AMN Reviews: Henry Cow and others play the music of Lindsay Cooper (Nov. 21, 2014, The Barbicon, London)

Henry Cow with Robert Wyatt performing at the ...
Henry Cow with Robert Wyatt performing at the Piazza Navona, 1975. Left to right: Lindsay Cooper, Robert Wyatt, Dagmar Krause, Chris Cutler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A friend of AMN provided the following review of last night’s Lindsay Cooper tribute performance, featuring compositions from the catalogs of Henry Cow, Music For Films, News From Babel and Oh Moscow.

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The concert was conceived by Chris Cutler as a tribute to Lindsay Cooper. After getting commitment by the musicians to do it, if someone would present it, Cutler went searching for a gig. Finally he got someone associated with the London Jazz Festival to do it, and that was tonight’s concert. They have added a show November 22nd in Huddersfield (near Leeds) and another on November 23rd in Italy.

These concerts were meant to be a tribute to Lindsay Cooper and not a Henry Cow reunion. They only played music written by Lindsay Cooper.

Chris Cutler appeared nervous a few hours before the concert. I got the impression from him that the Henry Cow portion, the perception of it, and their ability to execute it like they did when they were an active band, were really worrying him.

The Barbicon holds about 1300 and I think they had about 1000 people in attendance. I got 3rd row center on the first balcony, a great seat, great sound, great sight lines. Clearly there were Henry Cow fans from all over the world at this concert. And contrary to the rumors, no Robert Wyatt or Geoff Leigh.

They set up as one group – so it was Henry Cow, News from Babel, Music for Films and Oh Moscow. Occasionally people walked on and off the center stage and sat on the side when they weren’t playing.

Sally Potter opened and closed the event with a few nice words about Lindsay Cooper.

The Henry Cow set was: Half the Sky, Gretel’s Tale, Look Back, Falling Away, and Slice.

It started pretty rough. In fact they cut the first tune after a few bars and restarted. They did that several times throughout the night, across formations. It was done with humor and the audience did not seem to mind. It reminded me a lot of Carla Bley’s live gigs in the 80’s as she would do that all the time. Anyway, the Henry Cow portion was amazing. No, not the tight band we hear and see on the live box set, but that configuration hadn’t played together in almost 40 years till tonight. That’s right, Greaves, Hodgkinson, Frith and Cutler have not played all together in almost 40 years – something Greaves reminded the crowd of after the Cow portion. They pulled it off because there was no nostalgia, no trying to recapture “the day,” and other useless sentimental marketing. All I can say is that Henry Cow played 6 songs in London tonight and it was amazing! It had the drive, the commitment and the attitude we expect from these musicians and it caught fire by the end of the 6th song. My only complaint – no Dagmar in the Cow segment. But she shined during the News from Babel segment.

News from Babel made their first ever live appearance tonight, and the rumor was that Robert Wyatt was going to show and song a song with them. But he did not. They played: Moss, Black Gold, Dragon at the Core, Waited/Justice, Late Evening, and Victory.

This configuration included everyone on the bill at some point except Sally Potter. They were amazing, and for the most part much tighter than the Cow segment. However, there were a few restarts. Clearly there had been a major change in Lindsay’s writing style by the time News from Babel came along. With Henry Cow her writing was very complex and a lot very dense textures with frequent meter changes and tempo changes. But her writing for News from Babel while it still had her “style” was much more focused and clear with less abruptness and more transitions into change. One thing that stood out to me was how well she wrote for bassoon and bass. The interplay between the two to make contrapuntal bass lines has always been something I really liked about her writing. Berckmans did an outstanding job on bassoon, oboe and English horn. Alfred 23 Harth provided his outstanding Teutonic Free Jazz noodling and received several ovations. Berckmans also did an incredible bassoon solo with electronics during the film music portion. Zeena Parkins was really, really great and anchored this group with the harp. Greaves was fantastic on bass and vocals, and Phil Minton proved once again why he is one of the best male vocalists in the world. And then there was Dagmar, she looked great (all grey) and sounded perfect. I wish they had her sing more. It was so good to hear her with Frith, Cutler, Greaves, and Hodgkinson even though it was under the moniker of News from Babel.

After the Babel set they took an intermission. They crowd was stunned. I figured that would be the highlight of the evening. It was just two of the highlights of the evening.

The entire group then became Music for Films and they played mostly from the Gold Diggers, I think the songs were: Women’s Wrongs, Lots of Larks, General Strike, Iceland, Empire Song, Plate Dance, and As She Breathes.

Highlights were the violin solo from Anne-Marie Roelofs and a killer tenor solo from Alfred 23 Harth and Sally Potter. She can sing and she has the British folk think in her sound and it was fantastic. As I mentioned earlier Berckmans did a great solo with electronics. Hodgkinson had a nice short alto solo. But ironically there were just very short solos here and there from Frith and Hodgkinson. Alfred 23 Harth had the lion share, and then Roelofs and Berckmans. This set was the tightest and since many of these are vocal songs Lindsay’s writing is easier for the instrumentalists as its mostly accompaniment. However, there are some sections that are virtuosic along the lines of her Cow and News from Babel writing. Beautiful set.

They finished with the song cycle Oh Moscow. Sally Potter and Phil Minton brought the house down on the title track. Absolutely spectacular! They played: England Descending, On German Soil, Lovers, Oh Moscow, and Forgotten Fruit.

That brought the crowd to their feet for two curtain calls then finally an encore with the entire cast and I wish I could remember the name of the song, but I can’t. The encore was good. Cutler was beaming and was frequently beaming throughout the performance as was Tim whom I wish was a bit more featured. They seemed as a group relieved that they pulled it off and that the crowd loved it. Another curtain call and then that was it.

3 thoughts on “AMN Reviews: Henry Cow and others play the music of Lindsay Cooper (Nov. 21, 2014, The Barbicon, London)

  1. Yeah, as HarryG said it was Anno Mirablis as an encore. For me it was a bit surprise that News from Babel set included songs originally sung by Wyatt with Greaves singing but none with Potter. I’m not sure have Greaves actually ever before played Cooper’s compositions, but as Georgina Born is not active as musician, it was good choice anyway. For me it was logical that Dagmar did not sing on Henry Cow songs as these are all instrumentals (although Henry Cow had one co-composition by Frith and Cooper with Dagmar singing which appeared on Art Bear’s first album). Great concert.

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