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In its open improvisations, lapidary lyrics, errant melodies, and relentless pursuit of spontaneity, the British experimental band Henry Cow pushed rock music to its limits.
Its rotating personnel, sprung from rock, free jazz, and orchestral worlds, synthesized a distinct sound that troubled genre lines, and with this musical diversity came a mixed politics, including Maoism, communism, feminism, and Italian Marxism.
In Henry Cow: The World Is a Problem, Benjamin Piekut tells the band’s story —from its founding in Cambridge in 1968 and later affiliation with Virgin Records to its demise ten years later— and analyzes its varied efforts to link aesthetics with politics.
Drawing on ninety interviews with Henry Cow musicians and crew, letters, notebooks, scores, journals, and meeting notes, Piekut traces the group’s pursuit of a political and musical collectivism, offering up its history as but one example of the vernacular avant-garde that emerged in the decades after World War II.
Henry Cow’s story resonates far beyond its inimitable music; it speaks to the avant-garde’s unpredictable potential to transform the world.
"A fascinating and pacey read, stitched together painstakingly from over 90 original interviews and both public and private texts including Hodgkinson's extensive diaries. The combination of narrative background, musical analysis and critical insight should open the door for a new generation of listeners." - Phil England, The Wire
“What was it all about, to me? Thinking. Henry Cow really thought about the why, the what, the appropriate methods of making music. Their riveting music was the sound of thinking out loud: Henry Cow seemed to be asking, ‘So, what is the significance of these sounds in our heads?’ And they were always witty: just look at the name of the band and the unwearable sock representing ‘the Henry Cow legend.’ I am very glad this book exists. Henry Cow’s history —in all its inevitable turbulence— tells an inspiring story.” - Robert Wyatt