Living in the Heart of the Beast

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"Living in the Heart of the Beast"
Song by Henry Cow with Slapp Happy
from the album In Praise of Learning
Released9 May 1975 (1975-05-09)
RecordedFebruary–March 1975
StudioThe Manor, Oxfordshire, England
15:30 (remix)
Songwriter(s)Tim Hodgkinson
Producer(s)Henry Cow, Slapp Happy and Phil Becque

"Living in the Heart of the Beast" is a 1975 song written by Tim Hodgkinson for the English avant-rock group Henry Cow. It was recorded in 1975 by Henry Cow with Slapp Happy, who had recently merged with Henry Cow after the two groups had recorded a collaborative album, Desperate Straights the previous year. The song was released on In Praise of Learning in May 1975.

"Living in the Heart of the Beast" was the first of two "epic" compositions Hodgkinson wrote for Henry Cow, the second being "Erk Gah" (1976), later known as "Hold to the Zero Burn, Imagine".[1]

In 1986 "Living in the Heart of the Beast" inspired the title of the Kalahari Surfers' second album, Living in the Heart of the Beast. Former Henry Cow members Chris Cutler and Hodgkinson had toured with the South African band across Europe in the mid-1980s and Cutler's Recommended Records had released several of their albums.


Hodgkinson began writing "Living in the Heart of the Beast" in mid-1974 and presented it a few months later to Henry Cow as an unfinished and untitled instrumental. The group cut the piece up into fragments, interspaced them with improvisational sections, and performed it live.[2] One such performance, Halsteren was recorded in Halsteren in the Netherlands on 26 September 1974, and appears in Volume 2: 1974–5 of The 40th Anniversary Henry Cow Box Set (2009). This instrumental suite was also performed in Groningen in the Netherlands two days later, and part of it was released as "Groningen" on Concerts (1976). In early 1975, after a successful collaborative album, Desperate Straights with Slapp Happy, the two groups decided to merge, and Henry Cow, for the first time, acquired a vocalist, Dagmar Krause from Slapp Happy.

There were never any plans to add lyrics to "Living in the Heart of the Beast". Hodgkinson developed it as an instrumental before Krause had joined the group.[3] The addition of a singer opened up new possibilities for the piece and Hodgkinson commissioned Slapp Happy's songwriter Peter Blegvad to write lyrics for Krause to sing. However, after several attempts, Blegvad (who was soon to be asked to leave the band) admitted that he was "out of [his] depth", and Hodgkinson wrote the lyrics himself.[2][4] Blegvad presented a slightly different interpretation of this situation in a 1996 interview with Hearsay magazine:

The piece that got me kicked out [of Henry Cow] was "Living in the Heart of the Beast". I was assigned the task for the collective to come up with suitable verbals, and I wrote two verses about a woman throwing raisins at a pile of bones ... Tim Hodgkinson said, "I'm sorry, this is not at all what we want", and he wrote reams of this political tirade. I admired his passion and application but it left me cold. I am to my bones a flippant individual. I don't know why I was created thus or what I'm trying to deny, but it clashed with the extreme seriousness.[5]

"Living in the Heart of the Beast" was recorded in February and March 1975 and released on In Praise of Learning in May 1975. The piece was recorded in sections which were stitched together because the group had yet to master playing it all in one go.[6] In his book Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture, Edward Macan described the song as a 15-minute piece that opens with an "atonal, highly distorted electric guitar solo" and closes with a "stately modal march".[7]

After recording the album, the Henry Cow/Slapp Happy merger ended, but Krause elected to remain with Henry Cow. The final song version of "Living in the Heart of the Beast" was performed live by Henry Cow between 1975 and 1977. In a concert with Robert Wyatt at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris on 8 May 1975, Wyatt joined Krause in singing the closing verses.

