Henry Cow

The Road, Vols. 6-10

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Box two of Henry Cow's The Road archives covers the period beginning with the 1976 arrival of cellist/bassist Georgie Born in the band and ending with the group's retirement in 1978. The Born era has been largely undocumented, despite the fact that it was the group's most exciting lineup. Stockholm & Göteborg (also released separately prior to the box sets' release) is sourced from recordings made by Swedish radio. It is definitely the best-sounding document across both sets, and an excellent performance to boot. Of particular note are the rendition of "Erk Gah," a tour de force of complex avant-garde rock the band never got to record in the studio (its composer, Tim Hodgkinson, recorded it much later under the title "Hold to the Zero Burn"), and the poignant rendition of protest singer Phil Ochs' "No More Songs." The improvisations on that disc are also very strong. Discs seven and nine have been sourced from various live bootlegs. The sound on these two sets is less interesting (though still way better than the copies circulating among traders), but they contain their fair share of rarities and historically relevant performances, like the first-ever performance of "Joan," later to become one of the Art Bears' most cherished songs; a lost "Untitled Piece" by Lindsay Cooper; performances with trombonist Anne-Marie Roelofs; and an improvisation from the 1978 Rock in Opposition Festival. Disc eight features a stunning live concert captured by Radio Bremen, featuring more unrecorded compositions. The tenth and final disc (fifth in box two) is a DVD of the group's only known video recording, at Vevey, Switzerland, on August 25, 1976. The lineup is Cooper, Hodgkinson, Georgie Born, Dagmar Krause, Fred Frith, and Chris Cutler, filmed at an outdoor concert. The set list revolves mostly around the material from In Praise of Learning (including the classic "Living in the Heart of the Beast"), plus "Erk Gah." The multi-camera filming is pretty good, but the editing is dated. Still, seeing the band in action, both navigating through its most complex material and engaging in collective improvisation, is quite an experience. The booklet for the second box contains notes on some of the tracks; an economic history of the band; and testimonies by Born, Frith, Hodgkinson, Stormy Six's Franco Fabbri, organizer Nick Hobbs, and roadie Chris Wangro. As a whole, the two sets present for the first time a complete picture of Henry Cow, from the rehearsal-intensive compositions to the ever-important improvisations, through all incarnations of the band and including both highs and lows. The booklets also highlight how unique the group was in its inner workings and ideals, and the one-of-a-kind relationship it had built with Italian audiences. [For general info about this set of two box sets, please read the entry for The Road, Vols. 1-5.]