Get this crazy baby off my head!


Slapp Happy / Henry Cow

Slapp Happy / Henry Cow - Desperate Straights - 1975 - Virgin

A unique batch of off-beat songs from the amalgamation of Slapp Happy and Henry Cow. The musical is original, and whimsical in part, with some humorous philosophical inane ramblings typical of Canterbury Rock giants like Robert Wyatt, Pierre Moerlen, and Daevid Allen. Musically, the thirteen pieces are very inventive and melodic. A sort of cafe chamber rock, full of quirky undertones, and with elements of jazz, pop, contemporary classical music, and avant garde free jazz. A really original album, and worth exploring. It is chronicled that Sinead O'Connor's dislike of U2's music led to her melting down and moulding Bono's early vinyl albums into ash trays ! Please don't get any ideas like that. Give this music a chance! For music in a similar vein, check out Gong's "Flying Teapot" album. Acid Mothers Gong "Live at Uncon" album is @ AMGONG/LAU Gong's "Expresso 2" album can be located @ GONG/EXP2 Check out Hatfield and the North's "Hatwise Choice: Archive Recordings 1973-1975, Vol. 1" album @ HATN/LIVE90 Irmin Schmidt & Kumo's "Masters Of Confusion" album is worth a listen @ IS&K/MOC


A1 Some Questions About Hats - Anthony Moore , Peter Blegvad
A2 The Owl - Anthony Moore
A3 A Worm Is At Work - Anthony Moore , Peter Blegvad
A4 Bad Alchemy - John Greaves , Peter Blegvad
A5 Europa - Anthony Moore , Peter Blegvad
A6 Desperate Straights - Anthony Moore
A7 Riding Tigers - Peter Blegvad

B1 Apes In Capes - Anthony Moore
B2 Strayed - Peter Blegvad
B3 Giants - Anthony Moore , Peter Blegvad
B4 Excerpt From The Messiah - Peter Blegvad
B5 In The Sickbay - Dagmar Krause , Peter Blegvad
B6 Caucasian Lullaby - Anthony Moore , Chris Cutler


Fred Frith - Guitar, Violin
Peter Blegvad - Guitar,Vocals
John Greaves - Bass
Anthony Moore, & John Greaves on "Bad Alchemy" - Piano
Dagmar Krause - Organ [Wurlitzer] on "In The Sickbay", Vocals
Chris Cutler - Drums
Pierre Moerlen - Percussion on "Europa"
Geoff Leigh - Flute
Muchsin Campbell - French Horn
Tim Hodgkinson - Clarinet, Piano on "Caucasian Lullaby"
Lindsay Cooper - Oboe, Bassoon
Nick Evans - Trombone
Mongezi Feza -Trumpet


A surprising team up at the time of its release (1975), Desperate Straights is a surprisingly melodic album, light on the art school angst and heavy on the playfulness, which one would hardly expect from such determined socialists as these. But here it is: "Some Questions About Hats" sounds like a Kurt Weill outtake, "A Worm Is at Work" gallops along with a sweet tune. Dagmar Krause remains restrained and not given to flights of horrible fancy. "Strayed" is reminiscient of Kevin Ayers's brand of art rock, and most of the songs clock in under two minutes. But never fear: the album ends on the eight minute "Caucasian Lullaby," a minimal woodwind piece that suddenly bursts into one last jab of Krausian despair. © Ted Mills, allmusic.com