"Living in the Heart of the Beast" was later remixed and slightly shortened by Fred Frith, Hodgkinson and Martin Bisi, and was released on the 1991 CD reissue of In Praise of Learning by East Side Digital Records. It also appeared on Henry Cow's The Virgin Years – Souvenir Box (1991).[8] The original mix of the song was used on all subsequent reissues of this album.[9]

Composition and structure[edit]

In his 2019 book Henry Cow: The World Is a Problem, Benjamin Piekut wrote that themes in Hodgkinson's lyrics for "Living in the Heart of the Beast" include "Marxist humanism, linguistics and situationism".[10] He said the song-text begins in the first-person (the "subjective 'I'") and tells the story of someone discovering that they are oppressed by huge corporations which distort history and corrupt the truth. As the song progresses, this individual unites with like-minded comrades who question their situation, and the "I" becomes "the communist 'we' of the collective revolution". Aware now of their plight and armed with "a historical consciousness", the song culminates with the call to rise up and seize their destiny.[11] Piekut said the song's "abstract poetics" in the early sections, "give way [in the final section] to a more direct style impelling action".[12]

Piekut said that Hodgkinson developed the musical structure for "Living in the Heart of the Beast" from concepts he had read in Rudolph Reti's book, The Thematic Process in Music.[13] Hodgkinson created a set of musical cells which he combined in various permutations to build the piece's major movements. Sequences of cells were repeated using different transpositions in sections of the piece in a way that each successive movement was longer than its predecessor.These sequences were never intended to specify precise rhythm, dynamics and melody, but rather to serve as a "roadmap".[13] Piekut said Hodgkinson did, however, deviate from the resulting structure from time to time when he found the "musical logic of growing consciousness [did not] match the radical transformation communicated in the lyrics".[14]


In a review of In Praise of Learning in New Musical Express in 1975, music critic Ian MacDonald wrote that "Living in the Heart of the Beast" begins well, but despite "a remarkable instrumental interlude", it "run[s] out of cool" towards the end with some pretentious lyrics and "sinks awkwardly to earth beneath the would-be climactic exhortations of the finale".[15] MacDonald added, however, that Henry Cow's use of a wide range of instruments gives the song a "genuinely orchestral sound" evoking shades of Stravinsky, Varèse, Messiaen and Weill. MacDonald concluded that "Living in the Heart of the Beast" demonstrates that Henry Cow "could be said to be the only genuine rock/classical fusion since [Frank Zappa's] Uncle Meat".[15]

In another review of the album, Dave Laing wrote in Let It Rock that 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".[16]

Live performances[edit]

"Living in the Heart of the Beast" was performed by Henry Cow at a number of their concerts between 1975 and 1977, including:


  1. ^ 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, p. 12.
  3. ^ Piekut 2019, p. 270.
  4. ^ Cutler 2009, p. 39.
  5. ^ Blegvad, Peter. "Peter Blegvad Retrospective: Blegvad on Blegvad". Hearsay. 1996 (12). Retrieved 20 October 2011.
  6. ^ Piekut 2019, p. 191.
  7. ^ Macan, Edward (1997). Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture. Oxford University Press. p. 182. ISBN 978-0-19-535681-6.
  8. ^ "Henry Cow – The Virgin Years". Discogs. Retrieved 25 November 2016.
  9. ^ "Henry Cow, Slapp Happy – In Praise Of Learning". Discogs. Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  10. ^ Piekut 2019, p. 188.
  11. ^ Piekut 2019, pp. 188-190.
  12. ^ Piekut 2019, p. 190.
  13. ^ a b Piekut 2019, p. 230.
  14. ^ Piekut 2019, p. 231.
  15. ^ a b MacDonald, Ian (7 June 1975). "Henry Cow: In Praise of Learning". New Musical Express. Retrieved 11 June 2018 – via Rock's Backpages.
  16. ^ Laing, Dave (September 1975). "Henry Cow/Slapp Happy: In Praise of Learning (Virgin V2027)". Let It Rock. Retrieved 31 December 2019 – via Rock's Backpages.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h "Henry Cow Chronology". Calyx: The Canterbury Music Website. Retrieved 13 June 2018.
  18. ^ a b The 40th Anniversary Henry Cow Box Set liner notes.
  19. ^ Couture, François. "Henry Cow: The Road, Vols. 6–10". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 July 2009.
  20. ^ Laing, Dave (7 February 1976). "Henry Cow: North London Polytechnic". Sounds. Retrieved 13 June 2018 – via Rock's Backpages.
  21. ^ Miles (7 February 1976). "Henry Cow: London School of Economics, London". New Musical Express. Retrieved 13 June 2018 – via Rock's Backpages.

Works cited[edit]

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