A New History Of UK Prog Reviewed

Source: The Quietus.

It’s early 1974, British band Henry Cow are in the studio recording its second album, Unrest. One track features a forty-foot tape loop. Another is based on the fibonacci sequence, a structural device borrowed from Karlheinz Stockhausen. The track is in 55/8 time.

Henry Cow’s ethos is based on creating music that they aren’t yet competent to play. Groups that only play music they can already play, guitarist Fred Frith tells the NME, are “strait-jacketing themselves from the start”. The resulting music is as experimental as rock gets: intricate, atonal, related far more closely to the worlds of avant-garde classical and jazz than any other British band of the era. Critics are mostly bemused, fans disinterested.

But is it prog?

“Some people,” writes Mike Barnes in his new, exhaustive survey of British prog, “don’t think Unrest should be called progressive rock because it sounds so unlike other progressive rock. But that is surely why it is absolutely quintessential progressive rock.”