How do you feel about clarinets? I like them okay. I don't like it when they squeak, and I'm not the world's #1 Dixieland fan, but sometimes clarinets sound cool. Of course, they don't get much play in rock circles, mostly because you can't hear them over the guitars. Sometimes they pop up in chamber-pop or twee Beatles songs. Clarinets, like their woodwind cousins flute and bassoon, thrive in delicate environments, and in the right hands, lend a tenderness that's out of range of other instruments. I think they get a bad rap because, well, they're not exactly the toughest of instruments, and the little boys who would grow into rock stars aren't lining up to play them in the high school band. Slapp Happy liked clarinets-- and pianos, too, and cabaret. The English and German trio formed in 1972 in response to minimalist composer Anthony Moore's desire to start a pop band. He'd already issued a couple of experimental albums by then, and met singer Dagmar Krause while in Hamburg, Germany. Krause, who'd begun singing in nightclubs at 14, had a strong background in traditional German music, cabaret and the art-song of composers like Kurt Weill. Her voice, an instantly recognizable alto that often polarizes listeners, didn't seem obviously suited to pop music, but her range of expression (from silly coo with wide vibrato to witchy shriek) was perfect for Moore's eclectic pieces. The third member was Peter Blegvad, erstwhile associate of Germany's Faust and future creator of the cult British comic Leviathan. Blegvad didn't come from a classical background as Moore had, but was rather a skewed pop songwriter who would later find apt partners in Anton Fier and XTC's Andy Partridge. Desperate Straights, a collaboration with British avant-prog band Henry Cow, was Slapp Happy's third official LP. The band's first record, Sort Of, had been completed with assistance from Faust, while their second, self-titled album (later released as Casablanca Moon), was originally recorded for Polydor but then scrapped and re-recorded when the band signed to Virgin. Those first two Slapp Happy records were soft pop for eccentrics, informed by British Invasion rock, Dylan, and hints of European cafe music. Desperate Straights was a slightly different story. Though "pop" in a basic sense, its songs were more closely related to Weill and classical art-song than contemporary pop. But don't get the wrong idea: Although Henry Cow members Chris Cutler, Fred Frith, John Greaves, and Tim Hodgkinson contribute greatly to the baroque sound of the record, Moore and Blegvad's songwriting steal the show. "Some Questions About Hats" begins things with a jazz piano chord and Krause's query, "Can one wear uncanny hats?" She poses similarly pressing questions throughout: "Can one weather hats?" "Can one dismiss hats as simple things? Vapid things? Scat, evanescent things?" Moore and Blegvad's music favors the delicate-- soft piano, violin, french horn, Cutler's brushed cymbals, and doubling Krause's vocal with clarinet in a way similar to Weill's arrangements for his Threepenny Opera. Greaves' music for "Bad Alchemy" is delicate, too, though with sharply angled melodic lines and snare-heavy percussive accents from Cutler that lend the piece a martial quality. Krause describes visions of being a hermaphrodite, views her "self unmixed" and wonders if she is "neither one nor quite the other." Moore provides the instrumental title track, a jazz waltz with blue-nostalgic piano chords and an understated shuffling accompaniment from Cutler. The music sounds as if it's coming from a deserted club at dawn, after the wait staff has left and the bartenders are waiting for the band to get bored and go home. Slapp Happy would have been an interesting bar band; they'd have been kicked out of the rock and blues dives, perhaps been forced to set up a small stage in front of a coffee shop, playing existential cabaret for tips. "Apes in Capes" is another waltz, subbing out the jazz touches for pointed chamber-rock, and Moore's playful, nonsensical wordplay: "Harken child by life beguiled, it's said that some come unsung, Sorry, no song for some, sing-song's ham-strung." In fact, Slapp Happy excelled at being playful. Blegvad's stop-and-go surf rock tune "Strayed" laments losing touch with reality ("Gone into hiding, can't abide the latest tidings from the tribe"), and features his vocals, sounding like a very happily stoned Lou Reed. The band turns what should be a depressing trainwreck into something charming, greatly assisted by Frith's faux-Hawaiian guitar asides. Likewise, their take on Handel's Messiah comes out like an art-school garage band, a far cry from the bloated classical redux of their proggy contemporaries. In fact, the only time Desperate Straights approaches "bloated" at all is on its instrumental closer, "Caucasian Lullaby", a lengthy, dissonant piece that recalls both Brian Eno's early ambient records and Henry Cow's live improvisations. Slapp Happy disbanded after this album, with Krause, Cutler and Frith eventually forming the considerably more experimental Art Bears. However, Krause, Blegvad, and Moore reformed the band in the late 90s, updating their sound with drum loops and digitally enhanced production, but unfortunately toning down most of the idiosyncrasies that made records like Desperate Straights so cool. Still, their work in the 70s stands as some of the most unique and interesting "pop" of the era, and anyone into pushing the chamber-pop envelope should search for this album in particular. © Dominique Leone, October 12, 2004, © 2009 Pitchfork Media Inc. All rights reserved


