Geoff Leigh

March 13, 2008


Last Saturday I spent the afternoon working with ‘the legendary’ Geoff Leigh (pictured above in his cave like studio in Hastings) on some electro-acoustic improvised pieces: Geoff playing flute and various wind instruments which I processed live using granular sequencing software. This will hopefully be the beginning of a longer, currently anonymous, musical collaboration (if you can think of any good names, let me know). Geoff is a renowned multi instrumentalist probably best known for having played in an early incarnation of Henry Cow* in the early seventies, Moiré Music in the eighties and more recently with North African musicians and with those other old hippies, Faust.

*Over Christmas a ‘friend’ of mine insisted on playing the entire ‘concerts’ album by the ultra-hippy prog-rock group Henry Cow, notorious for their mix of turgid introspective jazz-rock symphonies and Stalinist dogma. The resulting extreme psychic trauma was such that i gave up listening to music, any music**, for three months and almost gave up making music altogether. What is it about Henry Cow that causes this effect? The reality is that no one likes or ever liked Henry Cow. They only sustained their existence because in the seventies there was NOTHING ELSE TO LISTEN TO!, to maintain your hippy, lefty credibility you HAD to pretend to like it. This unopposed vacuum allowed the group to develop their own, once heard, never forgotten, idiosyncratic style; pompous self indulgence fired by uncritical ‘communist’ ideology and dogmatic musical strictures. On this basis i propose a new usage of the phrase ‘Henry Cow!’(to be used in the same manner as the English ‘Gordon Bennet!’) to be loudly exclaimed whenever one encounter something that meets the following criteria: boring, pompous, arrogant, indulgent, irritating and ultimately irrelevant.

**For instance, due to the depth of trauma suffered (can you sue a prog rock band?),three months later I can now only listen to one particular type of music, Sundanese Degung; a soft, harmonic, undemanding pop Gamelan from the Sunda Islands. Here’s a video of the Fabulous Nining Meida, not really Degung (More like Jaipongan) but good nonetheless. Benefits immensely from karaoke style lyrics (in Sundanese).

Nining Meida ‘Kalangkang’

7 Responses to “Geoff Leigh”

  1. Ian said

    “Over Christmas a ‘friend’ of mine insisted on playing the entire ‘concerts’ album by the ultra-hippy prog-rock group Henry Cow”

    It is worth pointing out that I played it at your request :-)

  2. sarah said

    I was there. Too many mushrooms Ian.

  3. Andy Wilson said

    Henry Cow – who supported, eg., The Plastic People of the Universe (PPU) in opposition to the regime in Czechoslovakia, and who were the catalyst for Charter77 movement which eventually led to the overthrow of Stalinism – had an ‘uncritical communist ideology’????

    And what have you got against being ‘indulgent’? isn’t that itself a Stalinist accusation? It sounds exactly like the kind of thing the Stalinists accused the PPU of. What do you want – socialist realism and folk songs?

    “in the seventies there was NOTHING ELSE TO LISTEN TO!”

    A man who can say that for an entire decade there was no music in the world worth listening to is undoubtedly losing ‘it’. Crab – get a grip. Sit down, relax, have a hot cup of herbal tea. Then put on a Henry Cow or Art Bears record ;-)

    ps. The Wire this month has a big feature on Henry Cow as a ‘primer’. I’ll lend it to you if you ask nicely.

  4. Andy Wilson said

    pps. “dogmatic musical strictures”

    what did you have in mind by that? A good part of the ‘Concerts’ album you heard is freely improvised (genuine question)

    one last thought – does this mean that, on the bright side, at last you’ve now found a group that you hate even more than The Beatles? ;-)

  5. crab said

    I don’t ‘hate’ the beatles (much) just constantly dumfounded that their listeners interpret their output as profound in some way – when in fact it’s about as musically relevant and inventive as say, elton john.

    “undoubtedly losing ‘it’” reveals your own stalinist tendencies; Brezhnev era echoes of the way they dealt with dissent.

    “dogmatic musical strictures” i mean that Henry Cow (and their offshoots) had a very set ideological view on what was the ‘correct’ way to do music. In my view this made them elitist and inflexible and a kind of frozen-in-time curiosity.

  6. mike leigh said

    ….That Geoff Leigh I don’t know ..always stirring up trouble somewhwere…Well i’m his brother so I should know.But I don’t.I’ve called the authorities many times but they laugh and say “Henry Cow…get aaaaart of it…before I form a pop combo…” My ears are clean so when I hear music thats what I hear.Best not to dissect it too much.


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