Western Culture (album)

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Western Culture
Studio album by Henry Cow
Released 1979 (1979)
Recorded January, July–August 1978
Length 36:27
Label Broadcast (UK)
Celluloid (France)
Producer Henry Cow and Etienne Conod
Henry Cow chronology
Henry Cow Concerts
Western Culture
The Virgin Years – Souvenir Box
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4/5 stars[1]
Pitchfork Media 8.0/10[2]
Robert Christgau A−[3]

Western Culture is an album by English avant-rock group Henry Cow, recorded at Sunrise Studios in Kirchberg, Switzerland in January, July and August 1978. It was their last album and was released on Henry Cow's own private label, Broadcast, in 1979. Later editions appeared on Interzone in the US and Celluloid in France. Only the UK Broadcast pressing used the custom label artwork design.


Western Culture is an instrumental album which came about as a result of disagreements in the band as to what the composition of their next album should be. Recording had already begun at Sunrise Studios in January 1978 and some members were not happy about the predominance of song-oriented material. As a compromise it was agreed that two albums would be made: one of "songs" (released soon after as Hopes and Fears under the name of a new group Art Bears) and one of purely instrumental compositions. The group returned to Sunrise Studios in July that year to record the instrumental pieces for Western Culture, except "½ the Sky", which had been recorded during the January sessions.

Henry Cow split up shortly after recording this album.


The Lindsay Cooper composition "½ the Sky" was named for Chairman Mao's dictum "Women hold up half the sky".[4][5] "Viva Pa Ubu" (an outtake from the January recording sessions) was written by Tim Hodgkinson as the start of a musical production of Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi (Pa Ubu being a character in the play).[6] "Viva Pa Ubu" includes singing by the whole group, making the CD reissue no longer an instrumental. "Viva Pa Ubu" and "Slice" (an outtake from the July–August recording sessions) had been previously released on the Recommended Records Sampler (1982).

During the recording sessions in July and August 1978, Henry Cow also recorded "Waking Against Sleep", a Fred Frith composition. This 2-minute piece had previously been performed live by the band under the title "The Herring People", and appeared in Volume 9: Late of the The 40th Anniversary Henry Cow Box Set (2009). It was later recorded by Curlew under the title "Time and a Half", and appeared on their album, North America (1985), which was produced by Frith. "Waking Against Sleep" was never released by Henry Cow, but appeared on the 1990 CD re-issue of Frith's solo album, Gravity.[5]

Track listing[edit]

Side one (History and Prospects) – 18:10

  1. "Industry" (Hodgkinson) a
  2. "The Decay of Cities" (Hodgkinson) a
  3. "On the Raft" (Hodgkinson) a

Side two (Day by Day) – 18:17

  1. "Falling Away" (Cooper) a
  2. "Gretels Tale" (Cooper) a
  3. "Look Back" (Cooper) a
  4. "½ the Sky" (Cooper, Hodgkinson) b
Bonus tracks on 2001 and 2002 CD re-issues
  1. "Untitled" (silence only) – 1:29
  2. "Viva Pa Ubu" (Hodgkinson) – 4:28 b
  3. "Look Back (alt)" (Cooper) – 1:21 a
  4. "Slice" (Cooper) – 0:36 a

Track notes[edit]

a Recorded at Sunrise Studio, Kirchberg, Switzerland, 26 July to 8 August 1978
b Recorded at Sunrise Studio, Kirchberg, Switzerland, 15–29 January 1978


  • Tim Hodgkinson – organ, clarinet, alto saxophone, Hawaiian guitar, piano, vocals ("Viva Pa Ubu")
  • Lindsay Cooper – bassoon, oboe, soprano saxophone, sopranino recorders, vocals ("Viva Pa Ubu")
  • Fred Frith – electric & acoustic guitars, bass guitar, soprano saxophone (background "On the Raft"), vocals ("Viva Pa Ubu")
  • Chris Cutler – drums, electric drums, noise, piano, trumpet (background "On the Raft"), vocals ("Viva Pa Ubu")


Sound and art work[edit]

CD reissues[edit]

Western Culture was reissued on CD by Broadcast in 1988 and East Side Digital in 1995. It was reissued and partially remastered by Bob Drake by Recommended Records in 2001 and East Side Digital in 2002 with four bonus tracks, new liner notes and photographs. The bonus tracks are listed in the wrong order in the booklet.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Couture, François. "Western Culture". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-06-15. 
  2. ^ Leone, Dominique. "Western Culture". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2012-07-23. 
  3. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Henry Cow". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 2011-06-15. 
  4. ^ Hardach, Sophie (11 August 2008). "For Chen, women hold up half the sky". Reuters. Retrieved 2009-03-18. 
  5. ^ a b Cutler 2009, vol. 6–10, p. 8.
  6. ^ Cutler 2009, vol. 6–10, p. 11.

External links[edit]