Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Henry Cow ~ Concerts (Remastered)

The following is a slightly expanded version of my submitted review to Amazon. I thought worth repeating here as it is an extraordinary album, including some of the best work which the band recorded. The BBC session is perfect and the live stuff like “Ruins” and “Groningen” impeccable. Read Bob Drakes account (4th April entry) on how remastering this was a near disaster.

This is probably the most representative recording of what Henry Cow were about. Part composition, part improvisation. The recordings presented here are for me the band shown at their very best. The performances are exhilarating, especially Fred Frith whose guitar manipulations are extraordinary. The first 5 pieces are taken from a BBC session and is a truly wonderful medley, each track seamlessly flowing into the next. A beautifully recorded session, with Bob Drakes wonderfully detailed and sympathetic mastering bringing out all the nuances in the performance, especially Chris Cutlers dynamic cymbal work. Included is a brilliant reading of Bill McCormick’s “Gloria Gloom”, originally recorded by Matching Mole. Also noteworthy are the tracks with Robert Wyatt, especially the band version of “Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road” which originally appeared on his seminal “Rock Bottom” album.

For me the highlight of the album has always been the live version of Fred Friths “Ruins”. Not only brilliantly played by the band, this version knocks spots off the studio version from “Unrest”, but Frith plays one of the most extraordinary non-rock based guitar “solos” you will ever hear. His command and control of his guitar to produce something of its own, yet fitting in with the dynamics of the piece is still after all these years sensational! He performed a similar miracle during the piece “Groningen”. Some of this stuff is “difficult”, especially the almost 30 minute improvisational piece “Oslo”. Thankfully, here it has been broken down into 8 sections to make it more digestible, though the official line is that it’s for “navigation purposes”.

The original double LP has been expanded here to a 2 CD set with tracks taken from studio sessions after Henry Cow’s aborted appearance at the Greasy Truckers concert. Although a CD version was available a number of years back on the US label East Side Digital, this newly remastered version is on ReR and is hence easier to obtain and is the definitive version. Full marks to Bob Drake, whose mastering work is always subtle and exquisite. Considering the only master available was a DAT tape, which fell apart during the mastering process, the results he has achieved on this are nothing short of “heroic”! Nice booklet too with notes by Chris Cutler and even a splash of colour added to Maggie Thomas’s startlingly austere pen and ink cover. “Concerts” is the definitive document of one of the most ruthlessly original and uncompromisingly single minded rock groups to have emerged during the 70’s. They don’t make’em like this anymore!


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