Art Bears biography
Art Bears were an avant-garde rock group from the United Kingdom formed during the disassembly of Henry Cow in 1978 by three of its members, Fred Frith on guitar, bass, violin, and keyboards, Chris Cutler on percussion, electronics, and lyrics, and Dagmar Krause on vocals. The group released three studio albums between 1978 and 1981, and toured Europe in 1979. After their third album in 1981, they disbanded, although Cutler and Frith continue to play concerts together as a duo.
The Art Bears' music was often deeply political in content, reflecting the bands' socialist leanings, and frequently experimental. Art Bears were more "song oriented" than Henry Cow, although much of the material that comprised their debut album release was actually written with the intention of being performed by Henry Cow.
Art Bears were formed during the recording of Henry Cow's last album after disagreements arose over the album's content. Frith and Cutler favoured song-oriented material, while others in the band wanted instrumental compositions. As a compromise, Frith, Cutler and Krause agreed, early in 1978, to release the songs already created on their own album, Hopes and Fears, under the name Art Bears, with the rest of Henry Cow credited as guests. The instrumental material appeared later on the final Henry Cow album, Western Culture (1979).
Hopes and Fears (1978) thus consisted of Henry Cow songs plus new Art Bears material recorded later by Frith, Cutler and Krause to complete the album. Towards the end of 1978, Art Bears returned to the studio to record their first "true" album, Winter Songs (1979). It comprised fourteen short songs composed by Frith around texts by Cutler that were based on carvings on the stylobate of the Amiens Cathedral in France.
In December 1978, Art Bears joined Rock in Opposition (RIO), and toured Europe in April and May 1979. For the tour, they added Peter Blegvad (ex-Slapp Happy, guitar, bass guitar, voice) and Marc Hollander (Aksak Maboul, keyboards, clarinet) to their line-up, and rehearsed at the Cold Storage Recording Studios in Brixton, London before leaving for Italy in late April. They performed in Italy, France, Belgium and Czechoslovakia, including an RIO festival on the 1st of May in Milan. Some of the songs recorded during the tour were later added to the album release of Hopes and Fears and The Art Box (2003), a box set of Art Bears material.
The band returned to the studio in 1980 to make one final album, The World as It Is Today (1981), before splitting up. In October 1983 Frith, Cutler and Krause reunited again, this time with Heiner Goebbels and Alfred Harth from Cassiber, Tom Cora and from Skeleton Crew, and George Lewis from the ICP Orchestra under the name "Duck and Cover". The ensemble was initially commissioned for the 1983 Moers Festival at the request of festival director Burkhard Hennen to Alfred Harth, but the group only materialised later that year after another commission by the Berlin Jazz Festival. "Duck and Cover" performed a 40-minute musical piece entitled "Berlin Programme" at the Berlin Jazz Festival in October 1983 in West Berlin, and again at the Festival des Politischen Liedes (Festival of Political Song) in East Berlin in February 1984. The second performance was recorded by Rundfunk der DDR (East German Radio) and broadcast nationally. An edited version of the broadcast was released in September 1985 on one side of the "Rē Records Quarterly Vol.1 No.2" LP record. In 1993 Frith, Cutler and Krause worked together again on a song project, "Domestic Stories" (1993) by Chris Cutler and Lutz Glandien, with saxophonist Alfred Harth. While similar to Art Bears, the addition of Glandien's electronic music made "Domestic Stories" a distinctly different album.
An Art Bears "review" took place in May 2008 at the world premiere of the Art Bears Songbook at the 25th Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in Victoriaville, Quebec, Canada. It was performed by Cutler (drums), Frith (guitar, bass guitar, violin, piano), Jewlia Eisenberg (voice), Carla Kihlstedt (violin, voice), Zeena Parkins (keyboards, accordion), Kristin Slipp (voice) and The Norman Conquest (sound manipulation). Krause had been unable to participate and Frith and Cutler decided to rework the trio's repertoire for an expanded group, with the voices of Eisenberg, Slipp and Kihlstedt replacing Krause's "eccentric and idiomatic delivery". The project was so-named because Frith and Cutler did not want it to be seen as an Art Bears reunion. According to All About Jazz the Art Bears Songbook was "not just a highlight, but the highlight of the [five day] festival."