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Henry Cow's music was challenging and uncompromising and this often lead to them being accused of deliberately making their music inaccessible.[6] As a result they were virtually ignored in their own country. Even Virgin Records, who had started dropping experimental groups in favour of commercial ones, was now showing little to no interest in Henry Cow. This led to the group having to continuously make decisions as to whether to continue or not (there certainly were no economic inducements). Cutler said that "We had to make what amounted to political decisions about the organization of the group and its relation to the commercial structures, and this was bound to be reflected in the music too."[11] Henry Cow's anti-capitalist stance[12] was brought on partly out of necessity rather than choice. They began working outside the music industry and doing everything for themselves. They abandoned agencies and managers and stopped looking for approval from the music press. Henry Cow quickly became self-sufficient and self-reliant.

Virtual exiles from their own country, they made mainland Europe their second home where they (and their music) were well received. After a concert in Rome in July 1975, Henry Cow remained behind with their truck/bus/mobile home and began meeting local musicians, including progressive rock band Stormy Six, and the PCI (Italian Communist Party). The PCI offered them concerts at Festa dell'Unità (large open-air fairs that run every summer all over Italy), and they joined Stormy Six's L'Orchestra, a musicians' co-operative in Milan. Each contact they made led to more contacts and soon doors opened for Henry Cow all over Europe.

Henry Cow performing in Fresnes, France, 16 November 1975. Left to right: Tim Hodgkinson, Lindsay Cooper, Dagmar Krause, John Greaves, Chris Cutler and Fred Frith. (The fringed sitting-room standard lamps accompanied them throughout the 1975 tour).

While rehearsing for an upcoming tour of Scandinavia in March 1976, John Greaves left the band to start working on the Kew. Rhone. project with Peter Blegvad, and Dagmar Krause withdrew due to ill-health. Committed to the tour, Henry Cow had to perform as a quartet (Hodgkinson, Frith, Cooper and Cutler) and adjust their music accordingly. They took the radical option and abandoned composed material completely in favour of pure improvisation.

In May 1976 Henry Cow compiled a double LP Henry Cow Concerts for a new Norwegian underground label Compendium (re-released later on the budget Virgin sub-label Caroline). For the first time, they did everything themselves: the mastering, cover design, cutting, pressing and manufacturing. The album included an excerpt from one of several concerts performed with guest artist Robert Wyatt in 1975.

Henry Cow began auditioning for a bass player and found Georgie Born, a classically trained cellist and improviser. Even though she had never played bass guitar before,[13] she joined the band in June 1976 and tuned her bass in 5ths like a cello with a lower C.[14] In the interim, the band's compositions, including a new Hodgkinson epic with the working title of "Erk Gah", grew more complex.

Henry Cow returned to London in early 1977 where they merged with the entire Mike Westbrook Brass Band and folk singer Frankie Armstrong to form The Orckestra. They played their first concert at the Moving Left Revue at The Roundhouse in London and then at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park. The Orckestra later went on to tour in France, Italy and Scandinavia (extracts from some of these performances were released in 2006 on a CD-single included in the Henry Cow Box). At more or less the same time they set up Music for Socialism and its May Festival. It had been three years since Henry Cow had performed more than one concert a year in their own country. In an attempt to break the apathy that seemed to be discouraging anyone from wanting to put them on, they tried to organise a small alternative tour themselves, but abandoned it after 11 concerts when they started losing money: clearly nothing had changed.

Their contract with Virgin Records had now become a burden to both Henry Cow and Virgin: none of Henry Cow's records were licensed or distributed in the countries in which they spent all their time playing, and Henry Cow were not making any money for Virgin. Henry Cow needed to record again but Virgin refused to give them studio time at The Manor. When Henry Cow referred to the contract ("one month at a first class studio"), Virgin Records (in October 1977) agreed to cancel it.

By now Krause's health had deteriorated to such an extent that touring became impossible for her and she decided to leave the group, although she agreed to sing on Henry Cow's next album. The recording of this album was to begin at Sunrise studios in Kirchberg, Switzerland in January 1978. However, a group meeting one week before threw into question the material planned for it, the aforementioned "Erk Gah" in particular. Cutler and Frith hurriedly wrote a set of songs which, along with some of the planned material was duly recorded. On returning to London, another meeting was convened to question the predominance of songs on the album. The group agreed that the songs would be released separately by Cutler and Frith, while the instrumentals would be released later by Henry Cow. This decision, however, spelled the end of the band. Cutler, Frith and Krause released the songs, with four extra tracks recorded at David Vorhaus's Kaleidophon Studio in London, as Hopes and Fears under the name Art Bears, crediting the rest of Henry Cow as guests. Later that year Henry Cow returned to Sunrise, by then without Dagmar Krause and Georgie Born, to record their last album, Western Culture, an instrumental.

 

Flyer for the 1st RIO festival, 12 March 1978, The New London Theatre, London. The ticket below the flyer reads: "FIVE ROCK GROUPS THE RECORD COMPANIES DON'T WANT YOU TO HEAR."







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