? 'War' begins the journey with some absolutely insane time sigs and free form jazz sax over the strong off beat. The tuneless female vocals of Dagmar Krause are perhaps the most challenging aspect and really will take some getting used to for certain listeners. It is unlike anything you will hear but is kind of similar to the experimental side of Bjork. Krause's emotions are charged sounding like someone spat in her socks. But this is the best song on the album.

It is a short song so we soon roll onto the epic 15 minute sonic noise of 'Living In The Heart of the Beast' and nothing prepares the listener for this excursion into avant hyper weirdness. More odd metrical sigs are augmented by distorted fuzzed guitar and then it stops and Chris Cutler's piano in solitude is heard. Dagmar Krause is the vocalist and she is the queen of dissonance. She even has multi tracks on her vocals at one point. The sound is a beserk Magma sound, and then very atonal anti-jazz woodwind dominates with Lindsay Cooper's beserk bassoon and Geoff Leigh's triumphant trumpets. The xylophone of Fred Frith is peculiar but is a trademark Henry Cow effect. Several instruments join together and play their own tune and then are suddenly amalgamated with 4 strong blasts. The percussion of Cutler is incredible with off sync explosions and weird cymbals tishes. Peter Blegvad's clarinet is changing melodies constantly, John Greaves' bass keeps an odd rhythm that interplays with the trumpets of Cutler and then a violin takes over played beautifully by Frith. The strange competing of musicians and ferocity of time sig changes is frightening. It is certainly one of the most astonishing pieces of avant-garde music bringing to mind the madness of Frank Zappa meets The Residents at it's most experimental.

Henry Cow's lyrical content is focused on Marxist ideologies and revolutionary idealism. The previous song is actually a call to arms against Marxist capitalism and is intended to spur on the communist party to power. The band were revolutionaries themselves with their peculiar approach to music. This album was part of a long term collaboration with Slapp Happy and is as far removed from the Canterbury influences in their first albums as one could get. It embraces the 'steaming cess pool of human conformity' as far as Marxism is concerned, and attempts to recreate music structures and forms. In this case it is a very complex and difficult album to enjoy by many listeners. The left wing politics and communism is a strong point of the lyrics and will turn some off.

The high emphasis on creativity and recreating new musical ideas is a compelling component of the sound. This is continued with 'Beginning: The Long March' with a ferocious oboe and sonic rhythm in the intro. A crash down of percussion and piano and other angry instruments heralds the new soundscape which is a disjointed fractured musical outburst of cacophonic dissonance. This continues with sporadic musicality and odd bursts of musical instruments with out any time sig, without any melody or any semblance of harmony. It drones and groans as a serrated violin trys to take over, but low piano crashes in. A metronome knocking is heard and broken guitar splashes. The sax and horn blasts sound like cars speeding on a motorway. Now we are really into unchartered waters as the sound gains in intensity, no sig or melody still but an unnerving disturbia of disharmonious drone.

The discordance of this is now put into striking contrast with the next song, where vocals return on 'Beautiful as the Moon - Terrible as an Army With Banners'. The sig is splintered still but this has more resonance with a listener who may have been turned away by some of the previous RIO. The bass and drums are in sync yet the metric is decidedly acrimonious, especially with the rather pleasant vocals for a change. It is easy to listen to after a while as the ears are attuned to the oddness of it all. The sig actually begins at last and gains speed with guitar flourishes. The piano begins an out of melody improvisation as the percussion and bass pound. Then another piano tinkers along and all the other instruments fade out. The off tune twin piano solo becomes quite unsettling sounding as though it is falling down a flight of stairs, and then a loud blast of vocals and guitars come in like a train wreck and ends it. Are we having fun yet?

'Morning Star' based on the UK's Communist paper, is a saxophone with percussion hybrid and the non-cohesiveness of the sound is jarring. More very weird sounds on instruments continue but the percussion is extreme improvised jazz on 'Lovers of Gold'. The members sound as though they are all playing their own tune but it somehow fits in a discordant way. Perhaps reminiscent of King Crimson's 'Providence' or their other improv jam sessions. Krause sings again as the drones become ominous. She has a melodic voice but the music is disjointed. At this point one may be ready for anything with a beat or signature, it is very discomforting.

This album is not for the faint hearted as at times the unmusicality is too much for the ears to bear. It is refreshing to hear after listening to the mediocrity poured out on the radio. The band could be viewed as revolutionary pioneers and would definitely have made many artists and listeners sit up and take notice. I am not sure how many times one could sit through this but it will cause one to ponder on what makes music 'music'. In fact it can be argued that the album is a protest against conformity of musical structures or virtuosity. Is Henry Cow a genius band of artists or just a bunch of improvising rejects kicked out of the conservatorium? There is no disputing the artists are incredibly talented and deserve attention. In any case this is as original and as unconventional as it gets, perhaps even unsurpassed in terms of the influence on the avant-prog scene.

