The Orckestra were a 12-piece English avant-garde jazz and avant-rock ensemble formed in March 1977 with the merger of avant-rock group Henry Cow, the Mike Westbrook Brass Band and folk singer Frankie Armstrong. They gave two performances in London in March and June 1977, and then embarked on two tours of Europe between September 1977 and May 1978, where they performed in Italy, France and Sweden.
|Genres||Avant-garde jazz, avant-rock, experimental music|
|Associated acts||Henry Cow, Mike Westbrook Brass Band, Frankie Armstrong|
|Past members||Fred Frith|
Henry Cow and the Mike Westbrook Brass Band crossed paths several times before they merged in 1977. Westbrook was one of the guests at Henry Cow's Rainbow Theatre concert with Faust in London in October 1973, and the Brass Band played for the audience in the foyer of the auditorium before the concert began. At the November 1975 Sigma Festival in Bordeaux, France, Henry Cow and the Brass Band performed in different parts of the same building, and at the end of Henry Cow's set, the Brass Band played a New Orleans funeral march from the audience while the members of Henry Cow danced together on stage. Then in October 1976, Henry Cow, the Mike Westbrook Brass Band and folk singer Frankie Armstrong performed different sets on the same bill at Goldsmith College in New Cross, London.
When they appeared on the same bill again on 13 March 1977, this time at the Moving Left Revue at The Roundhouse in London, Henry Cow, the Brass Band and Armstrong decided to merge and gave their debut performance under the banner of "The Orckestra". The Moving Left Revue was a Communist Party benefit concert that the Brass Band's Paul Rutherford had helped to organise. Steve Lake of the British music newspaper, Melody Maker described the three-hour concert as "a great success", and said that this merger was the "most exciting" of Henry Cow's succession of projects. Their drummer, Chris Cutler said that they had always wanted the explore the potential of an orchestra, and their "ideological common ground" made a cooperative venture inevitable.
On 26 June 1977 the Orckestra performed at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park. In September 1977 they embarked on a three-month tour of Europe where they played at Milan and Modena in Italy, and at Nancy and Paris in France. In March 1978 the Orckestra returned to Europe where they played in Stockholm, Norrköping and Gothenburg in Sweden, Oslo in Norway, and Paris, Nancy, Longlaville, Loos-en-Gohelle, Poitiers, Orléans and Bordeaux in France.
Apart from appearing as the Orckestra, Henry Cow, the Brass Band and Frankie Armstrong continued to perform individually. But when Henry Cow split up in August 1978, no further performances by the Orckestra took place. Their last concert was on 24 May 1978 at the Althagore Festival at the Salle des Fêtes du Grand Parcin in Bordeaux. Georgie Born and Lindsay Cooper from Henry Cow, however, continued to collaborate with Westbrook for several more years.
The Orckestra did not generate any new material, and generally performed pieces that the Mike Westbrook Brass Band, Henry Cow and Frankie Armstrong performed individually. At their debut performance at the Roundhouse, their set list was:
- "Wheel of Fortune"
- "Beautiful as the Moon..."
- "God Bless the Child"
- "Mourn not the Dead"
- "On Suicide"
- "Lady Howard's Coach"
- "Santiago, You are Suffering"
- "Let the Slave"
- "Serpent Maigre"
- "Bartlemy Fair"
- "The Saucy Sailor"
- "Little Duke Arthur's Nurse"
- "Sovay, Sovay"
- "Jack the Lad"
- "Holy Thursday"
- "I See Thy Form"
- "Alabama Song"
Henry Cow later incorporated some of the Brass Band pieces into their own sets, for example, "Jackie-ing" which appears on Volume 9: Late in The 40th Anniversary Henry Cow Box Set (2009).
No recordings of the Orckestra were released during their lifetime. A live album of extracts from their 20 November 1977 Paris concert at the Fête du Nouveau Populaire in the Hippodrome was planned, but was abandoned when it was discovered that the recording was sub-standard and that it had been premixed. A bootleg recording of this concert was released in 2003, but its sound quality has been reported as being poor.
The first officially released recording of the Orckestra appeared in 2006 when a 12-minute 3" CD single, "Unreleased Orckestra Extract" was given to subscribers of the Henry Cow Box. It contained extracts from some of the Orckestra's live performances in April 1978.
- Henry Cow
- Mike Westbrook Brass Band
- Frankie Armstrong – vocals
- Live in Paris, November 20, 1977 (2xCD, 2003, Hickory, Japan)
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- Lake 1977, p. 38.
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