Erk Gah

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"Erk Gah"
Song by Henry Cow
from the album The 40th Anniversary Henry Cow Box Set
ReleasedSeptember 2008
January 2009
RecordedAugust 1976, Switzerland
May 1977, Sweden
March 1978, Germany
Length18:28 (Switzerland)
16:46 (Sweden)
13:04 (Germany)
Songwriter(s)Tim Hodgkinson
Producer(s)Henry Cow
"Hold to the Zero Burn, Imagine"
Song by Tim Hodgkinson
from the album Each in Our Own Thoughts
Songwriter(s)Tim Hodgkinson
Producer(s)Tim Hodgkinson

"Erk Gah" (later known as "Hold to the Zero Burn, Imagine") is an extended song written by Tim Hodgkinson in 1976 for the English avant-rock group Henry Cow. "Erk Gah" was performed live by the band between 1976 and 1978, but was never recorded in the studio. Three live performances of "Erk Gah" were later released in volumes 6, 8 and 10 of The 40th Anniversary Henry Cow Box Set in January 2009; Volume 6 (Stockholm & Göteborg) was released in advance of the box set in September 2008. In 1993, 15 years after Henry Cow split up, Hodgkinson recorded the composition under the title "Hold to the Zero Burn, Imagine" and released it on his second solo album, Each in Our Own Thoughts (1994).

"Erk Gah" was the second of two "epic" compositions Hodgkinson wrote for Henry Cow, the first being "Living in the Heart of the Beast" (1974).[1]


Hodgkinson wrote the words and music for "Erk Gah" in mid 1976. It was a 17-minute, "12-tone, atonal" extended song that he described as "dry, astringent, angular, with no compromise to rock music".[2] Known for his "complicated" compositions for Henry Cow ("Amygdala" from Legend, "Living in the Heart of the Beast" from In Praise of Learning), "Erk Gah" was initially a challenge for the group to learn,[1] but by the end of 1976 they had performed it live several times with their singer Dagmar Krause negotiating the lyrics.

In December 1976 Hodgkinson requested that "Erk Gah" be withdrawn from the band's repertoire until he had rewritten the lyrics. The group, however, felt it should remain on their set list until it was rewritten, and they continued to perform it.[3] In July 1977 the group, already having made anti-capitalist statements in their music,[4] wanted to make an anti-fascist statement and suggested that "Erk Gah"'s new lyrics should reflect this stance.[3] In January 1978, as Henry Cow prepared to depart for Switzerland to make their next album, with "Erk Gah" on the list of pieces to record, Hodgkinson presented his revised lyrics of the song to the group. They rejected them, and asked Chris Cutler, the band's drummer and part-time lyricist to write new lyrics for the piece. But Cutler was unable to do so in the short space of time left before the recording sessions were due to begin, and the band decided to shelve recording the song until new lyrics were written.[1]

Henry Cow continued to perform "Erk Gah" live several times in 1978, but this time reworked as an instrumental because Krause had left the band due to ill health.[5] They went to the studio for the last time in August 1978 to record their last album, Western Culture (1979), but did not record "Erk Gah".[6] The band split up after recording the album.

In 1993, "Erk Gah" was recorded for the first time in the studio, with the unrevised lyrics, by Hodgkinson under the title "Hold to the Zero Burn, Imagine" for his second solo album Each in Our Own Thoughts (1994).[7] The recording session was a Henry Cow reunion of sorts in that ex-band members Krause, Cutler and Lindsay Cooper recorded the piece with Hodgkinson.[8] In 2008 Hodgkinson said that "In retrospect I far prefer the Cow version to the later studio version. The live one sounds more dynamic."[7]


Hodgkinson wrote "Erk Gah" to include scores for each of the instruments featured in Henry Cow, including the drums.[9] When guitarist Fred Frith looked at his part at the first rehearsal of the piece in 1976, he cried out "Erk Gah" in the same way that Don Martin's cartoon characters express shook and dismay.[2] Frith's utterance became the composition's provisional title, and then the working title, which remained until Henry Cow broke up in 1978. It was only when Hodgkinson recorded the piece in the studio for his second solo album Each in Our Own Thoughts in 1993 that he assigned it the formal title of "Hold to the Zero Burn, Imagine".


In a review of Stockholm & Göteborg in Clouds and Clocks, Beppe Colli complained that "Erk Gah" sounds a little too similar to Hodgkinson's "Living in the Heart of the Beast", and found Krause's singing "quite heavy" and "bordering on kitsch in its emphasis".[10] But Colli liked the instrumental section in the song's last movement, which he described as "very beautiful", and said the mixing "has worked wonders in presenting at their best all the compositional elements according to their role in the whole."[10]

Writing in AllMusic, François Couture called Henry Cow's performance of "Erk Gah" on Stockholm & Göteborg "a tour de force of complex avant-garde rock".[11]

Live performances[edit]

Henry Cow never recorded "Erk Gah" in the studio but did perform it live a number of times between 1976 and 1978, including:

  • 25 August 1976 in Vevey, Switzerland for the Swiss TV program, Kaleidospop[5]
  • 8 September 1976 in Milan, Italy[5]
  • 18 November 1976 at the Salle Rencontres (Concert ATEM) in Nancy, France[5]
  • 9 May 1977 in Stockholm, Sweden for the Sveriges Radio program, Tonkraft, broadcast on 8 June and 11 June 1977[5]
    • Released in Volume 6: Stockholm & Göteborg of The 40th Anniversary Henry Cow Box Set; also released on a separate CD in September 2008 in advance of the box set release, making it the first officially released version of Henry Cow performing the song[12]
  • 16 May 1977 at the Musikforum in Uppsala, Sweden[5]
  • 10 June 1977 at The Queen's Hotel, Southend-on-Sea, England[5]
  • 9 November 1977 in Bourges, France[5]
  • 16 December 1977 at the Melkweg in Amsterdam, The Netherlands[5]
  • 10 January 1978 at Geneva, Switzerland[5]
  • 22 March 1978 in Bremen, Germany for Radio Bremen – extracts from a live broadcast[5]
    • Released in Volume 8: Bremen of The 40th Anniversary Henry Cow Box Set – an instrumental version of the composition necessitated by the band being without a vocalist at the time[12]



  1. ^ a b c Kelman, John (12 January 2009). "Henry Cow: The 40th Anniversary Henry Cow Box Set". All About Jazz. Archived from the original on 30 July 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b Cutler 2009, vol. 6–10, p. 3.
  3. ^ a b Cutler 2009, vol. 6–10, p. 54.
  4. ^ Glanden, Brad (18 November 2006). "Henry Cow: Concerts". All About Jazz. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Henry Cow Chronology". The Canterbury Website. Retrieved 13 June 2018.
  6. ^ Cutler, Chris,. "Art Bears". Chris Cutler homepage. Retrieved 16 March 2009.
  7. ^ a b Cutler 2009, vol. 6–10, p. 4.
  8. ^ Each in Our Own Thoughts CD liner notes.
  9. ^ Cutler 2009, vol. 1–5, p. 5.
  10. ^ a b Colli, Beppe (16 October 2008). "Henry Cow – Vol. 6 Stockholm & Göteborg". Clouds and Clocks. Retrieved 16 June 2018.
  11. ^ Couture, François. "Henry Cow: The Road, Vols. 6–10". AllMusic. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  12. ^ a b c The 40th Anniversary Henry Cow Box Set liner notes.
  13. ^ Couture, François. "Henry Cow: The Road, Vols. 6–10". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 July 2009.

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