In Praise of Learning

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In Praise of Learning
HenryCow AlbumCover InPraiseOfLearning.jpg
Studio album by
Released9 May 1975 (1975-05-09)
RecordedFebruary–March 1975
StudioThe Manor, Oxfordshire, England
LabelVirgin (UK)
ProducerHenry Cow, Slapp Happy and Phil Becque
Henry Cow chronology
Desperate Straights
In Praise of Learning
Slapp Happy chronology
Desperate Straights
In Praise of Learning
Acnalbasac Noom

In Praise of Learning is a studio album by British avant-rock group Henry Cow, recorded at Virgin Records' Manor studios in February and March 1975, and released in May 1975. On this album, Henry Cow had expanded to include members of Slapp Happy, who had merged with the group after the two had collaborated on Desperate Straights in 1974. The merger ended after recording In Praise of Learning when Peter Blegvad and Anthony Moore from Slapp Happy left the group.

The album's title was taken from "In Praise of Learning", a poem by Bertolt Brecht,[1][2] which is one of several "In Praise of ..." poems he wrote.[nb 1]


In Praise of Learning was Henry Cow's most overtly political album.[4] Printed on the back of the album cover is filmmaker John Grierson's quote "Art is not a mirror – it is a hammer", and the Tim Hodgkinson 16-minute composition, "Living in the Heart of the Beast" made explicit the band's left wing political leanings, with Dagmar Krause's powerful voice adding a new dimension to their music.[1] The Moore/Blegvad song, "War" was first recorded as "War (Is Energy Enslaved)"[nb 2] by Slapp Happy with session musicians in May 1974, but was not released.[7] Then it was re-recorded during the making of the first Slapp Happy/Henry Cow collaborative album, Desperate Straights, but was held back for release on In Praise of Learning.[8] Moore later rearranged the song for his 1979 solo album, Flying Doesn't Help. "War" was also covered by The Fall on their 1994 album, Middle Class Revolt.

"Living in the Heart of the Beast" began as an unfinished instrumental that Hodgkinson presented to the group, which was cut up and performed live in 1974 with improvisational sections added.[9] One such performance, Halsteren was recorded in Halsteren in September 1974, and appears in Volume 2: 1974–5 of The 40th Anniversary Henry Cow Box Set (2009). After the merger with Slapp Happy, Hodgkinson commissioned Blegvad to write lyrics for the piece for Krause to sing. But after several attempts, Blegvad admitted that he was "out of [his] depth", and Hodgkinson wrote the lyrics himself.[9][10]

Chris Cutler's lyrics on "Beautiful as the Moon – Terrible as an Army with Banners" were the first song texts he had written,[11] and the song was the first writing collaboration between Cutler and Fred Frith that later grew into Art Bears. The song also became the longest lasting "building block" the band used in subsequent live performances.[9]

Cover art[edit]

The album cover art work was by artist Ray Smith and was the third of three of his "paint socks" to feature on Henry Cow's albums, the first being on Legend (1973).

Smith was not credited on the original LP release of the album. He was not happy with the text on the cover and asked that it be omitted, as was done on Legend's cover. But his request was denied. When he asked to be credited under a pseudonym, that was also denied and his name was left off the credits.[12] He was later credited on the CD releases of the album.

Remixes and reissues[edit]

The album was remixed in 1985 for a vinyl reissue on the band's own Broadcast label. This remix was used in the 1991 East Side Digital Records CD issue, with one extra track "Lovers of Gold" (an alternate version of "Beginning: The Long March" by Chris Cutler).[13]

In 2000 Recommended Records and East Side Digital issued a remastered version of In Praise of Learning on CD with the original 1975 mix and without the bonus track. The "Lovers of Gold" bonus track would later reappear on the Cow Cabinet of Curiosities disc in The 40th Anniversary Henry Cow Box Set (2009).