Review by Neu!mann
4 stars Henry Cow was always a difficult band to pin down, and even more so after joining forces with the avant-pop eccentrics of SLAPP HAPPY. The collaboration was no doubt mutually beneficial, but sometimes it just brought out the weirdness in everyone involved.

That much is obvious after hearing the first demented verses of "War", the opening cut off their 1975 album together. Hearing it for the first time, I was immediately reminded of the "Laughing Song" (from the 1978 "Duck Stab!" EP) by THE RESIDENTS, at the time an all but unknown group but certainly not unfamiliar with either half of this double ensemble.

So, what to call the augmented band? Slapp Henry? Happy Cow? Neither label does justice to the awesome cacophony of the awkwardly named "Beginning: The Long March", or the even more challenging "Beautiful as the Moon - Terrible as an Army With Banners". The former title references Chairman Mao; the latter The Song of Solomon, which ought to show you the scope of their combined erudition. Henry Cow's agenda typically leaned to the far left, but don't worry: their music was even more radical than their politics.

And Dagmar Krause was certainly a unique vocal stylist, to say the least. Her contributions here may seem almost superfluous at times, especially next to some of the truly powerful instrumental experiments. Check out the final, epic moments of the 15+ minute "Living in the Heart of the Beast", offering an exciting alternative to the other kind of Symphonic Rock in vogue at the same time.

This was never an album designed for casual entertainment. But of course there's no such thing as a casual Henry Cow fan, right? Their music demands a level of committed listening sometimes lacking even among the most adventurous Progheads. I can't say I'm always up to the challenge myself, but judging at least from other reviews here at Progarchives there are plenty of dedicated listeners more than able to fill in the blanks.

"In Praise of Learning"....what an appropriate title. Sometimes the curve can be steep, but the rewards will always match the effort.

Review by friso
5 stars Henry Cow - In Praise of Learning (1975)

Among us are those listeners who want an adventure with a bite. They indure the layers of sophistication, the psychedelic effects and sheer heavyness of the music. They have often found VdGG's 'Pawn Hearts', a few King Crimson classics and perhaps had some experience with Magma. As a great next step I would like to recommend giving this specific Henry Cow record a couple of spins, for it is a great avant-prog record that will satisfy listeners of the beforementioned bands.

Henry Cow is known as one of the bigger English avant-garde groups. All musicians involved (and especially Fred Frith on guitar, Tim Hodgkinson on organ and Chris Cutler of drums) are of the highest level, making the music as professional and well performed as the best of Magma line-ups - an almost unmatchable level of musicianship. On this third record the band cooperated with female vocalist Dagmar Krause, who in style shows some resemblance to Peter Hammill when it comes to pronounciation and intensity. The political anti-war lyrics are written in poetic English and fit the developed atmosphere of the music.

The album opens with the short acid track 'War' with hellish vocals by Krause and Canterbury-like vocals of Glegvad. However, on the first side the centerpeace, the fifteen minuted avant-prog epic 'Living in the heart of the beast' steals the show. On side two a shorter but equally impressive doomish avant-prog track 'Beautiful as the moon, terrible as an army with banners' is accompanied by two avant-garde compositions that might initially put of some progressive rock listeners.

'Living in the heart of the beast'. What if Peter Hammill's evil twin sister was to line up with Lizard-era Robert Fripp, backed-up by Christian Vander's bombastic and doomish artistic vision in a recording studio in the center of Canterbury? Add some layers of avant-garde exploration and you might have an idea why this piece is such an highlight of the progressive genre. Heavy, sometimes atonal, brooming, exploding, dark and profetic in lyrical style. I would like to add some words of admiration for the brilliant ending section that reminds me a bit of the kick I can get out of Mahavishnu's 'Hope'.

Conclusion. This record falls between the border of eclectic progressive rock and avant- garde, yet serves best of both genres. A great daring record that should not be skipped by listeners of eclectic prog, Canterbury, zeuhl and avant-garde/rio. Five stars.

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars HENRY COW had joined forces with the German trio SLAPP HAPPY as they collaborated to make the album "Desperate Straights" under the SLAPP HAPPY name. "In Praise Of Learning" sees this collaboration continue only this one is released under the HENRY COW name. This collaboration would end shortly after this album was released. Still this melding of the two bands makes "In Praise Of Learning" quite different from their previous two studio albums. More avant-garde i'd say plus having Dagmar Krause on vocals changes the mood completely. I am used to her vocals from the ART BEARS albums but those who haven't heard her sing before don't usually view her participation as a positive. Including guests we get eleven musicians involved with the making of this record. SLAPP HAPPY would fold after this recording when Dagmar announced she was staying with HENRY COW as the COW would tour a lot the following year or so. She would return to SLAPP HAPPY though as witnessed on their 1980 release "Acnalbasac Noom".