Avant-pop cult favorites Slapp Happy formed in Hamburg, Germany in 1972; there vocalist Dagmar Krause, a veteran of the folk group the City Preachers, first met British experimental composer Anthony Moore, who had previously issued a pair of solo LPs, Pieces of the Cloudland Ballroom and Secrets of the Blue Bag, on Polydor. When the label rejected a third Moore record, he instead proposed a pop project, recruiting Krause and New York-born guitarist Peter Blegvad to form Slapp Happy; recorded with input from members of the famed Krautrock band Faust, the trio issued their debut album Sort of... in 1972, its commercial prospects severely limited as a result of the band's refusal to perform live. Still, Polydor assented to a follow-up, with Slapp Happy soon convening to record Casablanca Moon; the label rejected the album, however, and upon landing at Virgin the trio re-recorded the disc in its entirety, releasing it as a self-titled effort in 1974. Slapp Happy next banded together with the like-minded art-rock outfit Henry Cow to record a pair of collaborative LPs, Desperate Straights and In Praise of Learning; creative tensions then forced Moore and Blegvad to exit the project, although Krause continued singing with Henry Cow though their 1980 dissolution. In the meantime both Moore and Blegvad pursued solo careers, although in 1982 they reunited with Krause to record a new Slapp Happy single, "Everybody's Slimmin'," followed by their first-ever live appearance at London's ICA. All three again collaborated in 1991 on Camera, a television opera commissioned by the BBC and broadcast two years later; a new Slapp Happy studio album, Ça Va, followed in 1998. Camera was issued two years later. © Jason Ankeny, allmusic.com


The progressive-rock genre spawned many groups who became top-grossing arena acts — Pink Floyd and Genesis are two — as well as many who progressed right into obscurity. Henry Cow was one of the best-known and most widely traveled English bands of the progressive era (though only a cult-favorite in the U.S.), and their music has aged amazingly well over the last 20 years due to diverse influences (Oliver Messiaen, Kurt Weill, Frank Zappa, and Soft Machine were a few) and uncompromising creativity. The group functioned more or less as a collective, with a true group identity that changed from album to album as members came and went. This turnover was one factor in the consistent vitality of Henry Cow; another was the dedicated core of the band, a serious, politicized trio whose interest in improvisation served to leaven the complexity they supplied as primary writers. Tim Hodgkinson played keyboards and reeds; Chris Cutler (later of Pere Ubu) played drums, Fred Frith provided a variety of instruments, specializing in strings (the guitar in particular); all of them sang. The three appear on all of the Henry Cow albums recorded between 1973 and 1978. Other longtime members included multi-reedist Lindsay Cooper, bassist John Greaves, and German singer Dagmar Krause, who worked with Frith and Cutler in the spinoff Art Bears band and later recorded bilingual renditions of songs by Brecht & Weill. Together, their sound was so mercurial and daring that they had few imitators, even though they inspired many on both sides of the Atlantic with a blend of spontaneity, intricate structures, philosophy, and humor that has endured and transcended the "progressive" tag. Since the demise of Henry Cow, its members have continued in creative directions, mostly working in Europe with rock-based or improvising ensembles. Over the years they have reunited in various units, with resultant recordings being distributed worldwide through the Recommended Records network spearheaded by active improviser Chris Cutler. © Myles Boisen, allmusic.com


A.O.O.F.C said...


p/w aoofc

AB said...

Would be so nice to see more p. blegvad on-line! Thanks for this!

A.O.O.F.C said...

Hi, AB. Thanks for comment. I will be posting an album soon - Slapp Happy & Faust's "Acnalbasac Noom". It features Peter Blegvad, and it's a superb album. Maybe you've already heard it. It was also released under the title of "Casablanca Moon". It will be posted in 1-3 days. Keep in touch