In Praise of Learning

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In Praise of Learning
HenryCow AlbumCover InPraiseOfLearning.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedMay 1975 (1975-05)
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.


In Praise of Learning was Henry Cow's most overtly political album. 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. The Moore/Belgvad song, "War" had been recorded the previous year as "War Is Energy Enslaved" during the making of the first Slapp Happy/Henry Cow collaborative album, Desperate Straights (1975).[1] Moore later rearranged the song for his 1979 solo album, Flying Doesn't Help. "War" was also covered by The Fall in 1993 for a BBC radio session and on Middle Class Revolt (1994).

"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.[2] 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.[2][3]

Chris Cutler's lyrics on "Beautiful as the Moon – Terrible as an Army with Banners" were the first song texts he had written,[4] 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.[2]

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).

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).[5]

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[6]
Christgau's Record GuideB[7]

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".[6] 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".[6] 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".[7] Christgau complemented Frith's atonal piano, but felt that the musique concrète on side two of the LP is "less than winning".[7]

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.[1] 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".[1] 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".[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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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 (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c Cutler 2009, p. 12.
  3. ^ Cutler 2009, p. 39.
  4. ^ "Chris Cutler interview". Chris Cutler homepage. Retrieved 15 November 2007.
  5. ^ Ramond, Michel; Roussel, Patrice; Vuilleumier, Stephane. "Discography of Fred Frith". New York Downtown Scene and Other Miscellaneous Discographies. Retrieved 29 May 2016.
  6. ^ a b c "In Praise of Learning". AllMusic. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  7. ^ 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]