"War" is only 2 1/2 minutes long and was composed by the SLAPP HAPPY duo of Moore and Blegvad. Both Blegvad and Krause sing on it and Dagmar is quite passionate here. I like the brief instrumental sections. "Living In The Heart Of The Beast" opens with Frith ripping it up with some dissonant guitar leads. Krause comes in vocally and I like this song already much better than the first tune. It settles down before we get some more aggressive guitar. A calm follows with piano and Dagmar returns in a reserved manner. It turns dark before 3 minutes as we get a complex instrumental section that really impresses. Vocals are back before 4 1/2 minutes. Another calm a minute later as the vocals stop and the sounds become intricate. Vocals are back and they do get passionate at times. Another calm before 7 1/2 minutes with organ. Violin joins in from Frith after 8 minutes. It will kick in again but settle back quickly. This is so good ! Vocals are back before 12 1/2 minutes as it stays fairly relaxed. Great, great track composed by Tim Hodgkinson.

"Beginning- The Long March" like the final track "Morning Star" were joint efforts by the two bands. The first is experimental throughout as various sounds come and go. I like this instrumental a lot, it's a real trip. "Beautiful As The Moon-Terrible As An Army With Banners" is a Frith / Cutler composition. It opens with reserved vocals and a laid back sound with plenty of piano. It does become a little more passionate then settles back before 3 minutes. It picks back up before 4 minutes with an excellent instrumental section. Dagmar is back late. Another excellent track. "Morning Star" ends it as we get dissonant horns and random drum patterns to start and more. Avant is the word and it continues throughout. An adventerous instrumental to close out the album.

A very solid 4 stars. I really enjoy everything about this except for the short opening track.

Review by ALotOfBottle
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!

Latest members reviews

4 stars My Favourite Cow. This album is different from other Henry Cow albums in having Dagmar Krause provide vocals, while other members of Slapp Happy also contributed (Slapp Happy agreed to join/'merge' with Henry Cow for this album and their tour, with Henry Cow contributing to Slapp Happy's album De ... (read more)

Report this review (#1743496) | Posted by Walkscore | Friday, July 14, 2017 | Review Permanlink

5 stars HOLY COW When pretty much every "progressive" band in the British rock scene was recording albums with way too many side-long pieces and trying to fit 3-minute-long Minimoog solos in their compositions because it was "in" at the time, the Cow was deconstructing those clichés and writing lyric ... (read more)

Report this review (#392045) | Posted by The Neck Romancer | Tuesday, February 1, 2011 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This is quintessential RIO! Side one is probably the best side in all of RIO! The anthematic Living in the Heart of the Beast is not to be missed. The music is very powerful, and the cries for proletariat revolution are backed with a hopeful, but yet, somewhat serious, arrangement of music. ... (read more)

Report this review (#163326) | Posted by kabright | Thursday, March 6, 2008 | Review Permanlink

5 stars The third work of HENRY COW released in 1975 "In Praise Of Learning". The voice of Dagmar Krause invents peculiar scary. It is a surreal and violence world. It is Insdastorial avant-garde rock where the noise wriggles, and the wild excitement drifts. It is extreme music. Essential: a masterpie ... (read more)

Report this review (#54853) | Posted by braindamage | Sunday, November 6, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Music of depth and resonance that sounds as fresh and exciting now as it did when it was written, (interspersed with some rather self indulgent free improvisation sessions which I usually skip). Sadly the same can't be said for the lyrics, which belong in a 1970's Student Union pamphlet! I ... (read more)

Report this review (#52516) | Posted by | Thursday, October 20, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars By far the best Henry Cow album ever, the pinnacle of the RIO movement! This "modern chamber" english band started to make some noise with "LegEnd" but was this, their third album "In Praise of Learning" in which they reached the climax of their prog maturity. With Dagmar Krause as the vocali ... (read more)

Report this review (#50233) | Posted by Mnemosyne | Thursday, October 6, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I am a huge magma fan and was reluctantly shown Henry Cow as a similiar artistic achievment in avant-prog (or modern chamber? labels?). I didn't warm up to this album right away and it was the first I heard. However after listening to it a few times I consider it to be an absolutely awsome ... (read more)

Report this review (#20189) | Posted by | Tuesday, November 2, 2004 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This is my favourite Henry Cow album, a highly original musical and political tour-de-force. Dagmar Krause's vocals are unique, and though some may find her singing harsh (I don't), no one can deny the sheer presence she brings to the music (particularly when coupled with Tim Hodgekinson's lyrics). ... (read more)

Report this review (#20188) | Posted by | Tuesday, February 3, 2004 | Review Permanlink

Post a review of HENRY COW "In Praise of Learning"

You must be a forum member to post a review, please register here if you are not.


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.