2006 remastered version, replacing the old ESD version. "Originally released in 1976, this collection offers a snapshot of Henry Cow as audiences would have heard it in the year before. In the chronology, Concerts came between In Praise of Learning and Western Culture -- that is, after Virgin had lost interest in releasing any more Henry Cow studio records and before the band quit to make one of its own. It was also the year of the 'merger' with Robert Wyatt for a series of concerts in which compositions were shared -- the last show, in Rome, was also Robert's last public performance. From its earlier records, the band was known for its rather complex compositional work. This double LP for the first time gave serious space to the improvisations that accounted for maybe a third of any of its lengthy stage performances. When the double LP was reissued as a CD, the Henry Cow side of the long deleted Greasy Truckers album was added -- 5 surprisingly accessible but abstract studio pieces recorded in an afternoon in 1973 -- recovering yet another side of the group's rapidly evolving vocabulary. This new edition, repackaged and carefully re-mastered by Bob Drake, completes our definitive edition of the group's officially released recordings."
Concerts was Henry Cow's last recording for Virgin Records (who gave it a rather half hearted release on their budget label, Caroline). Only briefly available on CD, this is effectively its first proper issue, and very welcome it is too. As drummer Chris Cutler points out in the sleevenotes, Henry Cow's live sets were equally split between structured songs and free improvisation. Both are well documented here. Disc 1 is mainly given over to the former, with a beautifully played John Peel Session from 1975 featuring a medley of Cow crowdpleasers ("Nirvana for Mice", "Beautiful as the Moon") together with a cover of Robert Wyatt's "Gloria Gloom". Dagmar Krause is in fine voice, as is Fred Frith's gently acerbic guitar. The Cow never sounded more lush than they did here. Robert Wyatt is featured on a few tunes from a concert given a few months earlier. The sound here is boxier, but the band are on vigorous form, clearly enjoying the presence of their special guest. Even better though is a version of Frith's "Ruins", where the guitarist delivers a bewilderingly virtuosic performance that lies somewhere between Jimi Hendrix and John Cage. Disc 2 is made from headier stuff. Henry Cow's improvisations drew on rock, modal jazz and 20th Century Classical music; like Varese, Sun Ra and the Soft Machine in an allstar jam. Bursts of electric noise give way to gentle, pointillistic abstraction or lurching, monochordal riffing. "Oslo" is a sprawling free improv suffused with moments of inspired beauty (particularly from Lindsay Cooper's sweet yet acrid flute) and full on primal screaming (courtesy of Dagmar). Bob Drake's heroic remastering has given this piece some much needed clarity. Also included are the band's contribution to the long deleted 'Greasy Truckers' album; though nominally a live album, The Cow's contribution was made in the studio after the gig overran and they were only able to play for around 10 minutes. Frith's guitar is the main motivic force here, and i --Peter Marsh, BBC Music