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic3.5/5 stars[14]
Christgau's Record GuideB[15]

A review at AllMusic called In Praise of Learning, the result of Henry Cow and Slapp Happy's brief merger, "stunning" and "bracing", and said "No one has ever, before or since, sounded like this incarnation of Henry Cow".[14] The reviewer described the Moore/Blegvad composition "War" as "enormous [in] proportion and power" that would not have succeeded in the hands of the "relatively quiet trio".[14] Music journalist Robert Christgau described the album's lyrics as "literary if not pompous in print", but said Krause's "abrasively arty, Weill-derived" singing "manage[s] to find a context for words".[15] Christgau complimented Frith's atonal piano, but felt that the musique concrète on side two of the LP is "less than winning".[15]

In a review in New Musical Express in 1975, music critic Ian MacDonald wrote that In Praise of Learning "manages to be simultaneously the group's most extreme and most accessible album so far". He called it "a demonstrative, theatrical, and didactic record" that blends ideology with art.[8] MacDonald described "War" as "downbeat mythologising and exploding musique concrete" that "heaves and thrashes like an octopus caught in a ship's propellor". "Beautiful as the Moon – Terrible as an Army with Banners" starts off well, but is let down later by pretentious lyrics. "Living in the Heart of the Beast" also begins well, but despite "a remarkable instrumental interlude", it "sinks awkwardly to earth beneath the would-be climactic exhortations of the finale".[8] MacDonald said "In Praise of Learning is, like all efforts by compulsive perfectionists, imperfect – but aimed high". He praised the group for their "risk-taking" and added that "we should be thankful for the ... commitment that leads a group like Henry Cow to pursue so single-mindedly the limits of the feasible in our music".[8]

In another 1975 review, Dave Laing wrote in Let It Rock that Krause's vocals on In Praise of Learning have the same "brittle style" that American singer and songwriter Judy Collins used in "Pirate Jenny" and the Marat/Sade.[1] He was impressed with Hodgkinson's "Living in the Heart of the Beast", noting its "long controlled lyric" and its "determined fermenting movement to its climax". Laing noted, however, that the political themes of the album are damped a little by Blegvad and Moore's "War", which he felt is "musically limp and politically liberal", and the presence of the two "experimental" instrumentals.[1] But Laing concluded that it is still "an unexpectedly fine album, pointing a way forward for both avant-garde and 'committed' music in Britain".[1]

Track listing[edit]

Side one
1."War"Moore, Blegvad2:25
2."Living in the Heart of the Beast"Hodgkinson15:30
Side two
3."Beginning: The Long March"Henry Cow, Slapp Happy6:26
4."Beautiful as the Moon – Terrible as an Army with Banners"Frith, Cutler7:02
5."Morning Star"Henry Cow, Slapp Happy6:05
1991 CD re-issue bonus tracks
6."Lovers of Gold"Henry Cow, Slapp Happy, Cutler6:28


Henry Cow
Slapp Happy
Additional musicians
  • Simon Heyworth – engineer (track 1)
  • Henry Cow – producer
  • Slapp Happy – producer
  • Phil Becque – producer
  • Ray Smith – cover art
  • Matt Murman – remastered 2000 CD reissue

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Other poems in this series include, "In Praise of Communism", "In Praise of Doubt", "In Praise of Illegal Work", "In Praise of Study" and "In Praise of the Work of the Party".[3]
  2. ^ The title of "War (Is Energy Enslaved)" was taken from the line "For war is energy enslaved, but thy religion" in the poem, Vala, or The Four Zoas – Night the Ninth by William Blake.[5][6]


  1. ^ a b c d e Laing, Dave (September 1975). "Henry Cow/Slapp Happy: In Praise of Learning (Virgin V2027)". Let It Rock. Retrieved 27 November 2019 – via Rock's Backpages.
  2. ^ Piekut 2019, p. 187.
  3. ^ "Brecht's Works in English: A Bibliography". University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  4. ^ Piekut 2019, pp. 200–201.
  5. ^ Cutler 2019, p. 55.
  6. ^ W. H. Stevenson (12 May 2014). Blake: The Complete Poems. Routledge. p. 448. ISBN 978-1-317-64436-1.
  7. ^ Piekut 2019, pp. 175–178.
  8. ^ a b c d MacDonald, Ian (7 June 1975). "Henry Cow: In Praise of Learning". New Musical Express. Retrieved 11 June 2018 – via Rock's Backpages.
  9. ^ a b c Cutler 2009, p. 12.
  10. ^ Cutler 2009, p. 39.
  11. ^ "Chris Cutler interview". Chris Cutler homepage. Retrieved 15 November 2007.
  12. ^ Piekut 2019, p. 197.
  13. ^ Ramond, Michel; Roussel, Patrice; Vuilleumier, Stephane. "Discography of Fred Frith". New York Downtown Scene and Other Miscellaneous Discographies. Archived from the original on 19 June 2019. Retrieved 29 May 2016.
  14. ^ a b c "In Praise of Learning". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 November 2019.
  15. ^ a b c Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: H". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved 26 February 2019 – via

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]