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Henw - Leg End

Henw - Leg End

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Genre: progressive
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title:  Leg End
Company: Virgin
Catalog: VR 13-107
Year: 1973
Country/State: UK
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: small cut out notch along right edge; promo sticker on front cover (not shown in picture)
Available: 1
Catalog ID: 283
Price: $40.00

I'd love to tell you I was one of those musical elite who love Henry Cow's dissident, anti-establishment view of the musical world (and the rest of the world - apparently devoted communist (the term almost seems quaint today), the band was run as a collective with all members participating in the creative and business ends of the band). I'd actually heard of the band and knew a little bit about found member Fred Firth. That said, I stumbled across their debut album at a yard sale and bought it because I thought the cover art looked cool.

So my knowledge of the band is minimal. Multi-instrumentalists Fred Firth and Tim Hodgkinson met while they were students in Cambridge (where else) and formed Henry Cow in 1968. With an ever-changing line-up, the group's initial brush with success came in 1970 when they won the John Peel sponsored Rockortunity Knocks contest. The resulting publicity opened the door to the festival circuit where Henry Cow began to generate a cult following. By the time they were signed to Richard Branson's Virgin Records and released their 1973 debut "Leg End" (also know as "Henry Cow"), in addition to Firth and Hodgkinson, the line-up featured drummer Chris Cutler, bassist John Greaves, and woodwind/brass player Geoff Leigh. Musically this is pretty dense stuff (though far more accessible than what was to come later in their recording career). They're generally labeled as being a progressive band, but that may be a tad generous since their repertoire is full of avant-garde, experimentation, improvisation, jazz-rock, and occasionally the just plain weird. Challenging might be the best way to describe these guys. Needless to say, if you recently bought a Katy Perry LP, this probably isn't going to be up your alley.

I can hear Henry Cow fans groaning already (all five of them), but you've got to be in the right mood for an improved, jazzy interlude like 'Nirvana for Mice'. There's a melody in there (it shows itself briefly for the first minute or so of the song, but then the saxes starting wailing and the members really get into a groove, and ... to my ears the results become something just short of discordant noise. rating: ** stars
- For Henry Cow, the Hodgkinson-penned instrumental 'Amygdala' was pretty commercial and conventional. Starting out as a pretty ballad with a focus of Hodgkinson's keyboards, over the next six minutes the composition went through phases that bounced between furiously fracture aggression and softer, almost baroque segments. Pretty much everyone in the band got a chance to showcase their technical prowess. rating: *** stars
- 'Teenbeat Introduction' was worthwhile, if only to hear Firth's surprisingly impressive lead guitar. For a band that prided itself on being vehemently anti-commercial, the man could play some mean rock licks. Anyhow, Firth kept this one on track as the rest of the band apparently did their own things in the background. If you listen to the song on a good pair of headphones, it occasionally sounded like they're literally playing different songs. rating: *** stars
- 'Teenbeat Introduction' effortlessly segued into 'Teenbeat' (I think the transition takes place where the wordless chorus kicks in) and the music take a brief turn into domesticity before exploding into dance band-goes-mad mode (their was even a mildly funky segment in here). The results were pretty discordant, though not as atonal as some of their other stuff. rating: *** stars
- Opening side two (though it wasn't shown on the track listing, 'Nirvana Reprise' as a brief continuation of the lead-off track. Showcasing Firth's most melodic playing, this segment was actually quite attractive. rating: **** stars
- 'With the Yellow Half-Moon and Blue Star' was interesting in that it seemed to incorporate English folk elements in their repertoire. Inspired by a Paul Klee painting, the song was written by Firth as a commission for the Cambridge Contemporary Dance Group and only a short segment of the extended suite made it on to the album. rating: *** stars
- 'TeenBeat Reprise' basically provided a five minute slot for an extended Firth guitar solo. rating: *** stars
- Opening up with some spooky Hodgkinson organ, 'The Tenth Chaffinch' quickly banked into atonal sound collage territory complete with incomprehensible vocal segments, atonal sound clips, and all sorts of irritating effects. Yech ! rating: * star
- As mentioned, the band subscribed to a socialist agenda and their political orientation came through on the album's final track 'Nine Funerals of the Citizen King'. The only vocal performance (all of the members participating in a kind of a group sing along), it was pretty easy to see why these guys focused on instrumentals. Their collective plea against consumerism (at least that's what I got out of the enigmatic lyrics) sounds almost quaint today, though no less applicable. Extra star for good intentions. rating: **** stars

These guys clearly had the technical chops, but as you can tell from the lukewarm review, they're just not my cup of tea, which shouldn't stop you more experimental types from giving them a shot.

"Henry Cow" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) Nirvana for Mice (instrumental) (Fred Firth) - 4:53
2.) Amygdala (instrumental) (Tim Hodgkinson) - 6:47
3.) Teenbeat Introduction (instrumental) (Henry Cow) - 4:32
4.) TeenBeat (instrumental) (Fred Firth - John Greaves) - 6:57 (instrumental)

(side 2)
1.) Nirvana (Reprise) (instrumental)
2.) With the Yellow Half-Moon and Blue Star (instrumental) (Fred Firth) - 3:37
3.) TeenBeat Reprise (instrumental) (Fred Firth) - 5:07
4.) The Tenth Chaffinch (instrumental) (Henry Cow) - 6:06
5.) Nine Funerals of the Citizen King (Tim Hodgkinson) - 5:34
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