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Cow - Leg End
Review No: 258
Tim Hodgkinson: Organ, Piano, Alto Sax, Clarinet, and Voice
John Greaves: Bass, Piano, Whistle and Voice
Fred Frith: Guitars, Violin, Viola, Piano, and Voice
Chris Cutler: Drums, Toys, Piano, Whistle
In the quest to give the full Canterbury Sound era of Progressive Rock a fair hearing, I have acquired several albums to see what this Musical Culture had to offer, mainly on the basis of the wonderful first five albums that Caravan released between 1968 and 1973, most noticeably “In The Land Of The Grey And Pink” in 1971 and the wonderfully titled “For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night” in 1973, but more of these wonderful albums on another week.
The Canterbury sound was mostly based around a band calling themselves “The Wilde Flowers’’ who were formed in 1963, with an original line up of Kevin Ayers, Brian and Hugh Hopper, and Robert Wyatt. Only Brian Hopper survived the full journey until they disbanded, but as each flower dropped off they went off to form their own band.
Richard Sinclair left to later be in “Caravan”, “Hatfield and the North” and “Camel” before an illustrious solo career.
Kevin Ayers was a founder member of Soft Machine before leaving after just one album, having toured the world and neighbouring planets with the likes of Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix on one package tour (fifteen minutes each on stage four times a day) before starting his own band, which gave starts to various lead guitarists giving their career it’s initial kick start. Kevin Ayers was probably Progressive Rock’s answer to John Mayall in the world of Blues, where Mike Oldfield went on to international success, replacement guitarist Steve Hillage left to form Gong and go and live on the planet Teapot, whilst his replacement Andy Summers did rather well in the Police after his time with the band. Ollie Halsall also did rather well for himself after doing his time with Kevin Ayers.
During this time Kevin Ayers also put out some extremely
good solo albums, the best of which is probably “The Confessions
Of Dr Dream” (1974). I will admit he did also turn out some dross
as well, but for the moment lets be nice.
Hugh Hopper was also to join Soft Machine, replacing Kevin Ayers. Robert Wyatt, after being unceremoniously fired from Soft Machine, bit of a bitter pill to swallow that as he had been a founder member, but he went on to form the band Matching Mole (sneaky dig at his old comrades as the French for Soft Machine is Machine Moule), and then onto a highly successful solo career, and to this day he is probably the most commercially successful of all the musicians who immerged from the Canterbury scene. This despite the fact that Robert Wyatt was paralysed and confined to a wheelchair after a fall in 1974, but you can never keep a good man down.
Canterbury, Kent, and it’s surrounding area was a positive melting pot for music in the early Seventies with bands jumping up to have their name associated with the movement. You only had to have an aunt who had been once to go and wander the gardens of the illustrious Canterbury Cathedral, and you became part of the scene. Amongst those not already mentioned were “Khan”, “Egg”, “National Health”, “Just Us”, “Delivery”, “Quiet Sun” (who numbered a certain Phil Manzanera who went onto fame and fortune in Roxy Music) and “Henry Cow”.
The Canterbury sound by definition was a fusion of all influences and blending them all together, sometimes it worked beautifully, sometimes it really didn’t, but because it was all supposed to be a bit on the avant-garde side, you could produce some absolute rubbish and because everybody was too afraid to stand up and tell you it was bad, they never did.
Some people actually went out and bought the albums, taking them home and playing them, at which point the dog would have probably packed his Winalot in a bag and moved to a new neighbourhood, and your flatmate or parents would hate it, making you even more determined to stick by your new found heroes.
It is not as if the chaps from Henry Cow tried to hide their intent. Trying to explain the racket that comes out of the speakers when you subject your ears to this nonsense, one of the members of the ensemble (who with obvious reason wishes to remain anonymous) has written on the inside sleeve notes of this album:
“After working on our pre-composed material (Tracks 1-4) we started recording studio improvisations onto multi-track tape. This involved the use of ambient as well as close miking, so that the whole recording area became to a certain extent, a unified acoustic space in which people could move around during takes. But we also had separate channels wherever possible, to maximize the possibilities for changing things afterwards. These multi-track recordings then became raw material to be twisted about, using such process as over-dubbing written parts, editing, looping and mixing down before superimposing other material, often with the tape running at different speeds. This was a new experience for everybody (Mott: I bet it was). Because we weren’t working to a plan, it involved collective decision making. This is why Phil Becque the producer gave up and left us to it, and why Henry Cow is credited as mixing engineer for tracks 5-8.’’
What a load of old gobbledygook. They just had not got a clue what they were doing. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but nowhere near enough people any of the time for this lot to make a buck to live on this noise. Showing a remarkable lack of any imagination, both of the first two albums had a painting of a sock on the front cover - nothing else, just a woolly sock. Remarkably they went on to record four albums over their ten year lifespan. This, their first album, should have been re-titled upon its CD release as Henry Cow, End.
I am going to take the CD off the player now and go and look for the Dog.